Category Archives: Resources
Retaining and developing talent is not what you think it is.
ASTD2013 session M106 was led by David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute. Based on the meta-research of thousands of Neuro-science studies, the NeuroLeadership Institute says that we can really do a much better job of helping leaders make decisions and solve problems, regulate emotions, collaborate with others and facilitate change.
Today, we are talking about developing talent. To structure to his session, David spoke around his 50,000 foot view of talent development, which is a 5-step process…
(Note: For what follows, I have not quoted the scientific research or resources referenced by David. Please contact him directly for that. Just take everything noted here as true, with the assumption that its all proven by the neuro-science.)
There are different kinds of talent philosophy and you should think about your own
Some people think that leaders are naturally born and there is nothing you can develop. You are either born “smart” or you are not. You can’t change much. With this point-of-view, giving feedback and “stretch-goals” is considered dangerous because there is no point trying to develop people. It will only make things worse. The brain feels threatened by such approaches.
Others (like most of today’s attendees) believe that leadership competences can be acquired and developed. By using assessment and development, coaching, training, performance management etc.. we can help people improve.
Interestingly, David Rock adds that each individual’s capacity for personal development may depend on which of these philosophies he or she believes in. We are primed to grow (or not) based on our perception and those with the growth mindset have, for example, much better more active brain responses to feedback and performance evaluation.
You need to know which are the most important talents to develop in today’s leaders
David says that in the past values, strengths, general and emotional intelligence were considered as the most important talents to develop in leaders.
Today values, strengths and general intelligence remain important, but emotional intelligence is a turn-off phrase for managers. New talent ideas to develop include self and social regulation, adaptive intelligence, network intelligence and global mindset.
But in addition, given our highly networked mobile connected environment, David adds that we must now pay even more particular attention to assessing and developing team talent. He says that collective intelligence is far greater than the sum total of the intelligence of its individuals. This is proven and must be remembered. I see an interesting link to what Shari Yocum said yesterday about analysing informal social networks…
Assess talent correctly
David says that classic assessments may not be the best way to search out talent. Most of our approaches to assessment only assess people’s ability to do assessments. In other words, clever people who can spot patterns in the assessment process come out better.
He adds that classic interview processes also fail for recruiting (or developing) real talent. The people who perform best in interviews are the people who perform best in interviews. In my own experience, I have seen countless engineers and techy people who fail miserably to express (read “sell”) themselves in interviews. But they would have otherwise been a good match for the competences required.
Add to that the fact that everyone assessing the talent of others will be massively biased and its clear that these approaches to talent assessment are doomed to failure.
What does David suggest? At the NeuroLeadership Institute, they recruit people by giving them concrete measurable tasks to perform that are as close to the reality of the work as possible. An editor is given a document with 100 errors and asked to edit it. A salesman is asked to go out on the floor and sell something. An engineer is asked to design something. As a side-note, reading “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?”, you can see that Google suggest the same approach…
Develop talent. (And its not about performance management)
According to David Rock, you can forget about performance management and performance evaluation. People are not happy with it, they say it doesn’t create any significant change in performance and rarely reflects employee contributions. This seems SO wrong. Why?
Firstly, Rock says that humans are not wired for feedback. Getting feedback activates some of the same parts of the brain as dying (!!!). It is scary. And we are not capable of listening properly to people. Especially not if they are different to us. Which everyone is.
Secondly, there is too much focus on the process within performance management and not enough on what happens during the actual conversation and dialogue. The Neuro-scientist knows that status, certainty, perceived autonomy, relatedness and fairness all have an impact on our (in)ability to have good dialogue. Which is one of the building blocks of effective for most performance evaluation moments.
Finally, having performance evaluations once a year is not going to work. Intuitively, we already knew this.
So what can you do about all this? David Rock says there is SO much we could do (and encourages you to read his research) but adds that if you could only do ONE thing today, it should be to help the leaders involved in talent development, performance management and evaluation to understand the impact they have on others and what is going on in the brain.
Thanks for reading!
“One of the most influential thinkers in creativity today” says FAST Company
“Knight of the royal realm” says the Queen of England
“Keynote speaker to kick off the ICE” says ASTD2013
According to Ken Robinson, it is early. Too early. Having spent the night trying to remember how to sleep, he is not sure it’s actually a pleasure to be at ASTD2013 today. But he is here. And he’s got a message to share.
