The Antidote to Exhaustion

by Deborah Rocco

As I look forward to the coming year, and think about the individual leaders with whom I’ll be working; I'm thinking about a consistent theme that concerns me.  Many leaders, especially women leaders, are expressing weariness, fatigue, and a general feeling of being "used-up;” in other words, they’re exhausted.  Fatigue among workers is not surprising, given the pressure on organizations since the 2007 - 2008 financial crisis to cut costs and increase productivity. This immense pressure has created a "new normal" for how organizations operate and for what is expected from employees at all levels of the organization. 

As someone who has a personal interest in the well-being of individuals and of organizations, I have to ask, what is the cost to the well-being of individual leaders, and, ultimately, to the organizations in which they work, of this "new normal"?  

As I listen to the women leaders I coach and my friends and colleagues, the causes of their exhaustion include long hours, too much travel, conflicting demands on their time, and, most profoundly, a disconnect between what they care about and what their job demands.  Some women choose to marshal on, frequently sacrificing physical and mental well-being.  Others opt out, choosing to leave the corporate world - one talented woman leader fewer - in order to find more congruence with what they care about, and to nurture their well-being. 

Is there another option:  One that supports the well-being of the individual and the organization?  Is there an antidote to exhaustion? 

Recently I had the opportunity to see my favorite poet, David Whyte, who brings poetry and philosophical inquiry to the world of vocation, work, and organizational leadership.  During his three- hour program of poetry reading, sharing, and dialogue, I found one idea particularly provocative.  In the words of David Whyte: "the antidote to exhaustion is not rest, but wholeheartedness".

Ah, wholeheartedness.  What shape does wholeheartedness take in today's corporate environment?  How does a leader find it?  How does an organization nurture it?  Interestingly, the root of courage is from the old French corage, which means “heart” or “innermost feeling.”  Courage is wholehearted and it is with courage that I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery.

I invite individual leaders to find your Authentic Field of Leadership: the point where your passion, capabilities, and the value you bring to your organization converge.  We know this purpose-grounded leadership is particularly important for women leaders.  I invite senior leaders to involve your teams and talk about what wholeheartedness looks like in your organization.  And I invite all of us to have the courage to not be afraid of the question and where it may lead us.

I will leave you with the words of Spanish poet Antonio Machado, "You, walking, your footprints are the road, and nothing else; there is no road walker, you make the road by walking." Making your own road: that's a wholehearted journey.

Tags : authentic leadership leadership development women leaders leadership

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