E88 - Stop burnout now! There is a better way

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What happens when you reach the lofty heights of CEO success? Do you rest on your laurels and get complacent? Or do you double down and burnout? Both are big risks for leaders. There is a third option: move from Achiever to Amplifier.

  • How complacency kills courage and creativity

  • Why we head towards burnout

  • Three things we need to change if we are going to have more impact without burnout



Zoë Routh: Hey, it's Zoë, and this is the Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast where we talk about building a boundless life, team, and organisation, and we talk about all things personal excellence, strategy, and culture. Today, we're talking about the idea of what happens when we achieve success, what happens when we get to the pinnacle of our game. Is it all over red rover, or is there more to do? Well, of course I think there's more to do and more to grow, so let's get into it.

Zoë Routh: I was being interviewed today by somebody else on their podcast, [Terry, and he asked me, "What happens when leaders get to a certain level of success?" They make it to CEO, the C-suiters, and they sort of rest on their laurels. They feel like they've made it, there's nowhere else to go, they can just take a breather. What do I see when leaders get to that stage? And I think it's a really interesting question because we spend a lot of our career, many of us anyway, aspiring to get to a particular level. We think, "That's the be all and end all," and when we get there, what happens?

What I see with leaders is there's two types of problems that happen when we reach the pinnacle. One is the problem of plateau where you do kick back and go, "Whew, I finally made it. I've got the position I always wanted, the money I always wanted, the authority I always wanted, and life is good." So what happens is that success can breed complacency. I remember speaking to another leader who'd been in his role for 10 years as CEO and called me up. He said, "Things are going really well, and I'm worried about that." I'm like, "What's there to worry about?" He goes, "I'm afraid that we're getting to complacent and we might miss something and we might be heading for a fall and we're not even sure about that."

And what he'd cottoned on to was the fact that when we feel successful, we think that mistakenly it's going to continue that way forever. We all have this hardwired into us. It's like when we get to the garden of oasis, we think, "That's it. Relief, relief. Things are good now." And we forget that everything goes in cycles. So success breed complacency, and complacency kills a number of things. One of them is it kills courage. We get so used to living a comfortable life that we forget to do something different, to do something exploratory.

And I think about myself with this, right? In my 20s, my job was wilderness coordinator at summer camp, and I was tasked with driving the six-week canoe trips up to their starting point on their expeditions, which was 13 hours along a dirt road right to the very end of the road that finished in the lake. And I got to drive this big, old school bus, like a 42-seater with a canoe trailer on the back. It was a big, serious rig, and I felt badass around that. And I could do those things, I could do this courageously, drive something humongous. Now I think about myself these days, and I will do everything possible to avoid parking in underground car parks because they make me nervous. I know, right? How can you go from badass to lame ass? It's only been 30 years, but still. What is it?

And I think it's being comfortable kills our courage. I've forgotten what it's like to actually step up and to put myself in that place of discomfort and really go for it and do some things that are a little uncomfortable. So I think we really need to be mindful of that. So success can kill our courage, but success can also breed complacency that kills creativity. So when we have something that's working, it's like, "Why fix something that ain't broke," you know? And I think that kind of attitude is ripe for destruction, and it spells doomsday for a number of different things.

We can always improve something. We should always be experimenting, always be exploring the edges, and yet it's so easy just to fall back on the same old, same old. And then we're surprised when the same old, same old doesn't produce the same type of results, and we're like, "Oh, what happened?" And we scramble to make up the difference and to get things back on track. So the first problem I see with leaders is when they hit that pinnacle of whatever they set as a pinnacle is the plateau problem, and we can get disrupted unwittingly after being complacent.

The second challenge I see with leaders, and this is probably more prevalent, is burnout because what happens is that we've been striving for so long to achieve a particular goal. We work, we work, we work, and we're trying to get to that endpoint, and we finally get to the goal. What happens is that we're so used to striving that we don't know how to celebrate, we don't know how to recalibrate. So the goalpost move again.

I call this the "when...then" problem. "When I get to fill-in-the-blank destination, then I'll feel happy." And what happens is that we never feel happy. We're always constantly chasing the next big thing, and it's a serious problem. So what ends up happening is that leaders get to CEO jobs or general manager or the top dog position, and they're so used to striving and striving and working and working that their responsibilities expand, and they figure, "I just got to work harder and longer." And it's not good, so they fry themselves in the end, and I think there is an alternative to that.

So we've got plateau as a risk and disruption through complacency as a result. We've got burnout as a more significant risk when we hit the C-suite or the top dog. So what is the alternative? And I think the alternative is going from achiever, where instead of hard going, hard striving, we can go to amplifier. And this requires a major shift of principles, perspective, and practice. We got the three Ps happening today, folks.

