Help for the Overwhelmed Executive (and How to Know When it’s Time for a Change)

The role of the executive is undoubtedly a demanding, and concurrently stressful, position. From an outside perspective, it is often difficult to perceive the heavy and intricate workload with which executives must contend. Both in and out of the office, those in high-level executive positions are frequently expected to devote the majority of their time, attention, and efforts to the company. While most executives possess the drive and knowledge to solve the issues faced by most organizations, the intensity of the position itself, can inevitably take its toll over time.

Tired young businessman holding glasses - looking down at papers

 

As befits the situation, there has been a plethora of research and psychological studies devoted to the issues faced by the leaders of industry; and rightfully so, considering that a high-profile company can hardly be expected to function at optimal levels if its top leadership is suffering. Unfortunately, one of the most common drawbacks to the type of individual most suited to the demands of executive positions is a concurrent isolationism.  This sometimes results in a staunch refusal to show (or even acknowledge) any measure or degree of weakness, genuine or perceived. Indeed, it is often the mere perception of weakness that disturbs corporate leaders, perhaps more than any other demonstrated issues.

As a result, many executives have a tendency to bury and ignore their troubles until they reach a boiling point and simply cannot maintain the facade any longer. We’ll take a look at a few primary (and underlying) causes and behaviors that can lead to this type of drastic situation, in the hopes that by understanding, they may be caught and recognized early.

Two Main Issues

Isolation:

  • An executive at the top of his or her game has very few opportunities to interact with others on an equal plane or to experience the benefits of having community at work. Most often, when an executive meets with others at a similar station, the scenario is one of competition, and the resulting dynamic is rarely one of security or affable companionship. Nevertheless, who else should an executive to look toward to understand their unique pressures and expectations placed upon them? Being at the top equals leadership, and competent leaders are not known for expressing their doubts, real concerns, and personal issues to their subordinates. In fact, it can be quite lonely at the top.

Facade:

  • This issue is rather multifaceted. It is not to say that an executive is a wholly artificial person, but the demands of their position are reflected by the image they are expected to maintain and present; both internally and externally to the company. With this in mind, there is very little opportunity for an individual working upwards of 80 hours per week to find much space for genuine engagement and honest expression of their core values; which can be an especially tricky subject, considering many executives often find their personal values at direct contrast with the role they must fulfill.

Solution Oriented

The following are some basic, yet effective highlights, to help combat the fatigue and distress that such a demanding position inevitably confers upon an individual.

  • Develop intentional mindfulness. The value of working mindfully cannot be overstated to guard against seemingly stray or unwanted thoughts which may generate a negative spiral toward doubt and self-condemnation.
  • Give strong attention to your work/life balance.  Of course, you are driven, but remember that moderation and balance in all things is the key to happiness and ultimate success.
  • Seek support. We’ve already discussed how isolating your position can be, so one of the most effective actions you can take for yourself (and your company) is to find that which all human beings need: community. There are multiple outlets for this, both professional and recreational, but we recommend seeking out executive-level conferences and seminars that are specifically geared toward this goal.

 

Stress Management

Shifting Gears

There are always those certain instances, however, when the drawbacks of your current corporate role begin to outweigh the advantages. This is a decision that requires a great deal of reflection and forethought. As career coach, author, and founder of The Hired Group, Ryan Kahn points out, “For some, when it’s time to leave a job, [it] can be quite clear; whereas for others, it might not be so obvious”.

Teri Hockett, chief executive of the career site “What’s for Work? considers that for most executives (and employees, in general) who regularly contemplate the alignment of their current job with their long-term goals, the decision may be slightly less daunting. Hockett affirms that those who are in the habit of evaluating their circumstance on a regular basis are often ready to make the necessary adjustments if these two aspects are not alignment.

Others, however, may find themselves on a proverbial autopilot; especially, in cases where the role itself is highly demanding. It’s quite possible you may not realize you are unhappy, overworked, or even facing a professional “dead end” until it is noticed and mentioned by others who are close to you. Nevertheless, when the realization arrives, the difficult part is making the decision to change.

According to CEO and founder of FlexJobs, Sara Sutton, employees (or executives) who find they relate to a multitude of the following discussion points, often find that a change is the next logical next step. (Source: Forbes.com).

1. You’ve lost your passion for what you do. When you have no feeling of excitement or motivation for the executive role you hold with your current company, this is a clue that something is amiss.

2. Your company’s future is bleak. If you’ve exhausted all avenues to help save a “sinking ship” and the company is still failing, it may be time to explore new horizons.

3. You’re incompatible with your colleagues. Perhaps, after many proactive and heartfelt attempts at working out differences of opinion, ethics, or style of leadership, the same problematic issues still persist. Under these circumstances, it may be time to look elsewhere.

4. You are continually, unhappy and/or negative, and stressed. If you are unhappy or anxious about work – even when out of the office or during time off – it’s likely time to reassess your current executive role.

5. Your health is being impacted by work-related stress. This applies to your mental and emotional health as well as your physical health. Family and close friends are often affected, too.

6. You no longer believe in the company and/or agree with its ethics. Moral or ethical clashes on how the company should be run may signify that it is time to take your executive expertise elsewhere.

7. You have found it impossible to maintain a work/life balance. If your current executive role has made it unfeasible to maintain your personal and/or family life, it’s likely time to reassess your present situation.

8. Your ideas are not heard or respected. As an executive, you were brought on board for your capabilities and expertise. When colleagues have omitted you from decision-making circumstances, there’s a strong chance, you would thrive more effectively at a different company.

Executive holding card

Nonetheless, it’s important for executives to properly plan such a significant career shift. Setting small goals, such as reassessing your specialized skills as an executive and tapping into your professional network are good places to start, as is reaching out to executive recruiters in your field.

Whether choosing to rectify a presently difficult situation or seeking a position with a new organization, the astute executive always looks ahead – and in this instance – the greater part of foresight is taking good care of your own well-being.

 

Fred Coon, CEO

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