March 15


Leadership Expectations: Have Companies Crossed the Line?

By Sara Canaday

March 15, 2023

business leaders, career success, leadership, leadership development, professional success

Successful leaders are the heart and soul of so many vibrant organizations and a precious asset to be protected. They are the ones who motivate high-performing teams and create thriving cultures. About a year ago, I posted an article questioning whether leaders were getting the short end of the stick with unrealistic demands and expectations. Twelve months later, I’m concerned the situation is only getting worse. 

To say that today’s leaders are feeling overwhelmed is a huge understatement. Inspiring teams, meeting goals, accelerating innovation, thinking critically, facilitating social justice conversations, responding to the demands of remote team members, and creating psychologically safe workplaces are now just the baseline necessities in the leadership pressure cooker.  

Juggling all of that is tough enough, but I’ve been hearing in the last few months about more expectations that leaders are now supposed to master and manage.

For instance:

  • Actively protecting employees’ mental health
  • Establishing more individualized work-style options to accommodate neurodiverse employees
  • Being trauma-informed to identify any emerging crisis situations and minimize triggers

Let me pause here to say that I completely empathize with people who have endured trauma, discrimination, or challenges related to mental or physical health. Especially in recent years, we’ve all been through some difficult times. I get it. And yes, people from different vantage points need and deserve support. But are our overstretched leaders the ones who should be providing all of that? And are they really qualified to deal with some of those highly sensitive issues?

If you consider for a moment the areas of expertise that would be required to effectively handle any one of the tasks on that list, it’s outrageous to think leaders should be responsible for all of them—above and beyond the normal business-related components of their jobs. It’s mind-boggling to me.

At some point, corporate executives and senior HR managers need to realize they may be crossing the line with how much they can pile on to the already overflowing plates of their leaders. These are, after all, mere mortals. Human beings. People operating on the same 24-hour clock as everyone else. Even those with seemingly endless amounts of energy and off-the-charts capacity to get things done will reach a breaking point. And, let’s face it, many of them have already crumbled under the weight of exponentially increasing demands and have walked out the door.

While pushing leaders to do more may seem like the right choice, the long-term consequences simply won’t be worth it.

Here are some suggestions for how to meet the increasingly diverse needs of your employees while protecting the well-being (and sanity!) of your valuable leaders:

  • Consider adding one or more corporate psychologists to your staff (or contracting with them). These professionals could not only support your leaders themselves, but also provide guidance to help them in supporting their teams. (Hey, it worked well on Showtime’s hit series Billions! Check out my post about that here.)  
  • Identify personnel within your HR department who may be certified and experienced to handle difficult situations and conversations outside of your leaders’ areas of expertise.
  • Prune out redundancies and reduce reporting requirements where possible. I constantly hear from managers who say that they’d strongly prefer their companies spend time and money on streamlining their work versus paying for and scheduling resilience training for everyone in the company.
  • Provide opportunities for your leaders to participate in peer coaching or career coaching to help them process the challenges they face on a daily basis. Finding a “thinking partner” is particularly important as we face more complex problems and often work in remote locations.

I want to provide value that goes beyond sharing leadership-preserving strategies. From that vantage point, I’m challenging organizations to set reasonable expectations for their leaders, while making sure they have the support they need to handle the growing complexities of the business environment.

Do you know of company or a particular leader who is that are reversing this trend and becoming champions for their leaders? I’d love to hear about them!

Until next time,

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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