“I’ve hit my COVID wall and turned into a statistic,” Jocelyn told me on a Thursday. Normally, an enthusiastic, inspiring, high-performing leader who knows how to take care of herself, she was at the end of her rope. She started an exciting new role at the beginning of the year, and soon she began to feel exhausted, overtaxed and apathetic. She missed seeing people – both at work and at home. “I’m responsible for everything: it’s all coming at me and I can’t get organized. I inherited a team that is completely burned out. My new leadership team has overpacked agendas that are not a great use of time. I’m not taking care of myself and I hate how I’m showing up like a crazy lady at home.”
Jocelyn called one of her new leadership team peers and courageously admitted how she was feeling. Her peer acknowledged that she felt the same way, and went on to disclose that she pushed off her important doctor appointment for three months because she doesn’t have time to go. “There is too much work in the system and I don’t know my way out other than to work constantly to keep up,” she said.
When Jocelyn’s daughter said, “Mommy, you have that grumpy look on your face – do you need a hug?” it was the wake up call that inspired her to reach out for coaching. After one conversation, she was feeling better and by Friday, she reported feeling back to herself, even giddy with excitement about the weekend. Read on to see what Jocelyn did and how her ALLIES supported her.
In a team meeting this week, multiple leaders mentioned not taking the time to eat lunch, working at all hours and feeling behind no matter how hard they work.
These leaders are not alone, and men are reporting the same dynamics. High stress, or burnout, is real. Companies are saying engagement and employee mental health are critical, though stories like Jocelyn’s are far too common. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared burnout as an occupational syndrome. In the U.S. alone, more than a third of employees report feeling burned out some of the time, and nearly a quarter feel that way very often or all the time. There is a level of emotional exhaustion that makes people feel so depleted and drained – they feel they have nothing left to give, and yet, they keep giving more. There can be negative health consequences, most commonly depression, memory loss, alcohol abuse, sleep problems, weakened immune systems, and even cardiovascular disease. Job performance suffers, too, as leaders accomplish less and make more mistakes.
The first thing Jocelyn and I did in our coaching session was to go back to basics. Like the oxygen mask on the airplane, Jocelyn had been putting it on everyone else first, and she couldn’t understand why she felt so depleted. “I don’t even know where my oxygen mask is!” she told me. Even when we intellectually know the key question to ask ourselves daily, we forget it when we prioritize others, say yes to too many things, and stop taking care of ourselves. We broke down the key question (What do I want?) into an even simpler version, What are three non-negotiables I need every day? She knew exactly what they were and immediately wrote them down on a post-it note to remember:
- Walk – fresh air
- Meditate – time alone for (at least) five minutes a day
- Feed myself – real, nourishing food
On the surface, these non-negotiables do not seem significant and yet, they created an opening to step back and prioritize herself. Upon reflection, she realized a few things:
- When she stopped the basics, it snowballed into other things she wasn’t doing for herself. “I need to recommit to myself,” she said. Reinstating her non-negotiables inspired her to exercise, make bold requests and find a way to think strategically again.
- When she didn’t have white space to catch up, she started sacrificing herself. She started the year off strong by blocking a lunch break. Eventually she started using that hour to work, skipping lunch or mindlessly grabbing junk food to eat. By time blocking her calendar she was able to start focusing and stop reactively responding.
- When she was suffering alone, she wasn’t able to make changes. Ask for help, early and often is a bold leadership practice. She realized that reaching out for help can help others. Other people are often having the same or similar issues as we are.
- When others make requests, it doesn’t mean you have to say yes. BOLD leaders decline or renegotiate as much as they accept. While her boss is caring, he had no idea of the consequences of his requests until she spoke up. She realized she needed to stop saying yes to everything he asked, renegotiate deliverables, and make requests. She had this conversation with him and he was a role model ally. He was open to input, willing to make changes, and receptive to ideas about how to engage and lead her and the team differently. In fact, he appreciated her help. ALLIES who are open, receptive and curious support their leaders, and also receive help themselves.
Steps to Take
- Be vulnerable. Jocelyn was a role model of vulnerability. She got real with her husband, who admitted he didn’t know how to help her. She courageously disclosed her feelings to her peer, inspiring her peer to do the same, and they both realized they were not alone. She reached out for coaching, which helped her clarify how she was feeling and what she needed, making it possible for her to be real and make requests to her boss.
- Make requests/renegotiate. Once she could see what she needed, she started making requests. She asked her admin to help her block white space and reworked her calendar starting the next day. She renegotiated with her boss about her strategic commitments and the timing of deliverables. She also helped him strategize on what the leadership team needed, which he gladly accepted. And, she asked her in-laws to take her kids for the weekend.
- Take action. Jocelyn took proactive steps to put her metaphorical oxygen mask back on. With her kids at grandma’s, she was able to ask herself, What Do I Want? She invited her husband to go hiking on Saturday, and she spent time on Sunday having coffee and a walk with a friend. She strategically engaged her admin in determining what meetings to accept and which ones to decline or renegotiate.
Ultimately, Jocelyn remembered that she must ensure she meets her basic needs on a daily basis in order to operate proactively, think strategically, work intentionally, and lead boldly.
- What are my non-negotiables I need every day to be my best self?
- What is the biggest thing I am letting get in the way of my non-negotiables?
- What is one ask, renegotiation or recommitment I can do to make my non-negotiables happen?
Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.
Yours in practice,