Do you know Christine?
Do you know Christine?
Christine* didn’t know if she wanted to do this anymore. ‘This’ being her senior executive role.
Her long climb to the top had been a mixture of thrilling achievements, hard work and personal sacrifice. Now she had reached the summit (or so it appeared). She had the title, the big team, full P&L responsibility and all the trappings of success – beautiful home, children in private schools, expensive cars and luxurious overseas holidays. There was a lot to be grateful for.
But was her view from the top worth it?
More confusingly, she even wondered if this really was the top – she didn’t feel like she had particularly succeeded in her accomplishments, she didn’t feel like she was calling the shots, she didn’t feel like she had a role that was business critical nor the freedom she had expected seniority would bring. For the first time ever, she didn’t feel optimistic about the next chapter in her career.
She worried her star was beginning to fall. Unfamiliar feelings of doubt (which her coach termed ‘relevance deprivation’ and ‘imposter syndrome’) crept in and started to dominate. Twelve years of being the primary financial provider for the family was something she increasingly thought about, as she longed for more family time and a slower pace of life. If she was really honest with herself, despite the ‘success’ she had achieved, she was increasingly questioning, maybe even resenting, the efforts required, and the toll exacted.
The prospect of gearing up to ‘do it all again’ for another year at work left her feeling jaded and anxious. Her new boss was a totally different character and she really didn’t know where she stood with regard to how he viewed her performance, and this was getting to her as well.
As a lifelong overachiever, she couldn’t remember ever feeling such discontent or uncertainty.
She wasn’t sleeping well, what with this muddle of thoughts to ruminate over every night as she lay there, restless.
What was she doing with her life?
Why wasn’t she happier?
Was she being frozen out at work or was she being paranoid?
Had she hit her ceiling? Was she even up to it anymore?
Had she reached her peak, or worse – had she flamed out?
Or was she just burned out and in need of a break?
Was it time to throw it all in?
(*‘Christine’ is a composite character based on insights from multiple GLWS leader case-studies.)
To the outside world, Christine was a high-profile, successful executive. On the inside, she and her life were much messier. She is not alone.
How many Christine-s (or Chris-es) do you know? How many are there in the organisations you work with?
Helping Christine and all those like her
As part of a senior exec development program, Christine’s wellbeing profile highlighted the fragile relationship between a leader’s performance, the toll exacted by the role and context and the impact on relationships, stress, health and productivity.
By completing the GLWS, the mirror is held up and the first stage in collapsing the dilemma between performance and wellbeing gets underway. The questions prompt reflection and fire up connections that may have been ignored or pushed back of mind.
Seeing one’s responses collated into a personalised profile provides a vocabulary and framework with which to dissect the inner turmoil, the stresses and strains, the enhancers and detractors to one’s wellbeing. And a means of gently challenging the mindsets that drive behaviour – behaviour that is the foundation of performance and wellbeing.
During a GLWS debrief, some carefully selected high net-gain questions can have a real impact.
The killer question
“If you change nothing about the way you currently approach your work and home life, how will life be for you in 12 months / 3 years / 5 years from now?”
When we ask this, engagement with wellbeing suddenly becomes high stakes stuff. It helps clients view their wellbeing as an integral component of what they need to be and feel successful in life.
Allow a moment for the pictures to form, for the messages to take hold in the brain.
What are you playing for now?
When you look at Christine’s GLWS Personal Report, you’d be right in thinking there’s no one aspect that’s the obviously ‘right’ place to start.
But when Meaning, Purpose and Direction is ‘red flagged’ on a GLWS profile, it’s often indicative of a looming existential crisis – so we’d usually want to tackle this first up as the foundational piece; the lifeforce that sustains us.
In wellbeing circles, it’s often referred to as our source of ‘spiritual’ (non-religious) wellbeing.
After all – why you lead determines how you lead.
To help unpack this complex area and address the sense of lost bearings, here are 10 questions to consider:
- How do you want next year to be different from this year – at work and in your personal life?
- Having reached the summit, what does success mean now?
- Since it’s no longer simply about getting the next promotion, what replaces this drive to give you a sense of purpose as a senior leader?
- What is going to be most important to your performance, happiness and satisfaction in the next phase of your life?
- How much of the pressure you’re feeling stems from your perfectionism or need to feel in control?
- If you were to take a values-based approach to creating a direction or vision for your career going forward, what guidance might this offer?
