Do you feel way busier and more under pressure than you ever have been?

 Profile image of Steve Lobley From Spring Leadership

Steve Lobley

I remember always being curious why business leaders and their businesses didn’t grow and develop as effectively as they could – and in line with their stated ambitions. It was a great puzzle – despite knowing exactly what to do, nine times out of ten they couldn’t make the changes needed or make the right decisions to truly achieve the step changes required. It led me to the mantra from the Chinese Proverb ‘it’s not the knowing that’s difficult, it’s the doing’ – because THAT is really what it’s all about after all…

And as a result I reshaped my career from business adviser and mentor to launch myself fully into the world of coaching. My 30+ years in business from a shift manager in a textile mill to MD of a £15M business in the corporate world allowed me a unique perspective on the challenges people were facing, and with loads of experience on how to address them. 

As part of the work I do, I get a lot of opportunities to check in with business leaders. This allows me to take a ‘pulse’ on the issues of the day that are impacting them. Often becoming aware of patterns in the types of challenges we’re all facing.

In themselves, these are helpful to share simply to say, “you’re not alone here, other people are going through this stuff too.”

But they’re also useful to identify areas in which support is needed right now.

How are leaders currently feeling?

I’m coming across a lot of business leaders who seem to be struggling under the weight of a much-increased workload. They’re under more pressure and experiencing a busyness that is somehow so much greater than their normal ‘run of the mill busy’.

And it’s a feeling that seems to have come out of nowhere too. A bit like waiting for a bus – you wait for ages then several turn up at once. Maybe you’d expect to be busy, with the chaos of a global pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, but maybe you wouldn’t expect to be this overwhelmed? Maybe you expected to be doing more – but not everything?

After all many businesses have had their work reduced, have less staff to manage and bosses are spending fewer hours traveling and commuting.

So why the busyness then?

Be assured this is not surprising

I’ve been expecting this for a while and if you’re already on our mailing list you’ll have seen that I’ve been sharing useful articles and information about the topic. But all of a sudden a number of leaders have flagged this to me as very high and a significant problem – right here, right now.

So what’s behind this? Why has it suddenly hit a critical point?

Below there’s a picture explaining how organisations and more importantly the individuals within them react to pressure. They are stressed and anxious, understandably so. But taking some lessons from the field of psychology we can start to understand what’s happening in reality and put measures in place to help:

Ultimately when stressed we become more fatigued, less focused, and more likely to make mistakes. And we find it a lot harder to think through things logically and make good quality decisions.

Checking. Decision making. Control.

They say ‘the buck stops here’ and never is it more true than in times of stress and challenge. One thing it’s important to realise is that people have a natural response when suffering from stress or anxiety.

And that’s to pass it back up the line…i.e. to you.

Think about this:

  • If people are less reliable and are not doing things as well as they normally would be, you will find you have to be more on your guard for things not being right. Due to fatigue, there may be more slips, lapses, or mistakes.

Net effect – you feel you need to be on the lookout more and are aware staff are wanting to check things more with you.

Keyword – Checking.

  • When staff are tired and fatigued (whether due to working at home or just the stress of the new work situation) it becomes more difficult for them to make good decisions. They may doubt themselves or doubt the trust you have in them. The best thing to do then, rather than make the decision themselves, is to reduce the risk and effort bypassing that decision on in the form of, “what do you want me to do about X?” 

And who do they ask? You.

Keyword – Decision-making.

  • Stress and anxiety about the future – spending too much time in the Circle of Concern – means people are not thinking about the here and now and what they can do to make a difference today. And they are also not easily able to decide for themselves what to do. So they ask you: “what do you want them to do, what should they be working on, what is the priority, and how should I/we do it….?” Obviously, that is not an exhaustive list.

They want you to take control and give them some certainty about things.

Keyword – Control

I think you can relate?

No wonder you’re busy

So aside from you having to think through some pretty big issues and problems to run the business and stay afloat, reengineer things so you can stay ahead of the game, motivate and check in on your employees and keep the flag-waving for the business and work out where on earth you will be in the future – you have to get involved in

Checking (things you shouldn’t really have to),

Decision-making (which is unnecessary and time-consuming and someone else should be doing) and

Controlling (which is what you pay managers and people to do themselves).

Should we be surprised then, that your personal work rate and level has gone up exponentially?

Something has to give

“I can’t keep this up indefinitely” is the message that’s coming across loud and clear from my contact with leaders.

You too are working from home, stressed and fatigued, trying to make sense of things. And being expected to carry on like this for an extended period is not viable. Something will crack.

And you can’t let that happen, can you?

Some things to work on

Aim to break the chain of Checking and Decision-making and Control.


  • Have you checked this yourself? If not then, why not?

Send the message that you are not the checker-in-chief. When they are certain it is right then they can come for your thoughts.

  • What do you recommend the decision should be here?

Expect people to have thought about it themselves and come up with a decision themselves. If they know you will ask this every time they will soon learn.

  • What do you think you should be working on?

If you’ve clearly set out where the business needs to be (and their role in it), and you are carrying out regular one to ones with them, there should be no doubt about this. Invest time in this particular piece of work and then set the expectations that you will not be telling them day after day what to do.

You are going to have to delegate more. Fact.

Use the Delegation Onion as a model.

When you are asked something, identify whether you are being involved when you shouldn’t be. Reset for each task or job and decide who is going to do what. Tell them the nature of the ‘help’ you can provide, and then stick to what you’ve agreed.

  • There is always a chance that some self-reflection can help. Read this recent blog to make sure you are not reverting to type and take some actions accordingly if you feel you may be at least part of the problem.

Busyness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be used as a badge of honour, it can sometimes be a result of the focus on the wrong things or being unwilling or unable to share the load with the team. But in times of stress and anxiety, this busyness can creep up without us noticing and create a problem that is overwhelming and unmanageable.

It’s then that we must notice, take a step back, understand what’s happening, and put some actions in place to mitigate.

After all, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, isn’t that what they say?

If you would like to explore this further or talk through any other challenges you’re faced with at the moment...