So what do I mean by this? What is achiever, and what is amplifier? Achiever is setting goal and going for it. Work hard, get to the result. Amplifier is something altogether different. It's not that we abandon results or goals. We just do it differently. And we need to stop doing some things and start doing others in order to move to amplifier. Amplifier is where we can get even greater results for a different kind of energy. It's not for less energy necessarily. It's for a different kind of energy, but we need to reinvent ourselves as leaders and how we approach our leadership job in the process.

Here are a few things that we can stop doing and start doing. Stop doing as an achiever and start doing as an amplifier. The first one I already mentioned, and that's the "when...then". "When I get to, when I achieve this result, when I do blank, then I will feel happy, successful, fulfilled." That is a principle that we need to change radically. And the difference is, "Now I feel happy, fill in the blank, and now we can get to work." It's completely different, right? It's like, "My happiness is a default state of being, and the work still exists," but it's not like, "I need to do this so I feel better." Amplifiers, it's, "I feel happy and satisfied and content right now, and I'm going to bring that energy to the work that I do."

It's very different, and I think it relates to what I learned from Tony Robbins ages ago. He said, "Are you achieving to be happy, or are you happily achieving?" And this was such a profound change of semantics for me that has continued to echo and resonate with me in my life and the work that I do with clients as well. Achieving to be happy means that you always forever put off the reward of your efforts. Happily achieving means that you bring a new sense of fulfillment to your work. You don't give up on achieving, you just do it in a very different way that's more energizing, because it is pretty draining. If you're achieving to be happy, it's always in this out there in front of you place as opposed to with you all the time. So it's a principle and a methodology that needs to shift.

All right. Another one that when we're doing achiever, success is all about result. It's all about the tangibles, it's all about the externals, and we only feel successful when we get results. And there's so many things that could happen that are outside of your control that don't deliver results, and I think it's a difficult paradigm. I don't think we need to abandon results completely in the equation for defining success. I think how we do it as amplifiers is this: success is results and process. So it's a little bit more echoing that it's about happily achieving.

Success is determined by the results that we produce and the process by which we achieve them, and there's lots of detail and distinctions we can put around process. Did we bring people along with us? Did we do it ethically? Did we do it quickly? Did we do it with a spirit of contribution? Did we do it with fun and excitement? And when we focus on that, that's a very different way of looking at the world than as an achiever, which is drive the results, get the results, and then you're successful.

All right. The other principle I think, or action, or practice I should say, that we need to shift, one of the fundamentals from achiever into amplifier is, are we leading teams, are we growing leaders? Now, this is a big difference. Right? If we're leading teams, it means that we have distinct authority. We are maybe coaching and mentoring people, but we are still firmly in the driver's seat, and a lot of the results depend on us being able to do that well. So we're kind of like the meat in the sandwich in some ways. It's like the pressure that exists at that pointy end of the person who is leading a team is significant. And an achiever, that pressure can be overwhelming because often we're reporting to a board or to a set of directors or to stakeholders, and so it's really quite lonely, and you get compressed between needing to deliver with your team and needing to answer to stakeholders.

The alternative to that, it's not to abandon ship, it's to focus on growing leaders because really the only way to get out of that linchpin pressure point is to have other people around you can do as good a job or if not better than you. So we need to be focused on growing leaders around us. We need to think about talent development as a key responsibility as leaders. It's not good enough to have the right people and the right seats on the right bus, right? That's sort of the fundamentals of achiever. It's more about, "Right, we've got these people around us. How can I help them shift and grow? How can I help them accelerate the mission of the organisation? How can I help them evolve into their great potential?" So leading teams or growing leaders is a key fundamental perspective.

All right. Just to review, the three things that we need to shift or use to move from achiever, which is exhausting, it's either exhausting or it's reaching a plateau, and move into amplifier where we continue to accelerate and deliver in a completely different way with a completely different set of ripples are this. We need to look at our principles of leadership. We need to look at our perspective. How far into the future are we looking, and whose perspective are we considering in the decisions that we make? And practice. What are the practice and habits that we're undertaking to shift us from achieve, which is drive, and amplifier, which is growth?

I'm curious, are you an amplifier, or are you an achiever? Love to hear from you. This is one of the things we're going to be exploring at the Un-Conference. My team and I were just looking at the Un-Conference for March 2019 and what are the themes that we're going to explore, and this is a fundamental one. Achiever to amplifier is going to be the journey that we want to take people on, so if you want to be part of that journey in towards the end of March in 2019 here with us in Canberra, stay tuned and look out for the announcements. We're going to be launching the program pretty soon. In the meantime, live well, lead well.


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