Can you relate to the phrase, overwhelmed working manager? Recently we received a question from a manager and this manager writes, “I am a working manager. Not that all managers aren’t working, but I have an enormous pile of my work besides having to lead my team. I constantly feel guilty that I’m not doing enough for them, but if I let my work go, my results will suffer. What should I do?”
In this episode, get eight practical ways to help you reduce the overwhelm and become a more effective working manager.
Help for the Overwhelmed Working Manager
Hey, it’s David, and you’re listening to Leadership Without Losing Your Soul, your source for practical leadership, inspiration tools and strategies you can use to achieve transformational results without sacrificing your humanity or your mind in the process.
So today we’re talking about a question that came from one of Let’s Grow Leaders Asking For A Friend segments, which is something we do in our leadership development programs. If you’ve ever attended any of those we always have an opportunity where you can ask a question for a friend. And of course, if you’ve been listening to this show for any length of time, you know that I love to answer your questions. And so please, if you have a question, I love to hear it. You can join the group we’re going to talk about, or you can send me your question directly, at [email protected].
Alright, so our question today came from an overwhelmed working manager. A manager who is responsible for their own results and responsible for leading a team. Many managers, if you’re listening, you’re certainly familiar with that challenge. So when we talk about an overwhlemed working manager, we’re talking about someone who has significant individual responsibilities in addition to leading their team. They’ve got work assigned to them that they can’t really delegate. Maybe it’s because of the technical nature of the job or a unique skill that they bring to the table, or sometimes it’s just a matter of workload. Maybe there’s not enough budget for a pure manager leader in that role. So the business elevates a team member as a guide while they also do the work. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality in many organizations.
If that sounds familiar, this shows for you. I’ve got eight practical ways to help you be more effective and de-stress some of that relationship with being an overwhelmed working manager.
Number one, something we’ve talked about many times in the show, is setting clear expectations for your team. As a team leader, it’s always important that you have a clear understanding of what success looks like and that you have ensured everyone on your team has it as well. Even more so when you can’t possibly meet everyone’s assumptions. So making sure that your team knows what everyone can fairly expect from one another, what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you and from each other. As a working manager, sometimes you’ll need to shut your open door to focus and finish an assignment, and you want to be upfront about that and how those things are gonna work together.
What can everyone expect from one another? Talk with your team about what they need and what you need and work together to figure out the best way to approach that for your individual and collaborative work. Because one thing I can tell you is if your door is always open and you’re constantly interruptible, you’re never going to be able to finish the things that you have to get done. Just from a matter of scheduling for yourself and for one another on the team, something you’re gonna have to define. Number one set clear expectations for your team.
Number two, relentlessly prioritize. This relentless prioritization as a working manager it’s almost an impossible challenge to balance your own responsibilities with those of the team and to manage that overwhelm. Minding the MIT or most important thing, as we say, to relentlessly prioritizing what matters most is to free yourself from that expectation that you can do everything.
The more you try to hold yourself to that standard, the bigger sense of overwhelming you will feel and the more stress you’ll experience. This is something you can control for yourself. What you have available is the time right now or the eight or 10 hours of this day. What are you going to do with that? You can’t possibly do everything and you probably can’t even do all the important tasks. Ultimately, it’s the only time that you have to do what matters most. Free yourself from that feeling that you have to do it all and focus your energy on making a real difference for your work and for your team by deciding which tasks are most important and then focusing on those first. So you can make your day a success in the first two hours, if at all possible. That’s gonna help you stay on track and ensure that you’re meeting your own goals while also supporting your team. As the day goes on, the next crisis comes along. Yes, you are going to have to reprioritize. You only have time for what matters most. So make sure you know what that is.
Number three, investing in your team. The more effective and skilled your team is, the more you can accomplish together. You’ll have more time to do the work where you truly are the only one who can do it. As you choose your priorities for the week consistently look for ways to invest in your team. There are two ways to do this. You can do micro engagements and you can do formal development. So when time is tight, you don’t want to waste time encouraging someone who needs to be stretched or coaching someone who just needs more confidence. We have a tool, the confidence competence matrix that you can use to identify your team members and where they most need, what they most need from you, whether that’s training, encouragement, challenge, stretching, new assignments, or coaching performance feedback.
Then in your one-on-ones or your daily interactions, you can be prepared to support them with a very focused conversation that gives them what they need. So in those real small moments, those micro engagements, you can do a lot to help people grow, develop, and become more effective. The second way you can invest is with more formal development. What does this person need in order to get where they want to go or to become what they can be? You can spend 15 minutes each week thinking about your team, connecting with one growth opportunity each month. Those kinds of small formal investments yield big returns in growth and development. So for each person on your team, where can you teach them a new skill? Help them build relationships throughout the organization so they can be more resourceful. Maybe get them an assignment that helps them stretch or practice leadership. All of those investments make your team more effective, make the team more productive, and ultimately help with that overwhelm.
Number four is delegation. Alright, so we said up front I can’t delegate these things and you probably can delegate far more than you might think. And this isn’t going to just help you manage your workload, but it also empowers your team and helps them develop new skills. Delegation is one of those areas where leaders and managers so often sell themselves short and sell their people short. You really do have the opportunity and ability to delegate far beyond what you usually think of in the way that we self-limit. Delegating effectively takes some preparation and that can feel like a luxury for a working manager, but it’s not a luxury, it’s an investment for many activities. You’ll need to take some time to think through what does a successful outcome look like? What will it achieve? Giving your team member the success criteria so they know what they’re aiming for and they can evaluate their work against it.