Referring to the chainsaw juggling duo The Passing Zone who introduced Tony Bingham’s speech this morning, Sir Ken reminds us that we each have deep talents and you have to work to find them. When The Passing Zone were at school, neither of them had an idea that they would spend the rest of their lives juggling. They didn’t get taught it at school and they would never have said it would be their future.
The Passing Zone love what they do. They have passion. What is your passion? Sir Robinson says that every person IS something. Every person has talent that speaks to them, that animates them. When we find that something, we will never work again. We will do what we love and get paid for it. It will change everything.
But if you want to discover that passion and talent, you have to create the right environments. He adds that many organisations do not do this. Schools neither.
The school system created during the industrial revolution is supposed to get everyone learning the same things in the same way. As Robinson said in his famous TED talk, the school system was not designed to help a young child discover the joy of juggling, or to feel the wonder of balancing accounts. Or to help a top-class concert pianist realise that, in fact, she wants to be an editor.
Ken Robinson tells us that we are facing an education and happiness crisis. In the US, more money is spent on education (per head) than any other country and class sizes are smaller. Yet more people drop out than anywhere else and less people graduate. And if that wasn’t worrying enough, Robinson also tells us that in the US more drugs are sold for depression and psychological issues than anything else. People are unhappy. And people NEED to be happy.
Why is this? Why are we not making it through school and coming out awesomely happy, working in line with our passion and talents? What can we do about it?
TWO THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND TO FIND YOUR ELEMENT
Firstly, Ken Robinson wants to remind us that we are unique. Since the beginning of time, there have probably been around 100 billion people on Earth. And they have all been different. No-one on Earth has ever had the same life you are leading right now. And never will. As the Dalai Lama said to Ken Robinson at a recent Vancouver conference on world peace through inner-peace: “The fact that you are alive at all is a miracle. So what are you going to do with it?”
Secondly, you have to realise that you are responsible for making your own life. You are given life …but you are not given your CV when you are born. Your own story, successful or not, is a result of your own talent, personal disposition and circumstance. Ken Robinson underlines the importance of this last point and says that we need to create circumstances in which people can flourish, discover their talents and make them grow. We can all be creative, we can all do something special and people need to be given opportunities to explore.
As the folks at the BlueMan Group say “If ordinary people can find their element, extraordinary things can happen.”
Think about it.
DANs closing questions:
ps Check out my Daily Dallas Weather Reports on http://www.youtube.com/dansteerchannel
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It seems that “not doing so well” is fashionable. Everyone is doing it ..even the superheroes!
Last year, it was James Bond in Skyfall: Wallowing in misery and booze and disillusioned with it all, it took a literal blast-from-the-past to eventually force him to face up to his demons and deal with his stress. And while we still have to wait a month or so to see the Man of Steel retreat from the world and deny his responsibilities, this week’s opening of Iron Man 3 has shown us another hero on the verge of breakdown: Tony Stark.
But if genius billionaire playboy philanthropists inside Iron Man suits are suffering from sleepless nights and bouts of anxiety, what hope is there for the rest of us? Have no fear! Read on… Fresh from the film (and without spoilers!) here’s 8 top tips for from the world of Iron to help you deal with stress and anxiety:
- Slow down and breathe. Even superheroes have “funny turns” from time-to-time. If stress is making you feel anxious or out of breath, focus on what is happening with your body for a moment. Check out these “6 mindfulness exercises that each take less than 1 minute”.
- Take some time out of the city. Tony had a reason to go to “nowhere Tennessee” but you don’t need an excuse to take a walkabout. If you need to get away, do it.
- Sleep more. Even if Tony says “Einstein only slept 3 hours a year”, he’s still tired. Turn off your work and go to bed! Need help sleeping? Check out the “faculty lounge” pages of the US National Sleep Foundation site.
- Spend more time with your loved ones. Tony has been neglecting Pepper. Who have you been neglecting? According to Kory Floyd, Associate Professor of the Hugh Down’s School of Human Communication at the Arizona State University, “being affectionate is good for you.. a cheap way to reduce stress.”
- Get a coach. You would think that if “subjective thinking retards intellectual potential” then ego-centric Tony Stark would more like Rain Man than a genius. Fortunately, he’s got his new little friend Harley to help him out. And if you’re stressed and anxious, you may not be able to fogure things out by yourself. Some external input can work wonders. Who do you have to help you think a little differently?
- Share the workload. Fighting the bad guys to save the President, you need a “War Machine” buddy (or whatever you call him!) to help you out. Whatever your job, find someone to share the work with. Here’s “6 Tips for Delegating Success” from @Forbes.
