I’ve been a business owner and director for the last 20 years, so I know first-hand what it takes to create a build a business – and how hard any director of an SME will work in order to do what’s necessary to make the business succeed. I also know the high cost that can be paid if leaders don’t pay good attention to how hard they work. Burnout as a leadership phenomenon has been on the rise over the past few years, and for some people in some sectors, working too hard is still seen as a badge of honour. Modern day leaders face unprecedented levels of uncertainty, complexity and volume of work – which in our digital age can make it feel hard to stop. At the same time, we all know how important it is for us to manage our well-being and those of us around us. So the question has to be, how can we manage these two tensions and learn to really thrive in top roles?
I believe that the answer lies in us falling in love with the concept of ‘enough’. Re-claiming it from any association with mediocrity or settling for average, and thinking of ‘enough’ instead as a pathway to success. Knowing that we are enough can give us permission to put in place the boundaries that we all so desperately need in order to live and work healthily. When we, and those we work with are well resourced, we can achieve so much more than when we are in a state of stress. Leaders need to be able to think and act strategically – perhaps now more than ever, we need to give time to creative problem solving to meet the challenges that face us. It’s when we feel that we are ‘enough’ and choose to claim enough time to focus on what matters that we are at our absolute best. Far from being mediocre, enough is a springboard to self-belief, health and sustainability.
It starts with believing that you are enough – that intrinsically you have what it takes to do what you do and lead well. Many highly accomplished and successful leaders can trip themselves up by lacking that core inner belief that they are enough – as a coach, leaders frequently come to me citing ‘imposter syndrome’ in some form or other. When this happens, I recommend switching focus away from a ‘scarcity mindset’ to an ‘enough mindset’ – which means that you replace any sense that you lack something, with appreciation of what you have to offer. It’s a sense of fullness – moving from chasing the ever hungry, never satisfied state of striving to focusing on what you have and starting from there. Believing that you are enough can counter the urge to overcompensate or the drive to prove yourself to people in your past that didn’t believe in you. Instead, it allows you to stand strong in who you are already, well rooted, and well-resourced so that you can flourish. This is a gift not only to leaders but those that they lead, because it has such strength and balance to it.
From this state, the next step is to re-frame what we mean by doing enough. For that we need to look at our boundaries and what resources us. Boundaries can get a bad rap in today’s culture of always having to be available and driven to work around the clock. But healthy boundaries are the key to healthy living because they contain us. Like a plant pot, boundaries give us structure to grow fully into who we are, and when we are able to make and keep good boundaries, we can give the best of ourselves to the task in hand, because we are well resourced to do so.
My approach to creating good boundaries is to get clear about what we need them for – what is it that resources you and gives you energy? When we understand what we need in order to function at our best – whether that is appropriate breaks from our desk, regular exercise, switching off in the evening or giving ourselves uninterrupted time to focus – we can start to design our lives in a way that makes time for these things. This is vital for healthy leaders in today’s world, because we know we can’t continue to be at our best when we’re exhausted. Moreover, when we are well resourced, we can replace what feels like an endless grind, with a focus on what facilitates flow in our lives. When we’re in flow, not only are we more productive, but things feel easier, more creative, more aligned. This clarity makes it obvious that we need to protect our time for things that re-charge us. We can ‘say no for the bigger yes’ – which is after all, what a good boundary should do.
Often in our lives, we don’t set or keep boundaries because we forget that we are able to. Exhaustion and burnout mean that we don’t even recognise that we can make choices about how we live our lives. We feel compelled to continue at a frantic pace at the same time as knowing that it is unsustainable. When this happens, the trick is to pause and reflect. What is really needed from a position of ‘enough’? What do you need to so that you can do your best thinking and make good choices?
In a state of ‘enough’, leaders can look at the challenges ahead and rather than believing they have to solve all of them, they give valuable time to prioritising, to good delegation, to building great teams. They can role model keeping healthy work patterns as a way of achieving business success. Seen in this way, ‘enough’ becomes a leadership superpower – and the key ingredient to business health and thriving.