Leaders' Edge Advisor

Vol. 1, No. 2 - Leading In Lean Times II

(or Taking Care of Yourself When No One Else Is)

During these times of budget cuts, staff reductions and having to do more with less, something happens to many committed leaders. It is often subtle, but over time can take a devastating toll on leaders and those around them. Some call it burnout; others call it exhaustion or being at the end of one’s rope. Whatever term used, it translates into the leader being overextended with little energy to move forward. Initially, the leader may get away with narrowing his or her life down to essentially just work and sleep for an extended amount of time. In the end it catches up with everyone.

Exhaustion may be the trigger that brings leaders to finally realize they are undernourished or overworked. You wake up one morning and you simply cannot get out of bed. Or, it could happen as reported recently in Inc. magazine. Michael Hopkins’ article "Why Leadership is the Most Dangerous Idea in American Business" described a charismatic leader running her business for some 20 years on a 12 hour, six days a week schedule finally broke down. One late evening at the office, she could only stare at the walls and unable to move. Her family had to literally lift her out of her seat and take her to the hospital. It happens, and, if you think you can beat the odds let me be the first to tell you that you will eventually lose the bet.

Gauge What is Doable

We often neglect a fair assessment of personal and professional resources, thinking we can overcome any barrier to make dreams come true. Overestimating the external supports available to get the job done will result in undue stress, making you miserable in the process. You are gradually overextended, thus robbing yourself of a meaningful personal life and a manageable professional life. Working to scale is the critical issue here. Knowing what you have to work with at any given time is paramount to successful leadership. If you are not good at gauging whether you are overextended, ask a few friends who care about you. Don’t be surprised at what you hear. Find a Supportive Work Environment

Work in a supportive environment!!! System change usually occurs in an organizational environment that supports the system change agent. If you are in an environment that doesn’t support the work of the change agent, it will take huge expenditures of energy to move forward in any measurable way, and again at great personal and professional expense. For example, on the first day of my work in one well-respected state agency my supervisor said to me "Gary we are looking forward to you leading us on children’s mental health issues." The effort to accomplish system change in this agency was effortless compared to the next situation where my supervisor stated soon after my arrival, "My job is to clip your wings." The effort it took here was tremendous filled with every roadblock imaginable. Do not let your vision get in the way of finding a supportive work environment. Hold on to Your Sanctuaries

No matter how much you enjoy your work make time for other life pursuits! Family, friends, hobbies, and interests are critical to keeping you and your work alive. They are what Heifetz (1994) refers to as "sanctuaries." This becomes difficult when you face short deadlines, under-staffing of activities and are in a culture that encourages overwork and discourages a balanced work effort. If you, like most leaders, are inclined to pour yourself into work and you are working in such an environment, say "yes" to taking care of yourself. Diversify your life; if it is a good strategy for your money, it is a good strategy for you. Live Life - Not Work

Some of you are reading this and saying, "I wish I would have read this five years ago!" "How do I turn things around?" you may ask. Like system change, the process of changing yourself to be someone who engages with life and allows yourself to identify, grow and enjoy your sanctuaries takes time. Having trouble identifying your sanctuaries? Start by asking the question, "What are the activities that make me feel relaxed, renewed, and refreshed?" Give yourself time to find the answers and then… Never let them go again!

Know as you go about doing the work of leading your organization, community or system change effort that you have choices. Pacing yourself, pacing change and living life rather than living your work are all within your grasp. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must become the change we want to see."

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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