How leaders can push back in 8 easy steps

The bronco knows how to push back
If you are being ridden too hard, you need to learn how to buck them off

Companies are full of people trying to take your time and add tasks to your already full workload.

Your standard working week is already under attack. Unscheduled meetings and unexpected work stop you from finishing what you are meant to be doing, so you stay a little later.

You have a problem saying no and the work piles up. If you don’t go “over and above”, you won’t get that promotion or the recognition you deserve.

Or will you?

Why being able to push back makes you a better leader

Pushing back on people who try to load you with extra work can make you appear more competent.

Here’s why:

  • If you understand your limits, you can prioritise your effort to make sure you get your important tasks finished at a high level of quality.
  • When you limit the amount of work you take on, you have time to focus on leading, coaching and mentoring your team, which are your important leadership tasks.
  • When you set boundaries, you do good work, most of the time, rather than finishing things as fast as you can, which leads to errors.
  • Your team will thank you for limiting their workload, because you aren’t too scared to push back on your own boss.

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How you can push back

Pushing back is an art form. The leader who chooses to push back on everything will not be called a “team player”. The leader that takes on too much work will put pressure on themselves and their team until they eventually break.

1. Push back, by doing a good job first

First, you need to prove that you can do a good job, so this should be your first focus. If you’re new in your role, you need to show early that you can do your job.

This will give you the respect to do what’s needed later. If people don’t think you’re good at your job, people will just see you as someone who is lazy.

2. Push back by being agreeable

You should take on additional work where it makes sense. Take on small tasks that don’t cause much extra effort. Say “yes” to helping out when you don’t really need to. Lend a hand to somebody in need. This shows that you are a reasonable person and a “team player”.

3. Push back the right way

Don’t yell, don’t shout. Just say calmly that you can’t take on that extra work right now because your team is busy. Try not to become emotional.

If you do, people will just say that “you were having a bad day”. They may consider you to be unstable, which may undermine your credibility.

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4. Push back by explaining the reasons why

It’s not usually good enough to say that you just don’t want to do extra work. “It’s not my job” doesn’t usually work well either. If you can give good reasons why you and your team is not able to squeeze in that extra work, this can go a long way.

Over time, people around you will learn that they need to prioritise, rather than trying to get you to do everything at once.

You can’t do everything, so be sure to choose the right things.

5. Push back by being persistent

When you push back, you really need to mean it. Your goal is to train the people around you so they learn that there are limits to what they can give you and your team.

This might even mean taking a negative performance review or someone yelling at you. You need to show that you are serious, at least until the situation becomes unworkable. Sometimes, you will need to give in or risk losing your job or a similar fate. This is unfortunate, but at least you can feel good knowing that you tried.

If you keep trying and people around you refuse to learn, you might need to rethink your position in that company. Sometimes a culture of taking on extra work is difficult to change. You might enjoy building your career more elsewhere.

6. After you push back, don’t boast about it

If you successfully push back and avoid additional work, don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t act like you’ve scored a point or “won” something. You’ve just done your job as a leader, nothing more and nothing less.

7. After you push back, keep doing a good job

When you push back, make sure the work you have agreed to do continues to done well, on time. The last thing you want is to push back and then to be seen being lazy. This will undermine your credibility.

8. After you push back, continue to be agreeable

Continue to help where you can, take on small additional tasks or even larger ones where it provides the most benefit. You might even say “my team has finished that work early, so we can fit in that other task that you wanted”. This will still make you appear to be a team player whilst having standards.

You won’t always successfully push back. Sometimes people will force you to take on additional responsibility and more work. But the sooner you learn to push back, the greater the chance you can protect your team and yourself from the 12 hour work day cycle.