- Listen to some good old rock and roll. In my own humble opinion, the distinct lack of AC/DC in Iron Man 3 may be the single biggest reason for Tony Stark being so highly strung Did someone turn off all the rock and roll? And even if the Marvel studios think they know “what the kids want to hear”, everyone else knows that life sometimes can get tough and life sometimes can be a drag … and God gave rock and roll to you.
- Go for a swim Of course, it’s better when you choose it for yourself, but still: “Health-care professionals recommend physical activity as a key ingredient to any stress-management initiative” and sport has many other benefits.
So that’s it. Feeling stressed? Slow down and share!
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It’s true. My last CEO did a great job of making me sure I wanted to leave.
He officially joined the company in January of 2008, but I personally never saw him being active until the middle of February. In those first 6 weeks, he went around the rest of the world on a very expensive road-trip, visiting every branch of the company, talking with as many people as he could to find out who they were, what they wanted, how they operated and what was important to them.
When he finally arrived in Belgium, he did the same thing with most of our staff, including me. His approach, it seems, was always the same: He would ask a few questions, listen a lot and then say what he had to say. When he spoke, everything made sense. With me, it even made me decide to leave.
What he did was the finest form of active empathy and it allowed him to better understand his people and better communicate with them. When listening to me, he got an idea of who I was, what I was trying to achieve, my career aspirations, turn-ons and turn-offs. Listening attentively, he picked up on what really got me buzzing. And he quickly understood that what he wanted to achieve was not in-line with what I wanted to achieve. In no uncertain terms and in a way that made perfect sense to me, he outlined his strategy and what would be the place for my function. I understood I wouldn’t fit in and together we looked for ways to help me move on. Perfect!
Communicating in this way is an art and if it is done well, it is not a bad thing when other people who understand you decide to get off the train. It is a much better result that staying on the wrong train thanks to manipulative or bad communication.
If you want to align with other people, you need to do the same as my last CEO:
- Listen first. Ask lots of questions and drill down for more information.
- Try to get a sense of the situation, values and needs of the other person.
- Speak to people on their terms, using words they understand and align to their needs wherever possible.
- Don’t bullshit. Get to the point and speak clearly.
- Answer the only 3 questions that count.
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I just watched “Walk the Line” and these little speech stuck in my mind. Its from the record producer (Sam Phillips) that first gave Johnny Cash a chance to record. Cash had just sung a gospel song that hadn’t impressed Phillips. Phillips encourages him to do better…
Johnny Cash (complaining he hadn’t been given a chance): Well you didn’t let us “bring it home”.
Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home:
If you were hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it out?
Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt.
Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.
If this inspires you at all, check out these 3 other posts (2 from me, 1 from TinyBuddha.com):
- Going “All-In”
- I think therefore I am. Not.
- Stop betting against yourself. 7 keys for personal freedom. (TinyBuddha.com)
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We live in a fast-moving, ever-changing VUCA world. Stress, depression and burnout symptoms are more apparent than ever before. Our long lives are filled with all sorts of stress. Fortunately, the 5 things listed here are easy to avoid…
STAYING UP LATE LEADS TO SLEEP DEPRIVATION
I have a friend who is always staying up late (working). He is overweight, smoking and tired. A little more sleep would change his world.
The physiological effects of sleep deprivation are numerous, ranging from yawning and minor irritability to confusion and depression …passing by headache and obesity. How much sleep does an adult need?
- According to the American National Sleep Foundation, a sufficient amount of sleep is defined as “a sleep duration that is followed by a spontaneous awakening and leaves one feeling refreshed and alert for the day”.
- Simple and quick research suggests that 7-9 hours between the hours of 8pm and 8am is about right
- In his book “The 4 Hour Body“, Tim Ferris says that these common sleep patterns are not always what is needed. The minimum effective dose of sleep is what gives us enough REM sleep and physical rest over a 24 hour period. It really doesn’t matter if you get that in one go or in several smaller sleeps (regular polyphasic sleep or just an occasional good old fashioned siesta).
- A 1 hour reduction in sleep on one night (compared to your average) is all it takes to creep into the effects of deprivation.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
As a general rule, if you are wondering if you sleep enough, you probably don’t.
- Tip number 1 = go to bed just a little bit earlier
- Tip number 2 = turn off your alarm when you can. Some highly productive people set their alarms even when they don’t need to, as if it were a sin to sleep in. Don’t. Let your body wake you up when it wants to.
