For the past two years, many leaders have over-extended themselves with their desire to help, support, and uplift employees both emotionally and financially. You felt pressure to become pillars of unfailing strength–never mind your own vulnerabilities or struggles.

Over time, I’ve seen how this constant compassion has become draining–debilitating, even. And yet, many of you at the top feel like you don’t have permission to be overwhelmed and step back.

However, what you might not realize is that your ability to relate to and care about others — aka, your empathy — is a limited resource. If we drain our empathy account, we can end up feeling overwhelmed, irritable, angry, sad or numb. What can you do to find the right balance between taking care of the needs of others while also taking care of yourself?

We have all heard that you must “take care of the caregiver” in our personal lives. The same is true in business. Now may be a good time for leaders to take a much deserved break. Often leaders forget that they control the spigot of how much work the organization has to do.  Pulling back on an initiative or two may be a smart move right now to allow your body/mind/spirit to have time to regroup. Are there reports that seldom get reviewed or read? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to reassess what work is most important and relevant for achieving the current priorities.

The other thing I have noticed over the past few years is that leaders have evolved their leadership style – sometimes to an extreme. When I first started in my career, most leaders were authoritarian, hierarchical and followed the “Command and Control” model of “My way or the highway” mindset. Leaders were assumed to know more than anyone else, called all the shots and when they told you to do something you hopped to it, no questions asked (or appreciated). They brought direction, clarity and decisiveness, but were often overbearing and slow to acknowledge their mistakes. (And not much fun to work for.)

Today many leaders have recognized the need to lean toward a Servant Leadership model where work gets done with more collaboration, partnership and conversation. Employees want there to be some give and take and they want a say on what the team does together.  What the younger generations value and how they want to work is partly the reason for this shift.

However, I see many leaders that have taken this too far and they think Servant Leadership is about giving up everything – including your precious time – whenever your team wants or needs it. Again this is not “taking care of the caregiver”.  Servant Leadership is definitely about doing right by your employees, but that doesn’t mean you have to be at their beck and call constantly.  It’s fine (and important) that leaders realize “being available” doesn’t mean constantly available.

It makes me wonder if what is happening with this compassionate stress is that leaders possibly have swung the pendulum too far and are taking on too much for their teams.  It’s time to reset expectations and add boundaries for yourself and your employees. You can let them know that you are there for them, but it may not be with every possible interruption that they feel is “urgent”.

If you want some help discussing and setting those boundaries as a team, please see our blog on Effective Communication Guidelines. You’ll get ideas on how to reset expectations so everyone can get their most important work done each day.

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