Over the years, we’ve noticed that our clients who push scale the most seem to have some of the most adrenaline-addicted, workaholic, unhappy employees. Often when companies are in scaling mode, they're lean on budgets, without enough money to hire all the people they’d like to. At the same time, scaling can mean more meetings, more communications, and longer hours. “They're pushing us harder than ever and with fewer resources than we need,” we hear. We see tired people up late finishing emails, employees who feel like they can never catch up, and workers anxious about taking even a small vacation.
We’d call this pattern “scaling below the line.”
Some people might say, “If we can accomplish our world-changing mission, so what if we overwork ourselves? It will be a good sacrifice for the wellbeing of the whole.”
Here at the Conscious Leadership Group, we like the idea of scaling our impact. We’re often approached by people wanting to advise us what we should and shouldn’t do to scale. Unfortunately, it looks to us like a lot of those would-be advisors are exhausted and not enjoying a very high-quality life. We ask ourselves, “Is it really in our best interest to listen to you?”
In fact, we’ve gotten clear: We’re committed to only scaling while in devotion to our wellbeing. We're prioritizing our relationships, our creativity, and our aliveness. All those engines have to be firing as we grow.
We recognize that there is a consequence to this choice. If we did it differently, we might reach more people more quickly, and thus make a difference in more lives and more missions.
But we're not willing to sacrifice our own wellbeing to try to promote the wellbeing of others. It's just not the way we want to live our lives. We're not saying that's the right way to do it; it’s just what we’re committed to.
So is it possible to scale from above the line? We think so. Here’s what it might look like.
When companies are scaling, we often witness leaders and teams caught in a breathless sense of urgency. We believe they could move forward just as quickly — without the breathlessness — if they weren't so contracted around their false sense of urgency.
The more open and relaxed you are, the more creative you can be, the more innovative you can be, and the more wellbeing you can experience. Just the shift from contraction to openness can have a big impact on people's energy levels.
In order to let go of this feeling of urgency, you have to let go of being right that scaling has to happen now or that it’s a problem if it doesn't.
Ask yourself, “Where am I moving from threat and being right that scaling is better?”
Would you be willing to see that the opposite of your story could be as true or truer?
We believe that scaling from above the line means taking the time to achieve a certain brilliance of strategy and organizational structure. The less drama tax everybody is paying, the more they can use that creative energy to get stuff done. Unleashing that potential includes:
Scaling above the line also means we must face that we'll only be able to scale so much without tapping ourselves out. We honor that we have a finite amount of energy and we make sure we create space to recharge our engines. We can do this by:
With these principles in place, we believe we — and you — can grow in a way that allows us to do our work long term, without burning out.
We're not saying that scaling this way is the right way, or the only way. If you or your company isn’t willing to do it differently, we have a couple recommendations.
1. Get more honest in interviews
When you’re interviewing potential employees, be forthcoming and candid about what they can expect. You might say something like: “This is a high pressure environment which is really pushing scale. We recognize that there are consequences to our employees doing this. If you're going to come on board, we want you to know that you're going to have to count on staying late or working weekends, etc. It might impact your relationships. We just want you to know that upfront.”
2. Own your (unconscious) commitments
It looks to us like groups of people who have shared unconscious commitments come together in organizations to work together. We see that many people are attracted to scale-focused cultures because they're addicted to overwhelm — the culture fits right in with their unconscious commitments.
If that’s you, we invite you to stop complaining that you don't have time to do your work because you’re always in meetings and the emails never stop flowing. Just own that you're committed to overworking and stressing yourself working for a company that’s asking more than is sustainable.
If you want to change that commitment, then before you go work for an organization, you might want to ask about their relationship to overwhelm and scale, and their expectations about when you respond to emails, working on the weekends, or working nights. Get all that information up front so that you're not naive and can make a conscious choice.