You Don't Have to Hustle Harder
To be an exceptional leader
Persistence helps us persevere, push past obstacles. Those who lead with this quality take responsibility to get outcomes. When hurdles arise, they remove them. They move the team forward no matter what. These leaders rise to the occasion. Their unwavering commitment helps the team rack up accomplishments. Startups rely on this kind of tenacity. This trait allows them to reach impractical ambitions like creating markets. Endurance helps conquer old industries despite being a smaller player with less experience.
There’s no doubt hard work, pushing past limits can bring glory. The early part of our career primes us to focus on output, getting the job done. Our hard work rewards us with a strong reputation and promotions. Despite its power, this mindset has limitations. Being too gritty can be detrimental, even lead to burnout.
The pressure grows as we step into leadership. We keep pushing harder. To keep up with the demands we fuel ourselves with caffeine and adrenaline. Of the styles in the Leadership Archetype framework, this approach is most prone to getting out of balance.
This mindset can transform from persistence into an ingrained habit of pushing too long and hard (aka hustle harder). Hustle harder is persistence on steroids. While it may work in the short term this extreme position isn’t sustainable. We don’t ask for help. We know no one can do it as well as we can. We take the world on our shoulders, even when others can bear some load. Pressure builds, our brains no longer function well.
We de-prioritize anyone who can’t help us reach our goal. Relationships become more transactional. We learn to dominate, rather than how to partner with others. We don't develop critical cross-functional skills needed to perform at an organizational level. A narrow focus on the current goal might get us there but destroys goodwill for future collaboration. Rather than moving forward, we find ourselves in endless battles with our peers. As a leader, hustle harder gets in the way of being a multiplier.
The hustle harder outlook also lacks a sense of pacing. When stuck in this state, we see rest as the enemy. Extremes beckon followed by cycles of boom and bust. We find ourselves jacked on adrenaline or flat out on our backs. The team goes along for the roller coaster ride. The journey is an exhilarating but exhausting experience that endangers their well-being.
Leaders often end up at my door looking for support when they can no longer push harder. Sometimes it’s burnout beckoning, other times it comes from feedback. They recognize their once successful strategy is no longer working. I once coached a leader who bathed in hard work. Hustle harder was their prime directive. They got involved in every project. Instead of teaching others, they took over tasks because it was faster.
Their back ached, relationships with colleagues were contentious. At one point they found themselves stomping around like a child when projects moved too slow. Their words, not mine. They began to lose influence with their peers. The leader had to find new strategies or the team wouldn’t hit their targets. Their role was in jeopardy.
I understand this stance. Being machine-like always reaching targets helped me get promoted early in my career. As I moved into management and then leadership I learned to use other strategies to pursue goals. It was good that I did. I developed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s a sometimes debilitating condition. Imagine walking or even just sitting, suddenly finding the energy drained from your body. It feels like being dragged deep into the underworld, never to return. I lack the strength to move or even sit up. Luckily these bouts are infrequent and self-care mostly keeps them in check.
This condition taught me where my limits lie. I learned to pace myself. I began to embrace boundaries. I stopped hustling and started prioritizing. Despite my condition, I’ve never missed a client meeting and rarely slip deadlines. Changing my approach to my work shifted everything. I learned the real value I offered. I can knock out tasks but I have more impact using my influence. I know how to read a room, match my message to the audience. I understand how to create an inviting atmosphere. I have a knack for matching a person to a task, bringing out their best.
Leaders need to take responsibility but we don’t have to take everything on ourselves. Persistence and hard work are very effective if we know when to push and when to back off. Persistence lies on a spectrum. Redlining it all the time makes us imbalanced. We only see one option — work harder. Feeling like we lack options makes us desperate. This is a miserable way to accomplish anything.
Rigidity is rarely the best method. Being stuck in working hard means we don’t consider the power of other methods. Augment hard work with other methods like innovation, influence, or system thinking. These combinations provide sustainable energy to meet even harder objectives.
Yes, persist but be sure not to fall into the hustle harder trap.
Until next time, be well.
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