Have you ever felt overwhelmed? This last week it seems like a convergence of events came to a head and I found myself battling the front-lines with this sort of ninja like response. Think about a scene out of a Jackie Chan movie, where he is flying around doing 360’s knocking out the bad guys. Those karate fight scenes all look the same to me; the one good guy against 15 bad guys. Well, that’s how my life appears in my head when I am overwhelmed. Getting flustered is not a normal response for me, I am built to see across the playing field, eye the obstacles, map my way around them and proceed to the goal. It is human, however, to become overwhelmed at times no matter how level headed one prides themselves in being. A little insight into my situation last week reveals work pressures, family responsibilities, higher education deadlines, and a compromised immune system.

At work the stakes are high, our project does in fact have the potential to impact human lives, and it is a project that will change the way medicine is practiced and delivered  in this community. Family life is full with all the adventures that come with raising twin five and half year olds, the emotions that go with the recent passing of my father, putting the finishing touches on my degree, all while battling the flu.  I suppose all those warrant a certain bit of freedom to be overwhelmed, but for a task driven “doer,” the overwhelmed feelings are just not comfortable, they seem week. This got me thinking…

  • How do I see others when they are overwhelmed?
  • Do I over simplify their issues?
  • Do I minimize their feelings?
  • Do I really stop and listen?

As a leader I want to lead, not join in the feelings of those who are drowning. I want to march them right out of the sea and back onto dry land. I want to quickly relieve their feelings of being overwhelmed and replace them with a sense of direction. What I often fail to see in these ninja moments or what I call “leading without listening” is the person, the human being standing before me. What I have done is honed in on the facts and I totally missed the emotional need that this person has for a human connection. Often times it is just an acknowledgement of the enormity of the situation from their perspective, not mine, that is needed.

A common characteristic in men is a desire to “fix it.”  Whatever and wherever it is, home or work, we want to fix it. Nowhere is this more prevalent for me then with my wife. I have come to learn over the years that when she is sharing with me about something that is overwhelming to her she is not asking me to fix it, she is asking me to listen, to acknowledge with her the situation. Tying that back to business- my employees are not always asking me to solve their problems for them, often times they just want to be heard, to connect on a human level. This does not excuse me from leading, but if I just stop and listen, often times the employee already has the answers. In that moment of human connection it is like the world does stop, for one brief moment, allowing you to breathe. In writing this I realized that I can become more at ease with those times when I am overwhelmed if I will remember the message here:

Being overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness, refusing to acknowledge it is.

The most effective way to lead or to be led through these times is to connect with another human being and simply listen. “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

— Ralph Nichols

Thank you guys for interest in our pursuit this week. I look forward to your personal experiences.



  1. Andy steere | Reply

    Love this post. Listening, paying attention to what others are saying or feeling is an uncommon trait in many leaders…may it not be true of me…although i fear often it is…

  2. Alli Polin | Reply

    Great post, Chris! It’s true! When we’re in a state of overwhelm, deep inside we know the way out but sometimes need to talk it out. Instead of talking to ourselves, we may turn to a leader. In my opinion, leaders that both listen and ask questions, that help us find the answers inside of us, have far more impact that ones the ones that tell us the answer, turn us around and tell us to go do it.

    Love the Ninja metaphor! You really hit the experience of being overwhelmed and battling too many things at once on the head!


  3. Mary Maki | Reply

    So true!!! I work with your mother in law Janet who showed me this when I most needed it. Feeling very stressed and overwhelmed right!!!! Thank you!!!!! Mary

  4. chris | Reply

    Thanks for your comment. Being overwhelmed is no fun, but in those times I seem to learn the most if I just stop and take a few minutes to refocus.

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