Since a recent blog called “Here’s to Good Health,” I’ve had multiple people wonder how I could just get away for two weeks at a time and take a “real” vacation. Then they usually go on to excuse their own inability to get away by making note of my older age and assume that I’m “sort of” retired (that’s a whole other topic) and therefore can more easily take time off. I’ve been reflecting. Why is it that some, especially those higher up in organizational leadership, have difficulty getting away from work and keeping a healthy pace that includes vacation time?
There could be multiple answers to the question I’ve raised above. It might be a seasonal matter. Peak times of demand. A temporary shortness of others to cover their job. A type of work that is done by only a few with a very unique skill set. And there could be another answer. One of my favorite bloggers, Carey Nieuwhof, recently wrote about why some leaders never get a break. It was spot on. This is a trap leaders fall in to. I’ve fought my whole life trying to stay out of it. It’s hard. The more successful you become, the more difficult it is. It comes down to one basic thing. A need to be needed.
Nieuwhoff writes about the signs to look for in yourself and your organization if you can never seem to get away and take time off. A look in the mirror might be what is needed most. We’ll look more at that in a moment. But two things happen when you can’t take time away. It can add up to a big personal cost over time. And, it can put a lid on your personal growth and the growth of your organization.
So what are some key signs that you might be a leader who needs to be needed. Carey mentions five:
You Have a Hard Time Taking Time Off – You might be a leader who needs to be needed if you either don’t want to leave or something always comes up to disrupt your plans. If you are a part of every decision and needed for everything, maybe you haven’t given away enough responsibility and authority to others around you.
You Like to Be Liked – Most healthy people like to be liked. But, let’s be honest. Many unhealthy people would rather be liked above everything else so they inevitably won’t do anything to disappoint people—like not be available for a week or two or even a month. If everyone else’s emergency or lack of planning controls your schedule, maybe you need to look inside as to why you allow that to happen.
You Don’t Like Quiet – Silence makes you nervous. You are an adrenaline junkie. You feel something is missing when things are calm and not running at a frantic pace. I know people who are on vacation who check in with their work just to see what’s going on because they can’t disconnect and enjoy the solitude or the change of pace. Frankly, that’s an internal problem that I would explore with a counselor.
You Have a Hard Time Delegating – This is hard for a lot of leaders. It’s nearly impossible for leaders who need to be needed. We have our reasons. People rely on me. I have no one who can really do that for me. I just don’t have the team yet. Yes, I’ve built an organization from the ground up. All of those can be true. But it’s a tape that plays repeatedly with leaders who need to be needed.
You Want to Know Everything – This is a huge challenge for us who founded organizations. And it’s a problem for small organizations. Actually, it’s one of the main reasons organizations stay small. But, if you are going to grow an organization, it has to change. The top leader is ultimately responsible for what happens, but you don’t have to know everything that is going on. I had to let that go multiple times in multiple ways so I didn’t become the lid for the organization I started. Nieuwhof rightly concludes, “If your need to know is bigger than your desire to grow, you won’t grow.” And, I will add, you won’t be able to get away and take some time off, missing all the health benefits previously mentioned. And eventually, it will cost you: personal health, family health and organizational health.
Now that you’ve had time to do a little self-reflection, what are your next steps if you discovered that you have an unhealthy need to be needed? Self-awareness is always the first and most important step of growth. A next step might be to do some reading by Dr. Steve Rose who discusses this topic quite a bit. And, I always find it helpful to talk with a skilled professional counselor who can help me sort it all out. Most often, the answers are within me, I just need some assistance finding those answers. Maybe you do too.
QUESTION: How have you battled with the “need to be needed” over the years? I’d love to know what steps you would advise others to take. Please share with me in the comments section below.