- How do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy you would wish for and how close are you to achieving this?
- What choices and freedoms do you have that you are not fully exercising?
- If you were to get involved in community or volunteering, how might you use your strengths on something you are (or could become) passionate about?
- Under what circumstances could you imagine feeling re-energised and motivated?
Is your schedule killing you (or your career)?
When, like Christine, someone flags that they are unhappy with the amount of time they spend working, that their work days always feel like a race against the clock, that they are often/usually pulled in too many different directions and their workload places them at high risk of burnout, that they never have enough time left for themselves and that juggling is always hard and taking its toll, it’s time to talk about the ‘B’ word.
Nope, not balance…
B is for Boundaries.
A crucial conversation to have with anyone whose mojo is on the wane, is to get them to reflect on what boundaries they have set for themselves. You’d be surprised (or perhaps not) at how many people look confused.
Put simply, a boundary is a line that’s not to be crossed – a decision you make about what’s okay and what’s not okay.
A boundary most obviously manifests in how we plan and organise our time. Do your meetings start and finish punctually as scheduled? Are you a serial rescheduler? Chronically late or over-committed? Does your work expand to fill every nook and cranny of ‘spare’ time? Do you allow other people to hijack your time? Do you hijack theirs? A good place to start when working on boundaries is to ask:
‘What’s okay and what’s not okay in relation to the hours you are working?’
- What are you paying attention to and what/how are you prioritising?
- What is the biggest drain on your time?
- What can you delegate or delete from your schedule?
- How can you match your schedule to your peak and lowest energy times?
- How might you leverage the flexibility, support and resources you have to carve out more space for the other things that are important to you?
Of course, it’s not just time that benefits from boundaries.
Exploring your self-care habits
Some of the weakest (or non-existent boundaries) are the rules we follow (or don’t) in relation to self-care. Often, those in busy careers with demanding family lives have well-established disciplines for looking after everyone else’s needs and wants apart from their own, which – if they even have them – are the first to be corrupted.
So try asking:
What’s okay and what’s not okay in terms of your physical health and energy?
- How might you take better care of yourself?
- What rhythm / minimum micro-habits can you establish to nudge your way to better self-care?
- What is the link between your technology, alcohol, sleep, nutrition and exercise concerns?
- What boundaries can you put in place that would optimise the quantity of your physical energy, the amount of fuel in your tank?
We’ve covered time and physical health, how else might boundary management prove to be a useful concept for boosting performance and wellbeing?
Investing in and protecting your key relationships
Perhaps even more so than with our health, we can be horribly complacent and take liberties with the most important people in our lives. What boundaries could you put in place in order to improve your workplace relationships and/or better honour your loved ones?
Constructive intervention here might look like this line of questioning:
What’s okay and what’s not okay with what’s going on in your relationships?
- Consider your key relationships and reflect on how you show up to these people? Is your intention matched by their reality? How do you know this to be true?
- How present are you for the key people in your life when you are with them?
- What is the quality of your relational energy – what are you are emanating to/receiving from your colleagues/family?
- From now on, what will you/won’t you do/accept?
- What decision can you make to react differently?
The quality of your emotional energy
Most people carry a bit of emotional baggage. It’s hard to live life and all its challenges without acquiring some along the way. But once more, the concept of boundaries can be effectively applied as a strategy for boosting wellbeing.
If feelings of anxiousness, guilt, low mood or other emotional reactions are a source of distress or cause for concern, some suggestions for how boundary management can be helpful include considering the following:
What’s okay and what’s not okay in terms of the way your mind is behaving?
In this context, it can be helpful to consider this more deeply as what’s ‘helpful/realistic’ and what’s ‘unhelpful/unrealistic’ thinking.
- Emotional energy is particularly finite – how might you be squandering yours? What do you need to let go of?
- Which emotional bags are you choosing to put down / pick up and when is the best time to do so?
- How do you ‘mind your mind’ better?
- How can you create and sustain a more positive and calm energy than you are currently experiencing?
Whether you’re a coach, in a people function within an organisation or an executive business leader, we hope this week’s insights into Christine’s GLWS profile have reinforced the thread that connects wellbeing and performance and provided some inspiration.
“The vaccine of preventive awareness is far better than gambling on an after-the-fact cure once the crisis has fully manifested itself.”
- Harvard Business Review: Crisis at the Summit, Parsons & Pascale 2007
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