- Tip number 3 = try a mini-siesta. If you have 10 minutes during the day, jump in bed. If you are at work, nip out from the office to your car, or just put your head on your desk for 10 minutes. Even if you don’t sleep, its better than nothing.
Although productive and efficient people consider multi-tasking to be a strength, the risks of today’s most classic multi-tasked tasks are enormous:
- Eating at your desk is dangerous. Your desk is covered in germs, you are more likely to over-eat and not taking a break from productivity doesn’t help you to boost brain-power. Many people will read this blog whilst they eat and although they imagine it to be a sufficient break from real work, nothing beats getting up from your desk.
- According to a study by Allstar Direct Insurance, the risk of crashing your car while texting increases by 23 times, making it worse than drunk-driving.
- A report by CNN on the impact of texting while walking noted 68,000 accidents on one street in London during 2008 – people are simply not paying attention. A Las Vegas politician is right now trying to pass an anti-texting law to make this activity illegal.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Tip number 1 = Try doing one thing at a time for just one day and see how it goes.
- Tip number 2 = The next time you have to chop vegetables or vacuum the house, try a little mindfulness. Concentrate fully on what you are doing, instead of rushing to get to the next job. And don’t listen to music for once. Even if you think that’s boring, focus on the movements and actions you are actually doing.
MINI-FOCUS ON MINI-SCREENS (ALL DAY LONG)
The use of smartphones continues to rise at a crazy rate:
- Gartner says that worldwide smartphone sales increased 47% in Q3 of 2012
- According to the Ultimate Mobile Emails Statistics Overview, 90% of current smartphone owners access their email on their phone and 5 years from now, 78% of all US email owners will use their smartphone to access accounts.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Tip number 1 = Take regular breaks
- Tip number 2 = Maintain an appropriate distance
- Tip number 3 = Remember to blink!
TOO MUCH TV If you don’t use a smartphone or computer all day, you might feel like its OK to watch as much TV as you do. But how much are you watching? According to AC Nielsen, the average Americans watches 4 hours a day. That’s 1460 hours a year. And if you start at 16 years old and live to 80, that’s 11 years over a life time ! And according to a study by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) referenced in the Independent, the average Brit is watching more TV than ever.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- If you watch TV every night, make a promise that for just one night this week you will do something else. Read a book, play a game or just go to bed.
- Watch a movie. Pick a short one, but watch a DVD, turn on the TV just before a film starts or watch something you have recorded. Anything to be sure there is a finite start and end time.
- Stop watching TV series that never end. If you are “on” season 6, this is a good sign it is going nowhere!
SUPERSIZING IMPLIES STRESS AND “EXTRA WEIGHT”
Food. Houses. Cars. Special offers. We always seem to supersize our purchases. I think this is a modern-day sickness, based on our ever-evolving obsession with growth and instant gratification.
In the comedy-drama-documentary “Supersize Me” (2004) Morgan Spurlock looked at the impact of this phenomenon by only eating McDonalds for one month. No surprises for guessing the result: Yep – fatty fast food leads to fatty slow body!
Supersizing your house might seem like a great way to have more space, but it doesn’t last long. Before you know it you are filling every space with more and more stuff you don’t need. This blog from the New York Times discusses how accumulating things doesn’t make you happy.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Tip number 1 = Don’t take the extra size up because you can. The marketeers know that by offering more for a relatively lower price, you are more likely to buy. But 3 for the price of 2 doesn’t mean you needed the extra one.
- Tip number 2 = Take some time to reassess what is essential for you. What is the 20% of your house that you are most spending time in and why do you need the other 80% ? For some good ideas, check out this wiki post on how to downsize your home.
- Tip number 3 = Eat more slowly. How many chips do you actually need to eat to be full up?
That’s it. Just stop it. Get some sleep, stop multi-tasking, turn off the screens and stay small. Easy!
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In the new world of work, we are (supposedly) all free, all mobile, all connected. But is it really true?
In his book “Drive”, the author Dan Pink tells us “the surprising truth about motivation”: What really gets us up in the morning is not capitalistic benefits packages, but a search for purpose, mastery and autonomy. Gone are the days of my grandmother dragging herself to a factory to scrape a penny together to survive. Now that we have everything we need we can work on what is important to us, to develop ourselves and because we want to. This is motivation 3.0.
