How to listen to others when all you want to do is solve the problem?
Most leaders see how things could be better – be it a process, team, product, or service. You are in a leadership role because you have a successful track record of achieving goals and improving things. As your influence and impact grows, some struggles may appear. You may want to offer support for an effort or initiative that is important to you but outside of your responsibility. Do you dive-in or do you stay focused on what is a priority for you and your team? Here are things to consider:
1) How are you doing with achieving your goals? This year has thrown a lot of curveballs in achieving goals. Are you and your team “on track” to meet your goals and staying cohesive in this different year? If yes, then it can be a good idea to put your energy into additional efforts not originally on your radar screen. If you aren’t meeting your top priority goals, the extra focus could be viewed as a distraction and put into question your ability to prioritize and pay attention to key goals. When the extra work aligns with your career interests, provides you visibility, and is an effort that is valued by your leadership, it hits the checklist of efforts worth your additional focus.
2) Is there leadership support for your help? We may assume people or projects that are struggling will welcome additional help. This isn’t always the case. Check your assumption to ensure that leaders within the effort authentically welcome your support. Confirm with your direct line of leadership that they support you taking on outside work. Share with them how you plan to balance the work with your current priorities. If the support is lackluster, then understand that your efforts may not show up with recognition at your performance review. If you are ok with this, you may want to pursue the effort because it is important to you. You would need to be sure that your leader consistently sees your productivity remaining the same.
Here’s an example: you believe the cross-functional team that you are a part of could better organize their planning and prioritization for product development. You speak with the leader of the group and he thinks everything is fine. You know members of the team want to change things and your impact could make a big difference. Your question is do you work on ways to improve the group’s processes. Consider if you have key leadership support and if your efforts will be valued and appreciated. Consider if your effort supports other goals that are important to your role. In working with a client, his answers to these questions were “no” even though he could make a helpful impact. So, he did not pursue the topic further.
3) Does the effort support your interests and strengths? You may be very good at a skill but it may not provide you energy and motivation. An example is a leader who is known for being an expert on a topic who cuts through complicated information and provides quick answers. She does not enjoy working with people who ask a lot of questions and make things complicated. She works with a team that duplicates communication efforts and tasks. She doesn't manage them but interacts with them regularly. She knew she could help them improve, but in the end she decided not to put significant effort into helping them. The efficiency of the team was not her responsibility. Their improvement could help her achieve her goals but not in a significant way. She decided to not “lean in” and offer additional support and remained focused on other areas of her role that could provide better impact.
4) Will the time be worth the effort? Consider what is on your plate personally and professionally. Are you currently feeling tired or pulled in many directions? Do you have space and time to contribute to something that allows you to be present and produce quality work? Are you clear about what the effort can bring to your growth and to the organization? It may be helpful to talk to a mentor or coach to help you gauge the level of effort and expectations prior to diving in.
There is an internal challenge with taking on additional responsibilities of importance to you. Most people want to be helpful and support others. The act of walking away can feel selfish or make you think that you’re not providing enough to others or the organization. The challenge as you gain responsibilities is that you have to be more deliberate with your time and energy so that you bring meaningful results versus being of service to every problem that crosses your path. We all deserve fulfillment and the opportunity to contribute in fulfilling ways. Your conscious and informed choice of what to support will make a difference and be noticed. You will be demonstrating that you select additional work that brings value to you, team members, and the organization while managing current responsibilities. This is a recipe for informed recognition and deliberate promotions.
Janeen Shaffer is a PCC certified coach helping individuals and leaders with their internal development and external performance. If the article resonated with you … follow me on LinkedIn, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.shaffercoach.com, IG @janeen.shaffer, Pinterest Shaffer Coaching + Consulting.