Leadership is not about doing more

Stop “Shoulding” All Over Yourself

“The most successful leaders don’t try to do it all.”

That’s a quote from one of my favorite leaders, Alice Katwan. Today, she’s senior vice president of North America sales at Salesforce. But a decade ago, after taking her first director-level sales role, Alice’s life became a lot more complex and chaotic. “I thought I could cook dinner every night, keep the house clean, get the laundry done, work full time in the high-stress world of high-tech sales, and make it to three different sporting events on the same day,” says Alice. “Oh, and do it all perfectly.”

Then came an exhausting, blowout year.

The breaking point came when Alice’s health took a nosedive. She says, “I’ll never forget the day my doctor looked me square in the eyes and said with a stern voice, ‘You can’t keep going at that pace. You need to slow down. Otherwise, you won’t be here to enjoy the benefits of your hard work.’”

The medical consensus? Trying to “do it all” as a new leader, road warrior, and working mom to three boys had made Alice physically ill.

I was reminded of this story because our world is just so incredibly complex, chaotic, and unpredictable right now. If ever there was ever a moment to be more forgiving of yourself, this is it. You probably already had a to-do list longer than a CVS receipt before this global pandemic made life inordinately more stressful and anxiety-inducing.⁣ Now, you’re dealing with responsibilities, fears, and hardships that were scarcely imaginable in a pre-COVID-19 world.⁣

If there was ever a time to be more forgiving of yourself this is it.

Leadership is not about doing more.⁣

It’s about switching from doing to leading.⁣

And from this point forward, the tasks you let go of—both at work and at home—can define you even more as a leader than the tasks you hold on to.⁣

In my book, I share four key decisions Alice made that enabled her to take a step back and free up time to focus on her most important work. (Spoiler! Decisions 2, 3, and 4 are:
• Invest time in delegating.
• Show people you believe in them.
• Listen to what inspires people.)

But it’s decision #1 I want to focus on today: Admit you need to let go.

Stop “shoulding” on yourself

“Shoulds” are the tasks or obligations we take on, accompanied by an inner monologue that goes, “I should be doing this.” But the thought of tackling these tasks gives us no joy. So we do them resentfully or (if you’re anything like me) avoid doing them altogether.

As the shoulds pile up, so does the burden of guilt. As a friend once told me, “Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself!”

As you consider the shoulds in your life, don’t write another to-do list. Unsubscribe from the idea that you should constantly be doing more.

Write a “not-to-do” list of all the shoulds you give yourself permission to skip, like cleaning out the garage, re-arranging dirty dishes in the dishwasher (“redishtribution”), accepting every meeting invitation, or finishing the business book you started reading a year ago. One executive told me, “I will not run or jog unless being chased.”

What’s on YOUR not-to-do list?

What will you grant yourself permission to say “nope” to?

Grab a notepad or your favorite list app and create a not-to-do list for your personal life and/or work life, listing any shoulds you’re giving yourself permission to skip—for now or forever.

I’ll go first! I posted my list here. I challenge you to post yours too!

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