As an organizational consultant, I've had the pleasure of serving some of the greatest leaders and companies in the world. Despite helping solve challenges in large restaurant chains, property management companies, and many other industries, there seems to be one challenge that transcends all industries: Initiative Fatigue.
Initiative Fatigue is the propensity for high-caliber leaders to overload themselves and their teams with projects. While I believe this is the result of an overused strength, ambition, an overused strength eventually becomes a weakness.
Initiative Fatigue also destroys team culture. While "being busy" is an American status symbol, it's certainly not helpful to your organization, your career, or well-being.
HOW IT HAPPENS
You're in a meeting where a challenge is presented. The result of the conversation is an action step with an overgeneralized understanding of what it will cost (time, money, focus, and energy) to find resolution. The urgency of the matter creates the feeling of needing an urgently-delivered solution. Being the incredible leader that you are, you raise your hand to own the solution. You leave the room and it hits you.
Now you can't focus on the six other things you were already doing.
As an overloaded leader, you end up passing the work downstream to your team, who is carrying the burden of hours to work on all of their projects plus a new project.
You know how this ends, because it happens to all of us: frustration, and the results are killing your company in three ways:
Your company is suffering because tired teams produce uninspired solutions. What's more, the thousands of inputs colliding in a team member's mind are making it nearly impossible to think clearly about a coherent direction forward. So, they lock up. With deadlines approaching, "good enough" becomes good enough.
The added workload moves stress-points to break-points. That's bad news for your company, and it's worse news for your team member. To survive, the many initiatives force the team member to give minimal energy to every project. After days, weeks, or months of this, maintaining excellence is impossible because few great things happen in survival mode.
TEAM MEMBER DISENGAGEMENT
Once Initiative Fatigue continues for too long, team members will disengage emotionally as a means of managing the stress (and futility). Emotionally disengaged team members aren't able to exert the energy to foster healthy relationships or dig deep to solve big challenges. Unhealthy team members create unhealthy teams, which create unhealthy company cultures.
Why do most most companies suffer from Initiative Fatigue? Because almost every project is a good project. But not every project is a great project. "Good is the enemy of the great," as famously said by Jim Collins in his bestseller, Good to Great. The only way to discern great from good is clarity around four key elements:
Does your company have a unified and apolitical leadership team?
Does your company have a compelling vision, mission, and purpose?
Does your company have clearly-defined behavioral values?
Is your company clear about its organizational strategy and goals?
Ask yourself: can your organization answer "yes" to these questions?
What I've seen and experienced is this: When the answer to all four questions is "yes," you allow yourself the greatest gift of any organization: a powerful reason to say: "no."
What can you do from your current seat in the company? Discern if Initiative Fatigue is hurting your team. Then, invite your leader into the conversation. Humbly ask the four questions above. If you're a Type-A like me, consider reading a book like The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, and see if you can guide your team.
If you don't think you have the time or energy to engage at this depth, you may need a guide to help through the process. Sometimes, a third party has more permission to ask the tough questions. Arch + Tower has taken companies through quick-but-powerful processes that help leaders find clarity around the organization's most important assets: its people and projects. In fact, many companies find clarity after just two days.
No matter what you decide to do, it's worth the time and energy to fight against Initiative Fatigue for the sake of your company's health, your team's health, and your personal health.