Is this really leadership life?

Sheena Ireland
Tue 01 Oct

It’s 9.30am and you’re already feeling overwhelmed.

You’ve been pulled in five different directions already this morning with a tear-filled day-care drop off, a call from an unhappy stakeholder, a team member who is demanding you fix an issue they have with a peer, an unexpected job offer and a deadline looming on a project you just haven’t had the space to even start yet.

Is this really leadership life?

You were wooed with the promise of recognition, as well as the giving away of time-consuming and monotonous tasks to be more strategic and visionary. But right now, you want to be unknown and free to have a single focus.

Carrying the mental load at home and work now has you questioning what you really want in your career—and you’re sure if you just had five minutes to yourself you could figure it out.

The truth is, you can. 

Just like the truth is that leadership can be a rewarding career, when you stop to ask questions, speak out about your struggles and prioritise your wellbeing to ward off the overwhelm and perform your best.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be taking questions from women in leadership across the Capital and giving you fresh, empathetic and fearless advice to help all of us rise to the challenges of leadership.

To start this off, here are three tips for leaders who want to move from surviving to thriving at work.

Be present

Multitasking is a myth. While some people can give the impression that multitasking is a thing, the truth is, we can’t multitask and expect good results. In this vein, multitasking is a quick path to overwhelm; rather than a path to success.

As we move to leadership, we move away from focussed task work, to being in a role that has to not only take in more information, but has to relay that information to team/s in a way that enables them to do the tasks they are working on.

If we try to multitask by taking in information while also doing another task (hello emailing while being in a meeting), we often miss crucial information with flow on effects to our entire team and productivity.

As we work to do more, quicker, it can be tempting to think that we can multitask—but without being fully in a conversation, we are left to make assumptions on the information we’ve missed in the snippets by multi-tasking. (We also show others that we’re not fully interested, and a range of perceptions can flow from that, which may see you excluded from other meetings and even promotion opportunities.)

When you are in a meeting, be fully in the conversation—listen to words, and be guided by tone and body language. This leads to less (if any) misinterpretation and an increased ability to be strategic and feel informed and in control.

Tailor your style to influence others

Become aware of your own communication and behavioural style, and even more aware of others.

As humans, we love familiarity. Tailoring your communication style to another’s style can make them feel understood and safe, meaning they may place more trust in you and what you say. Tailoring can also see less misinterpretation, once again, and more productivity. 

As leaders, it is our role to tailor our style to others; not for staff or stakeholders to have to figure out our style. The most influential people I know work to understand the styles, behaviours and key drivers of the people they are working with and use them as a framework for communicating with them. 

It’s important not to assume everyone is the same as you; but it’s also important to note that we are often drawn to people of a similar style as us. So, we should not be fooled to think the people immediately around us represent our broader teams and stakeholders.

Take time to see how a person digests information—do they make quick decisions, or need time to digest information before responding.

Take time to understand people’s motivations—are they driven by public recognition, quiet praise, gifts or rewards, financial incentives or other?

Prevention is better than treatment

When we rise to leadership, we can often neglect our wellbeing and also neglect speaking about how we are feeling. We’re trying to hold it all together and appear like we have everything under control, while inside we are overwhelmed and on the edge of burnout. 

What happens when we hold it all in is that often, the ‘seams split ‘and things start to fall'. Tasks get missed, sloppy work gets passed on, the strategy gets forgotten and our mind overheats until burnout stops us in our tracks.

Taking time to put in good foundations such as processes and protocols can prevent mistakes.

Ensuring everyone is clear on a strategy and visions can prevent unnecessary tasks from getting in the way and derailing projects.

And self-care and a focus on health and wellbeing can prevent burnout, which not only stops you from functioning, but can also stop your project/workplace from functioning. The far-reaching impacts of both can take years to recover from.

If you want advice on how to grow your leadership skills, let go of the overwhelm and truly connect with your team and stakeholders - send us a Direct Message (DM) via The Shaker Facebook page and Sheena will answer your questions. 

Questions can be anonymous—think of Sheena as your agony aunt for all things women in leadership.



Sheena Ireland

Sheena is a passionate advocate for meaningful connection in leadership, public affairs and advocacy. She believes that empathy underpins connection and storytelling has the power to transform organisations and lives.

She has advised Federal Government ministers and national CEOs and executives across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors; learning from them and acting as a trusted advisor helping them and their organisations grow and influence.

She has also advised CEOs of small-to-medium sized businesses, and helped them get focused and grow the business and be the leaders they aspire to be. She is on a mission to help people create meaningful connections through effective communication. With effective communication, emerging and current leaders can develop the career pathways they want, as well as build workplace and community strength, and influence positive change.

Sheena works with leaders, in particular women leaders, across the government, private and not-for-profit sectors; supporting them to build effective communication and influence skills, embrace emotion and grow to be the best leaders they can be.