How To Protect Your Time (And Well-Being) As A Leader Not every problem needs an over-stressed manager doing all the thinking.

By Dominic Ashley-Timms

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You're lying awake at night again. You've just seen the big red numbers on the clock strike 3am for the third time this week- and it's only Tuesday. When you wake, you'll spend the day in a brain fog, battling cognitive fatigue that only leads to decision fatigue- it's just fatigue all around really. You're stalling when it comes to completing tasks, snappy with your team, and wishing they'd all just stop asking you question after question.

We're all familiar with the commonly expressed symptoms of burnout ("I'm drowning!" or "I'm slammed this week!"), but recent statistics lend real credence to this showing that 50% of managers are burnt out. That's a shocking figure, though perhaps not surprising- as leaders and managers, we operate under a mental model where not only are we providing the navigation for the team, but we're also trying to help everyone who asks for it, solving every problem brought to us, and taking on more work than we can cope with, which, of course, just increases our likelihood of burning out. While it may be comforting to know that you're not alone in feeling this way, long-term burnout can hamper your productivity, creativity, and communication skills.

Burnt-out managers are slow to make decisions, can inhibit team productivity, prevent progress, and also damage the team's morale. And that's not to mention the effect it can have on your relationships at home. For entrepreneurs and leaders of SMEs and startups, maintaining personal well-being is essential to providing the robust leadership that growing companies need.

But have you ever considered that it might be your management style that's contributing to your feelings of overwhelm? If you're constantly firefighting at work, making yourself responsible for every decision, and solving problems before giving your team a chance, then it probably is. Many leaders and managers struggle with the people management aspects of their roles, having been appointed for reasons other than their notable people skills. When it comes to line management and being responsible for the development and productive advancement of team members, then, at best, they're self-trained; at worst, they're ill-equipped to get the most from people.

Within small teams, the need for people management skills is even more critical, because you need to be able to extract every ounce of talent from the people you've employed. Growing companies that are stepping up their hiring should also be aware that setting the right culture early on is how to attract the best talent and keep it. Ensuring everyone can bring their A-game to the company is imperative, especially as 50% of workers report quitting their role because of a poor manager. It's no longer good enough to expect that people will automatically give you their best, when it is relatively easy to vote with their feet if they're not happy, and with younger generations entering the workforce, this is already happening.

Related: Understanding Entrepreneurial Burnout (And How To Deal With It)

So, how do we begin to address our own management behavior? Well, we can start by recognizing how we usually respond to different situations. By habit, most of us have evolved to respond to different situations in a typically directive way, providing guidance and support to others. But in doing so, we risk marginalizing team members, disempowering them from showing us what they can do, if only we had the presence of mind to stimulate them to step up.

To help us do that, we can look to the STAR model:
•STOP - Step back, and change state.
•THINK - Is this a coachable moment?
•ASK - Ask powerful questions and actively listen.
•RESULT - Agree on the next steps, and an outcome from the conversation.

So, when a team member comes to you with a problem, STOP. Not every problem needs an over-stressed manager doing all the thinking. Avoid providing all the answers, or mentally trawling your own mind for solutions- the mental load from constant decision-making is immense; just keep a note every time you make a decision during a single day! It is mentally taxing for you, and it also takes away a valuable moment to help the other person find the answer within themselves. Not only does this diminish any confidence they have in their own abilities, but it also encourages a mindset that they should wait for direction from you before attempting to solve a problem. This inadvertent dependence means that more problems will be brought to your attention.

In The Answer Is a Question, multi-award-winning performance consultants Dominic and Laura Ashley-Timms have set out a simple approach for re- humanizing the practice of management. Source: Notion

Learning to break your natural impulse to direct -and literally learning to bite your lip- wins you a moment to THINK instead about whether the situation could be a coachable moment, i.e. a time when a deft prompt from you could help this person explore the situation and possible solutions themselves.

Related: Breaking Patterns: The Problem With Unconscious Bias In The Middle East's Workplaces (And How To Manage It)

If the person is capable, and you think they might benefit from wrestling with the problem themselves (i.e. it is a coachable moment), then learning to ASK authentic and powerful questions intended to stimulate the other person's thinking will help them to consider and reflect on the possible actions they can take to begin to resolve the issue. It would be easy to move on at this point, but unless we've secured some form of commitment from the other person to act on one of their ideas, then all we've had is a nice conversation.

To secure a RESULT, we need to ask a few more questions to agree on the appropriate follow- up, which will not only raise the likelihood that actions will be followed through, but also will provide an opportunity to give some appreciative feedback.

Applying the STAR model in this way helps us to break down our habits, and draw on the talents of team members, helping them to retain accountability for resolving day-to-day issues. Though you may be saying, "I already ask my team members questions when faced with a problem," the key here is to ask questions entirely for the benefit of the other person's thinking, to help them shake out possible actions they can take, rather than using questions as an opportunity to gather information, so that you can solve the problem yourself (a typical diagnostic questioning approach). Beginning to favor using more of this enquiry-led approach in day-to-day situations -where you detect that there may be a better outcome to be had from asking rather than telling- is the antithesis of the traditional command-and- control management model.

Continued application of the STAR model helps you to adopt an "operational coaching" style of management, which can also benefit the wider workplace culture by underpinning an environment that's more engaging, productive, inclusive, and collaborative. You'll find yourself doing less fixing and micro-managing, and, instead, you will begin to win time back to focus on the higher-value aspects of your role.

At the same time, these coachable moments provide your team with valuable learning opportunities to do the thinking themselves, improving their own problem-solving skills, confidence levels, and resourcefulness. Asking powerful questions also encourages team members to step up, and feel trusted to share accountability for the workload. Enabling others in this way is the key to effective delegation. Of course, adopting a new management style isn't easy; it takes practice. When the pressure builds, you may well find yourself reverting to firefighting and directing.

But every time you can STOP, and help others to do the thinking, you're relieved of some of the mental burden of day-to-day management which is in itself a win. Depressurizing by engaging the fullest talents of your team helps you to regain some balance in your workload, which can only contribute to an improvement in your well-being, and help you avoid burnout.

Related: Living With Purpose: Here's How Entrepreneurs Can Win The Battle Against Burnout

Dominic Ashley-Timms is the CEO of the performance consultancy Notion, creators of the multi-award-winning and globally-certified STAR Manager program being adopted in over 40 countries. Dominic is also the co-author of the new management bestseller, The Answer is a Question.

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