But is it truly so awesome that IT professionals working for a ROWE company can punctuate their programming work with surf sessions on a beach in Thailand? Or is it rather absolutely bloody terrible that when they take a holiday the other side of the world, they can’t stop thinking about their jobs and never switch off? Addicted to their iPhone (laptop, iPad) and mobile internet-based you-can-work-anywhere-anytime work ethic, they work in their “free time” to avoid Information Deprivation Disorder.
And many “engaged” American white collar (no collar?) workers today work far more than they ever did before: The amount of work required to survive a week in medieval times has not at all been replaced in the 21st century by Tim Ferris’ best-selling notion of the “4-Hour Work Week”. And despite office conditions being more ergonomic, open-spaced, ping-pong-table friendly, more and more workers suffer from burnout, depression and stress.
Fashionable HR gurus like Nigel Marsh continue to talk about work-life balance, the need for “engagement” and the joy of working from home. I train new leaders on the same topics. But has our quality of life actually improved or is it just work propaganda that has everyone has “sold” (including the people in HR closing the sale)?
In her book “Get Real: How to see through the hype, spin and lies of modern life”, author Eliane Glaser tells us that much of what we are asked to believe about our wonderful life today is actually some form of covert ideology. This “soft power” is designed to get us to believe that we, the people, are doing better. But in reality, the invisible hand pushing many of these modern models of freedom of choice and people-power simply aims to reinforce the same kinds of class-control that have always existed: Politicians who are supposed to “listen to the people” outsource market-research sessions with their “customers” in order to find better ways to tell them whatever they want to hear, whilst they continue to eat 5-course meals in Harvard and Eton; the Britain’s Got Talent “everyone can succeed” dream of Susan Boyle hitting the big-time conceals the fact that the majority of people are watching this dream at home on a credit-paid oversized TV, no better off than they ever were before. Regardless of what policies may or may not actually be implemented by our politicians and regardless of the inability of the majority to rise above the mundane, we continue to believe that we actually have a say and can all become famous.
When it comes to new forms of motivation for work, Eliane Glaser suggests that whilst we are encouraged to want it more-and-more, work actually gives us less-and-less. Work seems more purposeful (yet relaxed) but its concealed demands are greater than ever.
I interviewed Eliane Glaser recently to get an in-depth look at this idea and find out if it’s true that I work 60 hours a week because I’ve been sold a lie, or if we really can find purpose and enjoyment at work…
DAN: What made you start thinking that this new motivation story was not all it seemed to be?
ELIANE: According to ‘Motivation 3.0′ as I believe it’s called, we are no longer wage slaves oppressed by authoritarian bosses, but we now work because we want to, because it fulfills us. We don’t just work to live, we live to work. The new language of management – and, incidentally, of marketing – is all about ‘engagement’, ‘two-way conversations’, and authenticity. Workplaces offer free food and drink and install ‘break-out’ or ‘chill-out’ areas with bean-bags and table football. But, as I argue in my book, I believe that this funky, pseudo-spiritual language of empowerment really masks a new power-grab by employers and financial elites more generally. In an age where people are working longer hours than ever before, where union rights are being eroded, where job security is diminishing and wags are stagnating, this rhetoric about fulfillment and ownership functions as a kind of fig-leaf or window-dressing for what’s really going on. And in many work sectors, for example creative and journalistic work, there’s a new notion that you don’t just work for money, you work ‘for the love of it’, as if working for money is some narrow, materialistic endeavour. The internet is awash with utopian promises of freedom, democratisation and empowerment for ordinary people, but if you are not paid for your work, you simply cannot afford to do it, unless you are lucky enough to be independently wealthy. Which is not very egalitarian after all.
DAN: You say that we now “live to work”. I remember when it used to be fashionable to say exactly the opposite: Work was ONLY about what it could give you outside – more partying, more holidays, more “stuff”… Surely if we’ve all been “sold” something else, we must have been ready to buy it? What is it in the working population that made us ready to switch to “the engagement ideal”?
ELIANE: I think that we all have a desire and a need for community, camaraderie, and meaningful individual and shared goals. Employers have realised that if these desires and needs can be situated in the workplace, this will result in greater investment by employees. By offering on-site free food, social events, social spaces, and away-days etc, corporations and other employers encourage workers to find what they need at work. Furthermore, opportunities for social and community participation and idealism outside of the workplace have declined: there are fewer opportunities for civic and community engagement, or contact with networks of neighbours or extended family. The rise of new technologies, commuting, consumer culture, and long working hours themselves – all these developments are eroding the opportunities for finding satisfaction and meaning outside work.
