Any seasoned leader can attest to times they thought about giving up. Giving up may seem like the best approach, but it is often the moment just before the breakthrough. You are tired of the emotional void of having your passion for change go unnoticed or, worse, unappreciated. You want to quit being a leader and go back to the comfort of the past. You are exhausted.
Success gets rewarded by persistence, determination, and grit. Emotional energy as a leader is not linear. We fluctuate between periods of high energy and low. We are most at risk on the extreme ends of the spectrum. At the peak, we lose sensitivity, and at the low, we lose energy. We need encouragement to stay the course. We must revert to good habits, make good choices, and get reassured that our work will have influence now and in the future.
Leadership is difficult and stressful. Passion is challenging to keep, so you must lead yourself first. If not you, then who? True servant leaders know the work may not get rewarded. Reward and recognition are not why you keep seeking change or improvement. Deep inside, there is a need to serve those who may not appreciate the work. You can get overwhelmed when leadership becomes something you dread at work.
When coaching executives, I remind them to use their feelings as fuel. Significant breakthroughs come after big disappointments. Many athletes find success after they consider walking away from the sport. Artists find another level of talent after pondering an exit from the work. You are about to find another gear; despite the grinding, you feel. You are in the emotional space between levels, and the neutral feeling is normal. Use your emotional setback to discover the resilience you have always had. It is time to level up, not quit.
Go through your mind for the success stories you are ignoring. Yes, the remembering self is different from the experiencing self. You have done far more than you give yourself credit for, and availability bias (see what you look for) is blurring your memory. Sports psychologists use highlight reels to remind athletes how good they are when struggling. It would help if you did the same. Others selected you for a reason. You owe them the effort as a reward for their confidence in you.
Lead yourself first. Use the third-person perspective to tell yourself what you would tell someone else considering the act of quitting. What would you say to a child about leaving when things get difficult? Look for three areas as a leader to grow intensity, influence, and intuition. You have likely already stopped leading in your mind, and it is exacerbating your feelings of failure or apathy. It would help if you never quit in a low period. It is akin to making an important decision during a period of depression.
Find a fan of your work and listen. Interview people on your team and listen to the impact you have had on them. Be vulnerable and ask how working with you has been for them. People do not share positive information with the boss out of fear of being labeled a suck-up. I wrote a letter to my football coach ten years after playing for him. I expressed the impact he had on my success in life. He was blown away by the letter and had no idea of the significance of his work. You likely have no idea of the positive impact you are having on the people you are leading. You are making a difference and do not realize the magnitude of your influence.
Find leadership focus. Leaders become diluted to the point they feel ineffective. Choose a project or initiative that you have a high degree of passion for and go all in. Doing too much in too many areas can lead to frustration. Focus on the impact you can have now, and resist the temptation to worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. Focus will reignite your passion for leadership, and you will make an impact on the team. Do not allow others to define your direction. Become relentless about the work and ignore the comments from the cheap seats. You must crack some eggs to make an omelet. If you anger a few people, you are moving in the right direction.
Dark days are not permanent. We all face both internal and external storms in life. Our response to the storms determines our legacy. Your people are watching and learning from your example. Your organization needs you to fight. Do not curl up below deck and ride this out. You may have stowed your mainsail before the storm, and your current feelings are a barometer of your emotions. Reset your sails and use the storm winds to set a course toward success. Commit to going harder and faster than before. Take more significant risks and make bigger bets on the direction your intuition has provided. If you are at a low point, you have headed in that direction for a while.
The team needs you now. Look past your organization's needs and search your soul to find the areas of leadership that represent your values. You will get excited about leading yourself, your organization, and your people. It is time to release your inner strength. Find the fighter you have been suppressing. Be unapologetic about this work and trust your instincts. You are closer to the success you seek than you realize. There is more leadership in your tank.
Most successful people have one thing in common. They never quit. The masses stop when it gets hard and never find the success they seek. Life is the ultimate meritocracy. It is not about being stronger or smarter (these do help); it is about having the endurance to continue when most people decide to stop. You can do much more than your mind allows you to see. You are more significant than you realize, and you are capable of far more than you know. Edison failed ten thousand times. No, he learned ten thousand ways not to make a lightbulb. Your legacy gets defined at this moment. What are you going to do?