Define what a successful outcome is to successfully delegate. Make sure you’re setting a clear finish line and then you’re scheduling the finish. Discuss when they are going to return with that finished assignment, task, or project. Look for those opportunities. What can you delegate? How can you get people ready in ways that maybe you haven’t been thinking about? Next time you’re thinking about something like, gosh, I wish somebody else could do this. Challenge yourself. Why can’t they? Well, because X, Y, Z. Okay, how can you solve that? How can you get them ready, and then give them a shot?
Number five that will help our overwhelmed working manager with individual responsibilities and team responsibilities leading their team is communication. Communicate reliably. This one is so important and I see so many leaders, and managers, whether they’re a working- manager or not, overwhelmed by this issue. Miscommunication will crush your spirit, crush your soul. You don’t have time to waste fixing misunderstandings and resolving miscommunication. You can make effective communication a feature of your team in two ways. First, create a reliable cadence of communication. What is the communication cadence that you and everyone on your team can expect? This is how communication’s going to happen. Get everybody used to that. Get yourself used to it. Be one that creates a send and a flow of information. And then teach everyone on your team to check for understanding.
That reliable communication cadence helps your team know exactly when to expect new information. And they’ll also know when they can most effectively bring concerns, ask questions, share their answers, and get clear about what information they’ll exchange in chat threads, and emails, what to reserve for meetings, and when those meetings will happen. That’s the cadence when you get everyone checking for understanding and practicing it yourself, that will ensure you’re not having misunderstandings. Communication’s gonna be mutually understood and you’re gonna reclaim an incredible amount of time for you and your team.
When we say check for understanding, it’s not saying, Hey, do you understand what I’m saying? Check for understanding is saying, Hey, I wanna make sure I’m communicating as clearly as I hope. What do you understand coming out of this conversation? What are our two action items? What does the commitment look like as you’re hearing it? And we close that loop so that every send has a matching receive, no matter who’s doing the communicating. Everything goes more smoothly and you’ll waste way less time chasing down and dealing with the stress, frustration, and headaches of miscommunication.
Number six is rapid accountability. This is another one. A common mistake that many working managers make is that they’ll avoid performance conversations. Those feedback conversations, you know, they might worry that, oh, I don’t have time for that or I can’t afford to lose this person. But what actually happens is that the mistakes compound. Your top performers get frustrated and now you’re spending way more time cleaning up messes, fixing problems, and doing last-minute work than someone else should have done. Short, timely performance conversations will reclaim your time, improve your team’s morale, and help everyone be their best. And if you need more on that, you can check out our Inspire method.
Number seven, in our ways to help the overwhelmed working manager, people with their own individual responsibilities plus leadership responsibilities. Number seven is to manage up because your manager is not trying to crush your spirit, at least it’s not likely, but they may not know the reality of what’s happening to you and your team. One of the most important conversations you can have is to manage up. In those conversations, you can practice saying yes to say no. Reiterate your commitment to what matters most and outline the decisions that you’re facing. You’re saying yes to what matters most outlining the decisions you face.
For example, we’re all in on getting this product launched, done on time, and on spec. We’ve also been asked to help support some bug fixes in the prior versions with the existing team. We can’t do both. I see a couple of options here. I can bring in some contractors to help. We can slide the launch date, we can access someone else to do the prior version support or we could just not worry about supporting prior versions. What are your thoughts on your one-on-one conversations with your manager? You can also clarify what success looks like for your leadership. What does your team need to achieve from their perspective? How does your manager view your leadership versus work responsibilities? Are you taking more responsibility in one area or the other than you truly need to? If the two of you have very different perspectives, talk about what’s happening, and where to adjust so you’re on the same page.
Finally, number eight, take care of you. One of the most common problems we see when you are an overwhelmed working manager, you stop investing in yourself. What does self-care look like, right? Sometimes sleep is the M.I.T. Sleep is a weapon. Sleep is an investment you make in yourself critical to your effectiveness. It’s not a luxury time with family, friends, a good book, gym, hiking, trail, whatever it is. As a working manager, it’s easy to get caught up in the demands of your job and neglect your own health and well-being. I’m not trying to guilt you. I wrestle with this too, but nothing gets easier when you’re rundown, exhausted, and stressed out. So investing time and energy in yourself will help you do everything else with more love, perspective, and creativity.
All right, there you go. Eight ways to help answer our question from our working manager who’s feeling like an overwhelmed working manager with all their individual responsibilities as well as their team leadership responsibilities. Number one, set clear expectations. Ensure that those are shared and understood all the way around. Number two, relentlessly prioritize. And then do it again and again as things shift. Number three, invest in your team so that they are leveling up and improving their ability, uh, which will increase your ability. Number four, delegate effectively. You can probably delegate more than you think. Number five, communicating reliably. Establish a consistent cadence of communication and help everyone on your team learn how to check for understanding. Number six, rapid accountability. Don’t let those conversations slide. Keep them short, keep them fast, and have them as quickly as you can. Number seven, lead up. Have those conversations with your manager. And number eight, take care of yourself. Give yourself the energy you need through some good self-care there. Being a team member who’s a working manager can be challenging.
With the right mindset, communication, and tools, you can absolutely balance your individual work and your team leadership responsibilities. And when you do, you’re on your way to being the leader you’d want your boss to be.