DAN: In your book, you talk about politicians who no longer talk honestly and openly about their own ideals, oil giants who position themselves as “green” and mass-produced brands who pretend to be artisanal and ethical. What would you say to the readers who brush off your ideas as cynical and simply “anti-establishment”?
ELIANE: I think there is an assumption that cynicism and optimism are opposed; that to be cynical is not to be constructive. But I think that questioning belief-systems and being critical is an underrated activity. By critiquing the deceptions and illusions in our politics and culture we can start to see things as they really are and start to influence things in a real way. So actually I am pretty optimistic, because I believe that by pushing concealed agendas out in the open, we can start to have a proper explicit debate about the kind of world we want to live in. I’m not sure that I’m anti-establishment, but I am critical of the elites in our society that unfairly monopolise power and resources. The gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless in our societies is getting ever wider. It’s also ironic that those elites regularly adopt anti-establishment language themselves – for example that ‘radical’ Yahoo slogan: ‘The internet is under new management: Yours’ and the funky T-Mobile ‘flash-mob dance-athon’ ad campaign. Big corporations and political leaders are exploiting anti-establishment imagery in order to claim that they are not themselves the establishment.
DAN: Back to motivation: The evolution of motivation/work seems to have gone from “get up and do what you need to do to live” (caveman) to “do it for someone else, provided they give you enough pay” (basic “carrot” work model) to “do what gives you a sense of purpose, autonomy and freedom, whilst getting paid for it” (“motivation 3.0”, the subject of this interview). What do you see as the next trend in motivation/work? How will things change in the future?
ELIANE: I’m quite pessimistic about work in the future, in the sense that I think there are big changes ahead and that existing ways of doing things are going to break down. In the age of austerity and economic contraction, unemployment is high and job prospects are poor. Those management values of motivation 3.0 are increasingly being applied in the low-pay, low-status sector: in call-centres and vast dehumanised Amazon warehouses. Our pay is stagnating and our job security is being eroded, but the management language is getting more and more focused on “fulfillment”. This is creating a kind of tragic irony. The other big change that’s happening is that a great deal of professional and creative work, like journalism and writing, is going online, and those workers are not being paid for their work. They are supposed to produce their creative or journalistic work for the love of it. This I regard as a really corrosive trend, because fulfillment is increasingly regarded not as a counterpart to pay, but as a replacement for it.
Eliane Glaser is a writer for the Guardian and others, BBC producer, associate research fellow at Birkbeck and the author of “Get Real: How to see through the hype, spin and lies of modern life” which is published by Fourth Estate. She is based in London, UK and you can read see her press cuttings here: http://elianeglaser.blogspot.co.uk/p/press-cuttings.html
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Burnout is the name given for the “breakdown” associated with the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. It can be considered as the opposite of “flow” and can include a number of different symptoms, although all are related to the temporal inability to manage life properly and a state of extreme exhaustion and dissatisfaction with the status-quo. This post is the result of my own research on and experience with the topic. It gives further information about the meaning of burnout, how to recognise it in yourself and others and what to do about it. There are 4 sections:
- “Burnout can happen to anyone, for different reasons”
- “Burnout symptoms differ for everyone”
- “Immediate action is required”
- “Burnout is an investment in a brighter future”
BURNOUT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE, FOR DIFFERENT REASONS
The most obvious assumption about burnout is that you have to work really hard to get it. Although it may be true that too much hard work (A) leads to burnout (B) this does not imply that (B) must be caused by (A) or that (A) necessarily leads to (B). Like other forms of stress (and potentially depression) the causes of burnout are different for each person, but there are some common factors:
- Over-focussing on one area of life (work, a specific project, building a house, making babies…) at the expense of others (and at the expense of “balance”) may lead to burnout
- People who push themselves too much for their own resources, competences and/or preferences (in whatever domain) are more likely to suffer burnout
- Perfectionism and “other-oriented” people may be particularly prone to burnout as they feel they “must” achieve everything perfectly in order to be “acceptable”
- Extreme engagement and passion for a project, subject or job at the expense of other things can end in burnout
- Non-consideration of the connection between specific goals you are working on and their link to personal values, vision and belief may lead to burnout. Being extremely productive does not mean you are working in-line with the “real you”.
- Read here for other causes of burnout or have a look at this burnout risk self-test and some ideas from mindtools.com on avoiding burnout.
Re-reading this list, the “thin-red-line” that holds it all together seems to me to be the idea of “getting lost” in something, losing work-life balance or the feeling of “wholeness” and general life-satisfaction.
