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When simplicity becomes a burden

Stan Soderstrom | Oct 11, 2019

Stan Soderstrom

Earlier this year, we took a survey of Kiwanis leaders to get some insights into how they do what they do. The participants were club leaders, district leaders and others.  

One question we asked: How many Kiwanis positions do you hold? The idea was to get a sense of these members’ everyday workload.  

The answers said a lot about their dedication, which was no surprise. But there were also some less-than-positive insights into our expectations for leaders — and how we define effective leadership.   

For example, more than 30% of respondents said they hold more than three positions. About 20% said they hold down four or more.

Those were shocking numbers. In fact, you may be asking the question that immediately sprang to my mind: How can someone fulfill any particular responsibility if you’re trying to fulfill several at once?

Of course, leadership will always require some juggling. Circumstances change. Unexpected incidents pop up in the middle of the regular routine. Things happen. But leadership also requires focus. When the very structure of an organization has you doing three or four jobs at the same time, you don’t have a “role” but a set of tasks and responsibilities to keep up like spinning plates in a sideshow.

But let’s pause and step back for a moment — because you also have some opportunities. Take some time to ask questions about all those roles and how you define who should fill them.

First, is a particular job or responsibility even necessary? Of course, the answer may be “yes,” but you can’t know until people can stop to think a little.  

If a job or role is necessary, can it be fulfilled in a different way? Is it being done because nobody else wants it — or because the person doing it doesn’t trust fellow members or colleagues to do it right? Or simply because the whole situation has drifted to this state?  

Step back and see it whole. You may have an opportunity to match a role to an underutilized member. Or maybe you have another reason to recruit and grow — to look for people from outside your club or organization. It’s also possible that at least one position needs to be split in two (or more).     

Whatever the case, it can be easy to let multiple responsibilities accumulate with an individual — whether it’s you or someone else — because it seems simpler to put them all in one spot. But “simple” isn’t always, well, simple. In fact, it can be a recipe for burnout and discontent, which in turn causes the kind of grumbling that leads to a quiet, general fall of morale.   

And that’s a possibility that calls for active leadership. Talk to people. Ask questions. Reward good work. Most of all, boost engagement among a larger cross-section of people. Don’t be a leader who gathers responsibilities to yourself — or pushes them to one or two select people.  

Be a leader who creates leaders.

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