A few days ago, I was on a call with a co-worker, engaging in back-and-forth banter. I don’t recall the substance of most of it, but one of his comments jumped out and has stuck with me: “I told [our other colleague] that you exhaust me.”
Admittedly, he was joking, in line with the playful nature of the call. But as we talked a bit more about it, it became evident that there was something more to the joke. He shared that my regularly messaging him outside of standard working hours made him feel pressured to reply, regardless of what he was doing. My tendency to mass comment on shared working documents at odd hours triggered insecurities about working around the clock.
In reflecting on the exchange and the feedback associated with it, here are my takeaways for exhausting less and inspiring more:
Work to make the unknown known. It would be easy to write off this exchange as a joke and simply treat it as such. But I’m a big believer that it’s wise to listen when colleagues share feedback, either directly or indirectly. We can learn a great deal about our leadership styles by taking in feedback from those around us and working to make previously unknown information known to us. If I exhaust him, odds are, I exhaust other people. And in being exhausting, I lose credibility with my colleagues.
Once it’s known, do something about it. I now have new information about my ability to inspire others and influence outcomes. It’s not super flattering, but it’s real-world. Now that I have this information, it’s my job to do something about it. What behaviors do I engage in regularly that others might find exhausting? How can I limit some of these tendencies to better serve and support those around me?
Stop trying to be perfect. You’ll never get there. Just writing this story is a bit uncomfortable. I don’t love the idea of sharing with thousands of other leaders that I can be an exhausting person in the workplace. But guess what? Every single leader receiving this message has less than the best tendencies they’re also bringing to the workplace. You may not exhaust people, but you do something else – I can assure you. It’s called being human, and it’s the stuff of real-world leadership. Don’t run from the imperfect; embrace it. We’re all learning and growing. We might as well own it and learn and grow together.
As leaders, we must be willing to admit our weaknesses and do the challenging work of changing once we learn the better way forward. I’m grateful to my colleague for showing me the better way. Now, here’s to doing it.