BURNOUT SYMPTOMS DIFFER FOR EVERYONE
Not everyone reacts to burnout in the same way, but there is of course a standard definition of burnout and a known set of symptoms (read “How to recognise when you are on the road to burnout“). You shouldn’t superficially compare burnout symptoms between different people because each person is individual. But if you suffer from a few of the following symptoms, that should be enough to get you thinking about the possibility of burnout. Hypochondriacs aside, if you’re asking if you’re having a burnout, you probably are or will do soon. Symptoms include:
- Constant sadness that doesn’t seem linked to any one particular cause
- Lack of inspiration or sudden disillusionment for the work you had previously been doing with lots of motivation and effort. You can read more about this in the introduction to burnout from mindtools.com.
- Inability to “get started” on things. This could range from a kind of apathy for “life in general” to one specific moment of literally not being able to get out of your car to go and visit the client you just arrived at.
- Feeling that things will never get better or that the work will never be done
- Crying regularly, for “no reason”
- Finding no pleasure in everyday activities, from spending time with family, to sport or hobbies
- Anger, sarcasm and other obtuse behaviours
- Sleeping or eating differently, whether it be 14 hours of sleep a day or 4, loss of appetite or binging
- Other physical symptoms like headache, anxious heart palpitations, fatigue or dizziness
IMMEDIATE ACTION IS REQUIRED
It would be wrong of me to post this piece without underlining the importance of medical attention or the fact that I am not a doctor. If you think you yourself are suffering from burnout, get help. In addition to medical support, here is my list of things to do to help deal with (and accept!) burnout:
- Stop working. Turn it all off. This is probably the hardest first step for people suffering from burnout. Daring to stop is tough. Many people suffer from “Information Deprivation Disorder“. Believing the world will carry on without you and you’ll be OK is even tougher. If you work for yourself, add to that the false idea that no-one will ever hire you again and you are set to keep on working even when all the signs say stop. You need a leap of faith to make this first step, or an intervention from someone else, or a complete breakdown or putting your back out or…. But it has to happen. Stop.
- Try and keep things in perspective. This is tough, because prior to burnout you didn’t keep things in perspective and at the start of burnout you just may be crying, miserable and lost. Good “perspective strategies” include speaking with different people you trust and love, writing down any little realisations you might have and a whole lot of trust. If you can remember that human beings tend to live to nearly 100 these days, you might be able to realise that this is only one point in time and things will change, one way or another. As George Harrisson sang: “All things must pass.“
- Do things that please you. This is a tough one. If you are feeling depressed and someone says “Do things that please you” it is likely you won’t have any idea what to do. Nothing pleases you! But if you can think of just one little thing you wanted to do at some point, but didn’t (because you we’re doing too much or working too hard) now is the time to do it. Go surfing. Play your guitar. Read that novel. Get a massage. Watch a movie at 1pm while the kids are out. Lie on the grass and walk in the snow. Not everything needs to have a reason and these previously seemingly irrelevant things that don’t advance your project or career need to have their space too. Start now.
- …but don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water. If you are burnt-out, you might get to thinking its a good idea to quit your wife, your job, your kids or sell the house. Don’t. Those are big decisions that need to be made with good mental health. Although you might get the idea that the causes of your burnout are all interlinked and therefore one major change will affect everything else, this doesn’t mean that the results will be positive and you are certainly in no state (yet) to implement massive life changes. Slow down!
- Sleep if you need to. Although at some point you will have to “get up and get on with your life” don’t be too tough on yourself. If you feel you need to sleep, do it. You are exhausted from the rhythm of your life to-date. Take the time to get your breath back.
- Move a little. Get out for a walk or do sport. Before burnout you were probably doing the same things in the same way all the time. Now you are taking a break from that. Although you may well spend a fair bit of time sleeping or doing nothing, just getting outside for a little fresh air and gentle movement can make a massive difference to your physical state and your mood.
- Focus on little wins. Going for one little walk or cooking a nice dinner or cleaning a cupboard or whatever you might fancy, success in doing something small is a wonderful thing. But keep it small! Then relax again. One thing at a time. This advice is the same for getting back to work, which we’ll get to in a minute…
- Find a way to express yourself on the subject. In a certain way, burnout can be seen as the previous non-expression of some part of you that now forces itself to be heard. (If you don’t understand what I mean, read “I think therefore I am. Not.“) This could be any facet of your ego/personality, but whatever it is, it refuses to lay down and let the intense workaholic one-track mind takeover anymore. You need to give that part of you some space. In the film “The Beaver” with Mel Gibson, the main character Walter Black (who is suffering from depression) manages to express another previously-silent “brighter” side of himself by wearing and speaking through a puppet. Although this film is not a lesson in how to deal effectively with burnout and depression, Gibson’s character at first finds a way to say what is on his mind and share with his family and friends. There is no shame in burnout and no reason not to share.
