I was at dinner with a client and he was talking about leaving his current role for a similar role within the company. In a way, it would create a bit of a mess. Someone else be backfilling his old responsibilities, but he was excited about the possibilities in the new role and they were more aligned with his talents.
His boss had come to him and said, “So it sounds like you’re making this move, and that it’s a good one for you?”
And he had said, “Yes.”
Now he was rethinking things. He was feeling bad about whether his old responsibilities would be fulfilled by the new person, wondering if he should stick it out for longer until a more permanent solution could be found.
“But it sounds like your boss has already accepted that you’re moving. And that taking care of your old responsibilities is now his responsibility.”
“Yes, but…I’m not sure it’s fair to the woman who is picking up a lot of my stuff.”
And that’s when I asked him.
“Whose needs are more important. Hers, or yours?”
I could see in that moment how torn he was. That he really wanted to say, and that he knew he should say, that his needs were more important. But he really was putting her needs, or at least what he thought her needs were, ahead of his.
It was a pattern. He saw it in that moment. He saw he had struggled with that a long time.
It’s a pattern I see in many leaders.
Many exhausted, depleted leaders.
Because as much as we like to think that we’re selfless and giving, looking out for others’ needs ahead of our own almost never works out.
We don’t really know what others need. So when we give them what we think they need, it often falls flat. Neither one of us really gets what we need.
When I find myself doing this, I end up exhausted because I never refill my own tank. And I end up angry because I’m doing all these things for other people, denying my own needs, and they don’t even appreciate it!
And then I wonder why I feel so overwhelmed. Not seeing that I’m doing it to myself. Through my own innocently motivated martyrdom.
It might go against our conditioning to look out for ourselves, but much like putting our oxygen mask on first, it’s vital.
Because you can’t help anyone if you’re dead.