Share the Burden
Early on in your career you probably learned – like me – to “always come with solutions, not problems.” This is sound advice, but in my work with top executives I see how often it is taken to an extreme that renders it ineffective and can sometimes even be harmful.
If you keep problems to yourself until you have found the perfect solution, your stress level rises and your manager may not know the reason or feel excluded. Your manager may lose trust in your ability to acknowledge challenges and manage workload, which might compel them to micromanage you.
Sharing the burden of a challenge is about collaborating with others to find the best plan or solution versus coming up with it on your own. One of my clients, a high-performing EVP, shared with me that although he always liked to collaborate, he still had an expectation that he should solve problems on his own in order to prove himself. In our work together, we focused on how sharing the burden could make him even more effective. He put it best when he said:
“Collaboration has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Though I always liked to collaborate, I had a complete mind shift and changed the way I work. Now I ask myself: ‘Where can I ask others for help? How can I make the solutions better and make my life less stressful?’ I realized that asking for input doesn’t diminish me. No one of us is smarter than any two of us!”
Now, he asks himself what he needs to move forward on a project. He has trained himself to acknowledge that he has 80% of what he needs, but someone else has the other 20%. This mindset allows him to go on a quest to find the proper resources, whether it is within his own team or another. He’s found that everyone finds this collaborative approach helpful.
When you share the burden of a challenge with your manager and colleagues, you deliberately show a vulnerable side. Exposing yourself in this measured way makes people want to help you. They appreciate that you have asked for their input and value their contribution. They also become more invested in the outcome.
Another advantage to sharing the burden is that you will most likely enhance your end result. In collaborative efforts, people elevate each other’s ideas so you often end up with a solution far superior to the one you would have created alone, no matter how smart and capable you are. By using this principle, you can achieve better business results and enhance relationships, while reducing your stress level.
If you are ready to start sharing the burden, try this approach:
1. Create a rough outline with high-level options for the project plan or solution to the issue. The key is to keep it high-level, don’t get too detailed or try to perfect your ideas. Alternatively, consider asking a direct report to create that first draft. The goal is to get the gift of feedback early in the process (when you are naturally more open to receiving it).
2. Invite your colleagues to provide feedback on your ideas. This is a measured risk, but it will yield a much smoother and faster process with a stronger outcome. Call it a ‘brainstorming meeting’ so attendees know 1) it is a forum for discussion and 2) not to expect a thorough plan/solution to be presented to them.
3. Once you’ve completed your detailed project plan/proposed solution, share the outcome with the colleagues you collaborated with. Circling back is a great way to acknowledge their contributions and build your relationships.
I’d love to hear how sharing the burden works for you. Feel free to email me to share your experience.