How Heavy is the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders?
By Craig Johns
Have you ever felt the weight of the world on your shoulders so heavy it has flattened you? You feel paralysed by the burden, exhausted by the piling up of tasks and overwhelmed by the excess pressure of responsibility.
It is as though the energy is being sucked out of you and your feet are being swept out from underneath you.
Why is it that leaders feel they need to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders?
Is it the overwhelming pressure to perform because one has great responsibilities? Maybe it’s a fixation on problems because of actions that have occurred in the past or worry about what might happen in the future? Could it be that the leaders own internal expectations or the external expectations of stakeholders are unrealistic and combined are too much to handle? Or is it because of a fear of failing, fear of being found out, fear of letting the team/company down or even the fear of disappointing someone?
WEIGHT OF YOUR WORLD
One of the three aspects of understanding your Gravity of Leadership is the heaviness of the weight of responsibility you carry. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “carry the weight of the world on one’s shoulders” is to feel much pressure because one has great responsibilities. Therefore the weight of the world on your shoulders could be any one of a number of the possibilities noted above.
Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, can overwhelm even the most experienced leaders. As Uncle Ben famously articulated in the 2002 movie, Amazing Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility”.
The phrase “having the weight of the world on your shoulders” has its origin from Greek Mythology in which Zeus, the king of all gods in the Olympus, made Atlas carry the heavens to separate it from earth where a group of people called the Titans were fighting the Olympians in order to put a stop the clashes.
Taking on a leadership role is like a parent watching a baby. You can’t take your eye off them, you are sensitive to every sound they make, you are consumed by everything in that baby’s life and it’s like nothing else in the world matters. In many ways you have no choice as the baby can die if you’re not attending to it. It is the same as leading a company, coaching a team or guiding a community, if you take your finger off the pulse it might stop. The question is how much pressure does your finger need to apply to the pulse?
After observing both parents and leaders during my lifetime, there are three commonalities which result in the weight of the world on your shoulders, becoming ineffective and at times quite detrimental to your performance.
CONTROL – TREAT LEADERSHIP LIKE HAVING A THIRD BABY
When you see a parent with their first born child they tend to focus their entire attention on the child, protect them from hurting themselves, try and do everything perfectly, be there every step of the way, caught up in what they or you have just done, am I doing the right thing, fast-track their growth and how it will affect them in the future, and worry about protecting them from every small possibility that could happen in the future.
Does this sound familiar to you? It’s called Control. You are likely to have seen this with first time leaders and even leaders when they start out in a new role or with a new team. This level of control will eventually restrict you, inhibit growth and become overbearing for the team members.
Ben Horowitz, author of what you do is who you are and the hard things about the hard things, once said, “As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby… I woke up every two hours and cried.” Have you been in a leadership role when every aspect of the company or team you are leading consumes your mind 24/7 and begins to weigh you down or hold you back from being at your best?
As people mature into a leadership role or have experienced a few different leadership roles, we tend to see a shift in how they lead and what consumes their mind. They start to relinquish control and they notice their company or team starts to perform better. The high performing leaders understand what is important, where to focus their attention and what they can let go of.
As a leader you must treat your company or team like it’s your third baby, not your first. Have you noticed by the time a parent has their third baby they are less controlling, are more relaxed, allow the baby to explore and learn at their own pace, spend less time worrying, focus only on what is really important and are better able to spread their time across more aspects of their life.
Great leaders empower rather than control, manage their own and teams energy wisely, remove unnecessary expectations and focus their attention in areas that make a difference.
RESPONSIBILITY – LEAD LIKE A MONK
When you see or hear of a monk, what is the picture that forms in your mind? For me it is a calm, caring, unhurried, centered and under control person who works with others for the collective good of people. They use their energy, expectations and emotions wisely through shared responsibility and collaboration.
Compare this to a poor leader who seems hurried, stressed, self-centered, over-controlling who is only focused on numbers, output and how they look. It is as if they intentionally try to make their life, and those they lead, harder. Any mistake or question becomes a burden and adds weight to their responsibility.
Effective leadership is not just about taking responsibility, it’s more about how we carry and distribute it.
Monks have a very clever way of sharing the responsibility load so that not one person carries all the weight of expectations, duties and requirements. They view responsibility as an act of service. Service to the community. They view their responsibilities as serious, rather than burdensome.
As a leader, view responsibility in a servant leadership lens. Remove the burden of unnecessary responsibilities, requirements and expectations. Allow each person to assume a level of responsibility that serves them, serves the team and if working in a company serves the client. Shift your attention to how can we together carry the weight of responsibility of the entire team, company or community?
FAILURE – ITS NOT ABOUT ADDING MORE WEIGHT
If you have ever been to a gym or you have watched weightlifting on TV you will know what happens when you add too much weight to a squat bar, dumbbell or exercise machine. At some point you fail to lift the weight, something breaks or it comes crashing down on you.
Adding more tasks, expectations or level of responsibilities at some point will lead to Failure as a leader. Maybe you get sick, you react negatively or spread yourself too thin.
When it comes to carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, you have control over how heavy the weight is. There is never a time where there is no weight and like going to the gym you always need some weight to grow and perform better. You have full control over the expectations you set on yourself, how many tasks you take on, how you manage your energy and where you focus your attention.
Yes, the external expectations of stakeholders can weigh you down, however you can still control how to manage that expectation internally. How can you reframe the expectation to ensure it doesn’t become burdensome?
IT’S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
Controlling the controllables is important, but it is even more important to know how much control and where to relinquish control so the team or company can thrive. Focus on what aspects are important to have your finger on the pulse and where to let go, just like a parent does each time they have another baby.
It’s your responsibility to share the responsibility among the team as you will not be able to hold the weight of the world on your shoulder if you allow it to get too heavy. How can you lead like a monk and focus on collective responsibility without burden?
Be present and attentive to how much weight you have applied and when it’s a good idea to remove the weight or move it to someone else’s shoulders in your team or company.
Jim Maxwell famously said, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. As a leader it is important that you manage the energy, expectations and emotions to ensure the whole team rises rather than falls with the weight of responsibility.
I will leave you with the challenge to lighten the weight of the world on your shoulders. What will be the first thing you take off?
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