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Balance vs Burnout - Bringing Balance

Slowly, he walked along the edge of the balance beam. His first, second and third step had been fine, but as he placed his fourth step, he could feel gravity pulling him to his right. He shifted his weight to try to correct it, but it was too late. He instinctively reached out to the rail to his right to stop himself from falling. He stood upright. And set off again.

We hear a lot about having life balance. Work, rest and play. Diet, exercise, sleep, meaningful work, hobbies, social, and community involvement. There are, of course, pro-active things that you can do to help start more balanced. But life and leadership are not static and so there are times when the normal balance seems to have been lost. So, what do you do then to bring balance back? There are four things that can help. Guardrails, Pause, Movement and Joy seeking.


We had been holidaying in the Dordogne region of France and we decided to go to a viewpoint to look over the river. As we came through the trees onto a plateau, there in front of us was a stunning view, with the river meandering beneath us. I stood and looked at the view, but then the immense sense of horror as my family walked towards the edge of the cliff. Horror because there were no guard rails, just a sheer drop. They were quite happy, but I could see the danger and asked them to come back a little. My heart stepped back into normal rhythm as they stepped back. I’m not a fan of heights with no guard rails.

Guard rails are a crucial part of safety on dangerous edges. Mountain pass roads have guard rails. Viewpoints normally have guard rails, apart from the one we visited! Motor racing tracks have guard rails. They are there to stop you going over the edge.

I believe that leaders are particularly at risk of burnout and one of the key things that helps reduce this are guardrails. Guardrails are things that you can put in place as warning signs when you are getting close the edge of burning out. This starts with emotional intelligence. Part 1 is knowing what it is that indicates that you might be burning out physically, emotionally, mentally, morally or spiritually. Part 2 is knowing what works for you to bring balance back. For example, if you know that you are normally easy going and calm, but when you are snappy and have high blood pressure symptoms it is an indicator that you are not managing emotionally, then this is a guardrail for you, telling you that you are getting closer to the edge. Now, if you are in a car and you scrape the guardrail, you pull back. The same can be said of the emotional guardrail. It is an indicator to apply the antidote that works for you to bring the balance back. That may be handing on some of the role that is causing pressure, spending a little more time with friends and family, going for some exercise; whatever works for you.


I was working with a group of teachers recently on a training session with them. We took the half hour break for lunch and on their return, they said how lovely it was to just stop for lunch. Now, if you know anything about working in schools, especially at the moment, you will know that the day is intense and a lunchtime for school staff is normally filled with duties, marking, preparation for the afternoon’s lessons and now COVID19 clean downs. But this non-stop approach to life is not good for the mind, body or soul. I often refer to the brain as like an engine in a car. The engine, running, running, running without a break and rest, an oil change, often means it will break down as it gets overheated. The same can be said of us, with the mind constantly working intently, it needs rest. It needs pause. So, what is your pause? What pause helps you bring balance? Is it moments of quiet? Is it listening to music? Is it some trashy TV? Is it a walk with the dog? Is it time with friends? Bringing pause into our day is helpful. It recharges, it allows us to see that the intensity we may be leading in, is not all of our life. Pause, a break, is an important part of bringing balance.

Move to the moment

Many years ago, my family and I used to go camping. Most holidays it was fine, but I remember one weekend away with friends that a huge wind blew up. The tent was under a gale, and so I needed to pay attention and regular check the guy ropes and poles and adjust things that were causing a problem. Any loose peg could allow the wind to get under and damage the tent. One of our friends didn’t pay attention to the front of their tent quick enough and it ripped the whole front of their tent off. Their holiday ended that day. There is a simple reality. If something is under pressure of breaking, you move to it and do something about it. The same can be said for us with regards to bringing balance. If we spot that something is under pressure in our life, then we need to move to it and give it attention. If we find ourself falling asleep in the day because we have been burning the candle at both ends, then we need to move to creating more sleep. If we find ourselves feeling unfit and a little breathless, then we need to move to bringing a little exercise back in. If we find our weight has crept up due to eating convenience food because we are too busy, then we need to change to a better diet and make time for eating properly. One of the lies of leadership and life is that we say to ourselves, ‘but I am too busy’. Of course, we are under pressure and giving more time to work and the area that we lead in. But we are not too busy, we are just choosing to spend the time there. We can, with careful calculation, choose to move some of our time to the area that needs to have balance brought to it. Even a little time can help bring some balance back.

Joy Seeking

Joy, is not an everyday word. We tend to think of it as being happy. Happiness is a part of it, but it is much deeper than that. Joy involves knowing, feeling, and enacting what matters most. As a leader, we have to know what brings us joy. What brings us deep contentment. When we notice that we are not partaking in things that bring us that, when we notice that the sense of contentment in what we do is going, we need to seek that joy again. Leading can and should bring us those regular moments of joy. Leading situations is not always joyful, but when we find all of the joy has gone over some time then it is time to seek to either bring it back into what you are leading or find it again in other areas of your life or in a new area to lead.

At the root of all of these, is the emotional intelligence to know yourself. How well do you know yourself? It’s the first step to bringing balance to where it is needed.


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