Face it; you're bound to hit a rock in the middle of the road sometimes.
Maybe an exchange with a colleague leaves you puzzled, a meeting doesn't go as planned, or you simply feel drained. Whatever the trigger is, the end result is a realization that for weeks, maybe months, you've been operating at less than your usual high level. You feel disengaged, less motivated, perhaps even frustrated. Though, on the surface at least, nothing fundamental has changed about your role.
In short, you've lost your leadership mojo, and you can't put your finger on why.
Of course, external events can cause anyone to lose our sense of direction, or reduce previously high commitment to work challenges. A major life change, like getting married, having kids, getting divorced, or material changes in the business environment, like a change in ownership, or a radical shift in direction, can throw even the most seasoned leader for a loop.
But what about those times when there is no obvious cause? In that case, chances are you're facing one of these four hidden challenges:
1. It's no longer about you. Most leaders have a healthy sense of self-worth. Even those with genuine humility know that their leadership isn't a mechanical skill. It's innate.
For some leaders, this 'leadership ego' is so strong that when the time comes to step back and let the rest of the team take the limelight, they face a difficult challenge.
Intellectually aware that such a step is necessary for the good of the enterprise as a whole, they nonetheless are left feeling personally unfulfilled, aimless, and underutilized.
How to fix it: If this is you, the key is to stay in 'starter' mode as much as possible. Find 'player-coach' assignments, or new challenges that keep you front and center of the action. As you anticipate each assignment reaching fruition, position yourself to hand off responsibility to someone else on the team and move to the next 'starter' activity.
2. You're a control freak. Some leaders, particularly founders, suffer from the opposite dynamic. It's a feeling that day after day they alone have been pushing the rock uphill.
What was once an exciting daily challenge of their leadership skills becomes instead a weary sense of drudgery; a locked-jaw, joyless task of carrying the full weight of the entire enterprise on their own shoulders.
How to fix it: The cost of fixing this is high: You have to re-tool the rest of the team. If you're carrying the entire weight of the enterprise on your own shoulders, then (assuming you're not simply delusional about your own abilities) chances are the rest of your team isn't up for taking on all of that weight themselves.
Executive development may be part of the answer (using formal training, coaching and mentoring to up-skill your team), but you may also have to accept an unpalatable truth. Some of your team members (maybe even some of your most loyal and high-performing colleagues) don't have what it takes to get your business to the next level.
3. Your organization has become over-systematized. You might wake up one day to find that the environment in which you're operating has morphed over time into a highly controlled, risk-averse, over-systematized bureaucracy--one which has sucked the life out of their own role as leader.
How to fix it: Get out. Over the years I've counseled many frustrated leaders stuck in a bureaucratic straitjacket, and I've yet to see one who, if they wanted to regain true fulfillment as leaders, didn't have to jump ship.
This may mean moving elsewhere within the organization, or finding yourself a new role elsewhere, but unless you're the owner or in the C-suite, don't kid yourself that you will change the system from within.
4. You're not needed anymore. The British painter Francis Bacon said, "I have no fear of making the first stoke on a blank canvas. My fear is not knowing when I've made the last one."
Like many leaders, Bacon had no problems starting something, but he feared over-painting--ruining a potential masterpiece by working on it too long.
For some leaders, that sense of malaise with no obvious cause is an intuitive warning that the painting is finished. your job is done, and it's time to move on.
How to fix it: Be happy, and find a new challenge.