Overwhelmed leaders carry on

feliciaarticles, Branding, Leadership, TrustLeave a Comment

I’m overwhelmed, but I can’t tell anyone!

Ever have days when you feel overwhelmed.  You know you have missed a project deadline, or you haven’t quite figured out the solution to a critical problem. Perhaps, worse you need to address some unhealthy team dynamics and don’t quite know how.

We all have days when we feel overwhelmed. However, many leaders feel the need to present as if  they are never overwhelmed.  Whilst every leader wants to present characteristics of strength and resilience, as I mentioned last week personal branding is “…an authentic display of engaging aspects of your character”. Every leader has challenges and can be overwhelmed.  Denying we ever feel overwhelmed is not only inauthentic but unhealthy.

Overwhelmed but  can’t share

It’s lonely at the top.

In organisational cultures where there is low trust leaders tend not to share.  There’s the fear that any ‘chink in our armour’ may be seen as weakness or used against us.  In such cultures leaders are more prone to burnout so it’s even more important to find people you can trust, even if outside your organisation.

As leaders, sharing our struggles with others can be challenging, even if with persons we trust.  We are taught that ‘vulnerability is not a good thing’. A great book that de-bunks that cultural norm is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

Making it real

Step out of your comfort zone and share your challenges, and feelings of being overwhelmed.  Be discerning in who you chose to confide in but step out!  Let me make it real by sharing an experience that helped me learn the value of vulnerability.

I project managed a large Transformation Programme that initially had 15 projects under it. I had very little resources, both in-terms of manpower and money. It was a high profile programme for the Government on whose behalf I was executing. I came in at the tail end of the project and there was some objection to this, especially as I was a non-national.  Within my first few months it looked as if the Programme would continue to fail.  Deadlines were slipping and projects had stalled. My Government counter-part commented on the fact that things were slipping.   I could have carried on as if I had it all under control. Or made excuses, afterall I was brought in late.  That would not be demonstrating Character-based leadership!


I chose instead to share with my counterpart that I was overwhelmed and had underestimated what could be achieved.  I was able to vent, but more importantly to identify a solution.

It was not a solution to explain the work load was too much.  Instead my Counterpart  and I went back to identify exactly what the Government’s priorities were. We then mapped the existing projects to those priorities.  This led to consolidating some and ditching others.  It brought the Programme to a more realistic size by focusing the limited resources on only those projects that met the Governments  priorities.

Action Step- Take the plunge

Part of why leaders may feel they can’t share is because it seems like their whining.  A whiner doesn’t show strength and resilience.  Plus, no one likes a whiner.  Whilst we all need to vent they key to remember is that sharing is not just about venting.  Here’s 3 things you want to achieve in sharing:

  • Getting the issue out in the open (instead of bottling it up)
  • Identifying the real issue of concern or problem
  • Determining a way forward – a solution

If you don’t have team members or other leaders in your organisation you can trust then develop your networks.  Spending time with other leaders discussing challenges and looking for solutions is also a great way to grow your leadership capability.



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