The Martyr as Manager

Too many managers are martyrs and that holds them back from being great leaders.

I should know.  I was one of them.

Merriam-Webster defines a martyr as :  “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle     For martyrs that are managers, the principle that they are beholden to is some variation of “the company can’t survive without me” and the things of great value that they sacrifice are their health, their relationships at work and home, their sleep, their peace of mind and the future of their career.

In my case, my martyrdom revealed itself around vacations.  I took the days, but never planned them and most years didn’t take all the days allotted.  Two phrases that I used when vacations came up  were “I like being at work too much” (for co-workers) and “the thing the company counts on the most is that I am there every day” (to myself and family).  And in the time off I did take,  I was rarely taking it off for actual vacations.  I’d take the first week of school off, to further my martyrdom by helping my wife, who works in education, and my kids adjust to the first week back.  It was help they did not need and I was happy to play the martyr there, too.

My friend Sheldon knows all about it:

I was proud of the fact that I was rarely missed work, even when mildly sick , and looked down on people that took what I deemed excessive sick days.  I was three years without a sick day in 2012 when I landed in the hospital for 10 days with a bilateral pulmonary embolism.  But I was back to work part time a month later, when most take six months to recover I told people, and a year later almost worked myself back into the hospital by not taking vacations or sick time.

It’s a crazy spiral that only drags you and your career down.  In the moment, you may think that the big bosses can’t help but notice your dedication to the company and will reward your sacrifice with promotions and raises and praise.  But they didn’t in my case and they likely won’t in yours because martyrs are a pain in the ass and promoting you will only encourage that behaviour in yourself and in others.

So take some time at the beginning of the year to plan all your vacations for the next 12 months and include your family in the planning.

This simple act keeps your work life in perspective and keeps you looking forward instead of getting mired in the present. Your family will thank you, your team will thank you  and your company will thank you, for bringing the best version of yourself to work and being a good role model for others.

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