Most of the leaders I work with are overloaded. They have way more to do than they have capacity to complete. While some leaders manage this well, others continue as though they have infinite capacity. They don’t like saying no or offering a trade-off.
I’ve written about saying no in previous posts. It is challenging, especially when you are dealing with someone who has more power than you. When you are the one with the power and you are making requests, remember how hard it can be to say no. You will be well served by inviting the other person to give you a no, if that is the right answer.
Offering a Trade-Off
An alternative to saying no is offering a trade-off. It can be a counter-proposal, such as ‘I can’t do that but I could do this’. In this situation, you are deciding what can and can’t be done. A trade-off is different and can be more powerful. With a trade-off, you offer up some things that can be stopped to create the capacity to start work on the new request. This gets very powerful when you ask the requestor to choose what to trade-off. It makes them accountable to prioritize what to work on and what not to. This is the role of an effective leader. It works very well when it is with a person who gives you lots of work as they are trading-off their own requests.
It is a little more challenging if you are trading off work given to you by someone else. I always recommend including all the people involved in the trade-off discussion. If all goes well, a decision is made in the best collective interests of everyone involved. If a decision can’t be made, it’s usually because there is insufficient authority or leadership perspective. In this case, escalating to a more senior level usually resolves the dispute.
What if your boss refuses to trade-off?
I’ll wrap up this post with a tricky situation. Let’s say your boss refuses to entertain a trade-off, what do you do? Respond by asking them if they plan their organization with lots of unused capacity. I don’t know of any leader or organization who does this, at least not intentionally. In that case, every organization will always have more work to do than they have capacity to complete. This means we should always offer a trade-off because it is the sign of a healthy organization. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Highly effective leaders make it a part of their culture.
What are your experiences with offering trade-offs? What makes it hard for you as the giver or receiver?