Avoiding the ravages of female leader burnout: Three Steps to Giving Yourself What You Need

As women, we were born with a nurturing drive. This means that we have a highly aware external focus. So, when it comes to others in our lives, we’re unwittingly connected to what they may need and ready to make that happen.

This capacity to dedicate ourselves to others is possibly one of the most beautiful qualities of women.

However, (and it’s a mighty big ‘however’) as women, we take that quality wholesale into our career journey, which at worst results in burnout, loss of focus, poor sleep… the list goes on!

So, I’ve written this blog to help you make sure you’re spending time making sure you’re getting what you need; for the benefit of you, and perhaps surprisingly, your business.

Giving Yourself What You Need Isn’t Selfish.

It bears repeating. Giving yourself what you need isn’t selfish.

That natural state of being externally focussed means we frequently prioritise what others need (teams, peers, bosses, boards – you name it) ahead of our own needs.

When it comes to our success journey its a fundamental responsibility is to ensure we get what we need as we need it.

We use words like ‘selfish’ to preface requests from others – or even ourselves. ‘I’m not trying to be selfish but…’ or ‘I didn’t ask for time off to do that mentoring session because it felt selfish’…

This is just one way we fail to prioritise our needs and end up in burnout. But to be clear, it’s for a very positive reason (the nurturing drive). And fortunately, the habit of getting what we need, as we need it, can be learnt and it can become habitual.

It’s Time to Understand Your Power.

Our power is undoubtedly immense. But it’s important to distinguish it from our standard definition of masculine power to know what we are working with.

Understanding and clarifying this is something we are proactively involved in at Co.OfWomen, but we don’t expect to do this work alone.

Every woman has their power, experiences this power, and can help on this journey.

We’re proactively reaching out to women to share their understanding and look forward to the research that’ll also expand our knowledge of this hugely important subject.

My first go at clarifying this myself is summarised in the phrase ‘female power is people power’.  This speaks to the essence of this blog. It’s a powerful motivation to prioritise what we need. So, without further ado, here are three steps to making sure you get what you need.

Step 1: Find Your Why.

The first step in creating a habit is to clarify why we would do this.

This seeks to discover where our genuine, natural motivation regarding the outcome we are going for lies. And to cut to the chase with that, ladies, this is where we can return to that nurturing drive and intentionally harness it for our own good.

A great source of joy as women is in what happens when we connect, share, collaborate and even work. Our brains reward us for helping – it produces a cocktail of brain chemicals that also (as a massive side benefit) produces an optimal brain state. We literally work better when are feeling good, science says so!

There have been many challenging – and utterly gruelling – moments over my leadership journey. But, one of the most powerful motivating sources for me in these times has always been my mission (read: my Why) to ensure women have THE best resources available on their success journey.

So, do some soul searching and find your Why. Remember, your Why is not made to impress anyone. It’s for you. So, I’m challenging you to take the time to really find the root of what drives you.

Step 2: NEVER Let Go of Your Why – or Yourself.

Great. Now you’ve found it – hold on to it, tight!

For me, I love making success less ‘hard’ and more enjoyable for women. Success cannot (and should not) be at the sacrifice of every other part of our precious lives.

My desire to do this good for women is so powerful that I’ve sacrificed greatly to that end – no hesitance ever in doing so. This ‘Why’ is so powerful that if I connect it to any outcome I desire, I will be all in, all day, always.

But it’s also important to remember there’s a limit. Being all in, all day also created the most disconcerting burnout I have ever experienced. I wasn’t giving myself what I need. Failing to do so meant I wasn’t doing the job I was so passionately committed to. I had, by my own hand, limited my capacity to do it effectively.

The path to discovering how to remedy that for me took three years, but every step was worth it. I can now share this and get to partake in the transformation in a multitude of other women’s journeys.

So yes, I found my female power in applying my innate nurturing drive for my own good. I found it in giving myself the same care I had been so dedicated to giving other people. It’s one of the most liberating I’ve learnt to do, if a little uncomfortable at first.

Step 3: Reinforce Your Why. Daily.

The most practical expression of this my daily practice of a closing work-day reflection. It’s a tool we developed over a decade ago called ‘The 4Qs Review’ and it’s indispensable to leaders.

Why the 4Q’s Review is just that good:

  • It makes you focus on what’s been successful in your day & study why
  • It makes you to deal with unresolved issues
  • It draws a finish line across your working day (say hello to the rest of your life!)
  • IT FORCES YOU TO REMEMBER YOURSELF.

The 4Qs Review*

What worked today?

List as many items as you wish, but at least 3 things that really went well about your workday.

Why did that work?

You’re looking to identify the success formulas, traits or qualities that you brought to those positive outcomes. Do the double-duty of having these in your conscious awareness. Have them ready for you to use any and everywhere you would benefit from.

What would I like to do differently/remedy tomorrow?

This question addresses the small number of gnarly or unresolved items that occurred in the day – because of the way the brain works, it will have kept these items (which on most days you’ll find are few) in our conscious minds – all day!

4. What are MY needs (so that I can continue to be optimal)?**

This commands us to note what we need to be utterly optimal – be that sleep, family time, skills, mentoring conversations, tighter focus, or better routine etc. Prioritising ourselves as humans helps us to be better leaders and, of course, wave goodbye to burnout.

I’m happy to confess that for me, I have to really resist the urge to write my natural response to this question which is ‘I’m fine’…

On behalf of us all, don’t settle for “I’m fine.”

The planet needs the immense good we’re committed to achieving. To truly excel on our missions we must prioritise what we need and with that, harness our female power. Bring it on ladies – and let’s be the good we are so determined to see in our world.

tara x

* All Co.OfWomen teams and now many of our member’s teams use this tool to close off their day. My team sends theirs to me and it’s a powerful source of inspiration. It’s a practical way to stay connected to what’s happening in their roles, allowing me to help them and their needs as they need it.

**With Q4, in the early stage of doing this, you may tend to list ‘must do better’ items (aka telling yourself off). Some coaching around the process is often called for to identify what you need to GIVE to yourself – it can be useful to ask ‘if you were answering this for your friend – how would you answer it – what would you know she needed’ – then encourage them to give that to themselves.  

Header image owned by the incredible talent that is @jessicavwalsh on instagram

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