I started my career in the fast lane of New York, jumping into commercial banking at 18 when a Banking Center Manager came into the store I was cashiering and said, “I see something in you. Do want to work for me?” My inner engine got fired up, I said, “Yes!” and never looked back.
While I didn’t have the skill, experience, or education of those I worked next to, I was determined to outpace their every move. They worked 12 hours, I worked 14. They worked 14, I raised them to 18. It was like high stakes poker. Dry granola found in my desk drawer was frequently coined ‘lunch.’ I took meetings in the car and on the run to ensure there was no downtime. I managed every second of every day, watching my numbers, paying attention to process, and building my reputation—with masses of hours.
Working hard got me recognized within my company and promoted quickly. Soon, other companies were willing to take me on at higher pay and higher titles. Overwork was my paramour, downright seductive and addictive. If there was a project the men walked away from, I walked into it. If there was a team that couldn’t be saved, I saved it.
My marriage and three children were on the chopping block. Nothing could come in the way of my career. At 6 weeks old, my children were whisked away to the nanny, and I went as far as programming text messages to my husband so he felt appreciated. Except, my husband and I fought more than ever. The biggest argument? I was more in love, more devoted, more dedicated, to my job than I could ever be to him. He was right. We hadn’t gone to dinner as a couple in over 10 months, or so much as watched a movie as a family in 7 months.
It wasn’t until that moment of spiraling downward that I realized I needed a new strategy to succeed. I devised a plan and stuck to it.
Flash forward to today: I love every aspect of my job as the Head of Global Training and Quality Assurance. I can add to my track-record that I have been managing sales teams for over 10 years and continue to produce impressive results (where everyone else said it couldn’t be done). I no longer work 18 hour days. As a bonus, my kids love me and I think my husband might too.
So how did I do it?
Follow these steps, and break the myth that excessive over-work is an asset and a definition of success:
1. Reality Checklist
Write out everything you are responsible for on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. In addition to your core responsibilities, think about areas of the company you are pulled into that are over and above your core job. Now that you have your list, put them in the following buckets:
Is everything in the urgent and important bucket? Are you surprised at how little is in not urgent? What activities in here don’t drive performance? Commit to dropping ‘not important’ items first and delegate to others.
2. Evaluate and Prepare
Believing you can be an effective leader alone is a selfish sin. I did a lot of soul searching on that subject. What I found was by doing things solo, I was pushing others away. A better solution? You can get more done, while building others into strong leaders, when you work as a team. We owe that to our future leaders. Coming to this realization changed my personal quest. I realized my vision wasn’t about reaching my max potential, instead:
I can change an entire industry when I teach others how to be great leaders.
This mindset shift enables a re-focus on what’s important.
Now that you have offloaded the items that aren’t important, what else can you do to empower others? If you are on the front lines I encourage you to bucket employees as such:
When you start to understand where the gaps are with your current team, it is eye opening. I did this recently and realized I was missing the mark on who my strongest potential leaders were.
3. Delegate and Empower
Take the people in the upper right quadrant and assign them ownership of a task you deem important. I gave one person the task of developing an up-training curriculum. I gave another the task of gathering data around the effectiveness of sales calls and assigning a monetary number to each call. From there I was able to move the business in a meaningful way. Each person within the first week came to my office to say thank you. It wasn’t because of a title; it was because they were vested. What about their numbers? They increased between 10%-20%. When asked why, they all said that empowering them gave them more buy-in, and they actually advocated for senior leadership, creating buy-in on the entire floor.
4. Measure the Results
The best thing you can do is set proper expectations and implement check-in moments. Carefully think through these questions:
- How do you know when success has been met?
- Do they know the WHY behind what they are doing?
- What’s the team vision and can they repeat it back to you?
- When do you expect an outline?
- When is the project due?
- How much time should this take?
- Can you measure the results with data?
Once you have strong check-in points and can measure the results, then the proper path forward has been designed correctly.
How do you let go of overworking? You enable your team, then encourage them.
Breaking up with the seduction of overworking is tough. The process of rethinking, prioritizing, enabling, and balancing, is far from easy. As seductive as it is, overworking will bring your success to a halt. If you give the right people the skills to be developed, they will surprise you. You owe that to your team. You owe that to everyone around you, and you owe that to yourself.