Leadership Trap:  No fuel in the tank

Success Strategy:  Become an expert observer to excel in your job search
June 14, 2022

As the alarm chirped, Robin reflexively hit the snooze button. Thirty minutes later, she felt the fog of sleep lift and a sense of heaviness descend in her chest. As she dragged herself out of bed, she muttered, “Monday mornings are the worst,” briefly wondering if she could call in sick. She preoccupied herself with her first cup of coffee and a hot shower to clear the cobwebs. Even with those props, she felt exhausted logging in to begin her workday.

Robin found herself behind on several key projects. As she plodded through the day, she contemplated, “Why does everything need to be so hard?” She felt a tightness in her countenance and a headache coming on; why did the light seem so bright today? She vaguely regretted staying up too late last night to binge on her latest Netflix obsession.

A dim thought surfaced: she needed a change. Perhaps a new job, a career transition, the sabbatical she had been dreaming of, or even a vacation. How to choose? Where to get started? She felt the fog descend again. Oh well, she would have to think about those things later. For now, she was late for her next meeting to discuss the pressing issue du jour. She fumbled her apologies for being late as she logged into her next Zoom call.

Can you relate? Robin is suffering from one of the traps I see leaders fall into: no fuel in the tank. She is sleepwalking through her day, overwhelmed and with a sense of dread. 

If you feel like you are wiped out and crave a change but can barely manage to get through your day, you may be suffering from a sense of burnout and exhaustion. To fix this, you need to focus on lightening your load and restoring your sense of buoyancy. Only when you have restored a sense of balance and flow in your life can you successfully tackle any career- or leadership-related efforts in a way that helps you move forward in your chosen direction. 

Not sure where to start? Take a cue from Robin’s journey to regain her sense of buoyancy. Over the next several months after hiring me to coach her, she:

  • Shored up her medical appointments and outstanding issues, including past due medical tests completed
  • Started seeing a therapist to deal with the feelings of sadness and despair that had descended on her during the pandemic
  • Upgraded her diet to eat more whole foods on a regular schedule, securing time-saving habits that made it easier to make good nutritional choices
  • Optimized her sleep habits to improve the quality of her rest
  • Began moving her body a bit more, slowly, fitting it into her schedule in a way she could commit to the practice with minimal resistance and maximum enjoyment
  • Made fun a regular part of her life, reinstituting a hobby she used to enjoy and spending time playing with her family on a weekly basis
  • Cut back on her obligations outside of work, including leaving a committee that she had fallen into the leadership of and had been a drain on her energy for years
  • Renegotiated some project deadlines and timeframes, reducing scope on some, and rescheduling others to craft a realistic, feasible workload for herself and her team
  • With her Executive Assistant, gained back several hours per week by withdrawing from some lower priority meetings and sending proxies to others 
  • Empowered her team to take on projects that didn’t require her involvement, except to review at a high level to ensure things remained on track
  • Improved feedback loops with her teammates and peers to make sure she remained connected, up to speed, and able to take proactive action on issues before they blew up
  • Changed her leadership approach to serve as coach-leader rather than doer, freeing up her focus, time, and attention while helping her direct reports engage more fully in the work and truly step into their potential
  • Worked on forgiving herself for past mistakes, dropping baggage she was holding onto that no longer served her to both lighten her load and make room for what she wanted to welcome into her life: a sense of peace and optimism

When you have no fuel in the tank, it can feel hard to make room for anything new. The reality is that you need to pare some things down in order to make room for the scaffolding required to recover from your sense of stuckness and heaviness. 

The good news? It is possible to do this. It requires recognizing that you have no fuel in the tank and reaching out for help. If you find yourself feeling really low, please don’t go it alone; reach out for help. A therapist can be an excellent place to start. Beyond that, seeking a coach can help you right the ship so that you can return to a place of equilibrium and move towards thriving in your professional and personal life.

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book. I coach leaders to define their path through complexity to intention, fulfillment, and impact. Intrigued? Contact us here.

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