I learned that lesson during my retail days. I got my first job as a stockperson at age nineteen. After a number of years I started working my way up. Sales, Supervisor, then a Department Manager. The leap from staff to management was full of challenges. One of the biggest was earning the respect of staff. I was lucky in that, because I came up through their ranks, I could empathize with the work and challenges they faced. And we often worked side-by-side to complete the work and overcome the challenges.
And there were always challenges: the pressure to make sales were ever present; providing quality customer service; maintaining shops according to company standards… On and on and on. It wasn’t uncommon that there seemed to be a figurative “forest fire” of an issue that needed to be put out.
I thrived on those issues. I had a calm, solution focused demeanor which helped rally people around me to deal with whichever emergency popped up. So, staff as well as superiors would praise my efforts for saving the day. And it felt good. It gave me a way to further cement my credibility with staff, and get noticed by the higher ups.
But here’s the thing: it got to the point where, if things were running smoothly, I would get flustered. I would miss the craziness of dealing with a “forest fire.” It was like I was an adrenaline junkie. I began to realize that what I thought was leadership (the ability to rapidly mobilize resources to address an issue) was unhealthy. Being able to cope with emergencies was an important aspect of leadership. However, it wasn’t the only one.
I had to learn new skills if I didn’t want to burn myself out. For one, I had to become more strategic in my execution of company goals. It meant looking more deeply at what may have been the root causes of the issues we were dealing with, and developing a plan to address them. It meant that I had to take better care of myself, mentally and physically. Being the “hero” (working long hours, eating crap food, etc.) was taking its toll. I also had to delegate more, to allow other people the autonomy and resources to perform their functions successfully. As a result of these and other changes, I was able to have a successful and rewarding long term career in the industry.