- Don’t think people are judging you. Mostly, they are not. People understand. And if you are an engaged, highly motivated passionate worker like many burn-out sufferers are, chances are that some of the people you hang around with will have had their own experience with burnout. As for everyone who judges you and thinks bad of you for your burnout: It will be hard to do, but you have to let these people go. They are not helping you and they don’t love you.
- Get advice, even from non-experts. Don’t try and do everything alone. Many other people have already lived what you arriving during burnout and there are plenty of experts out there, from medical professionals to life-coaches. But there are also friends and family, business acquaintances and random strangers. They might have something useful to say, something that enlightens you a little to your situation, style or options. If you trust these people, why not listen to what they have to say? And let’s face it: If you burnt out already all by yourself, you could probably use a little help from someone else.
For more ideas and resources, check out this very complete page from mindtools.com about recovering from burnout. It includes ideas about changing jobs and other things i have also written on like doing a SWOT analysis and creating strategic action.
BURNOUT IS AN INVESTMENT IN A BRIGHTER FUTURE
When you buy a nice new car, you tend to look after it. You get it serviced and you keep it clean, topped up on all the right fuels and oils and filters. It runs for years and you continue to love it. If you don’t service it and follow the maintenance instructions, one day you find yourself stuck on the side of the motorway, loaded down with bags and screaming children, no longer able to go on holiday and wishing you had done it differently.
It is easy to go through life at 120km/hour. When you are new to a job, young, fit or successful and healthy it’s easy to give 150%. When you can see the results that that gives and you want to grow even more, it’s easy to just keep going. But if you don’t sharpen the saw and maintain yourself, you will eventually breakdown. With a little luck you will have a burnout. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have a heart attack. Even a Ferrari needs to stop moving from time-to-time.
When you have a burnout, it might feel like the end of the world. its difficult to imagine that things will get better, but actually burnout is the start of something new and better. When you are done with the “immediate actions” noted above, you will start to reflect on what needs to change and how you can get better and stay sharp in the future. The following list of ideas may help you get back to “work” in a healthy and sustainable way:
- Realise that life is an opportunity to express different sides of yourself, not just one. Even if you are the CEO of the biggest company in the world and you made it all yourself, you are still a father, musician, husband, lover, runner, writer, fun person etc etc as well. Those sides of you need to have room to breathe and flourish. When you are feeling a little better from your burnout, sit down and list the different things you like to do and be and how you will help them to have more space.
- Make a schedule for a balanced life. At work, you plan time for the activities and projects that have the most importance. That is what they teach you in leadership courses and management classes. The same must be true for “post-burnout you”. If you think it is important for your physical and mental health to do some sport, plan it. If you wish you spent more time eating dinner with the family, plan it. And on the work front, if you hate admin and can only stand to do it one day a week, plan for it one day a week.
- Focus on little wins at the start. If you go back to work at 150% trying to “fix all the mess you made” you are going about things in the wrong way. Focus on small actions that show small successes and move you in the right direction. If, for example, you find yourself faced with an overflowing inbox, focus for 1 hour on just seeing what is in there. Don’t try and answer or deal with everything, just assess the contents. When that is done, stop. Do something else. Relax again. Even the biggest mountains in the world can be climbed in little steps. Don’t fall back into the old obsessive behaviours from the start…
- Get a post-burnout buddy. This could be a formal coach or just a good friend. But you need someone to help keep you stay on track. Burnout happens a lot to people who think they are indestructible entrepreneurial self-starters who can do and be anything they want. If you already burnt-out you know that this is not the case. To avoid the risk of just doing it again, find someone with whom you can discuss your plans and promises and who can call you up from time-to-time to see how you are doing.
What is important to remember with everything here is that without some realisation and tools, left to your own devices, you burnt out. Now you had the realisation, it is important to implement some new tools, until they turn into new habits…
I hope this post helped. Maybe you will realise that you need to take action now for the future, maybe you know someone who is having a burnout and this will help you help them, or maybe you can think about preventative actions for your own organisation.
If you have an experience to share or a reply to any of these ideas, please comment.
Thanks for reading!
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