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Re-energising leaders (part 2 of 3)

Considerations that enable psychological coping through uncertainty.

(Part 1, energising teams is here)

I’m pretty sure that Gorden Gecko (Wall Street) was not correct when he said, “lunch is for wimps” — but his inference that those who want success don’t take lunch seems right.

This seems especially true since COVID arrived if it wasn’t before. I regularly hear leaders I work with telling me that they work through lunch, don’t take breaks and face an ever-increasing workload in the context of accelerating change and an uncertain future.

It is tempting to say, “take lunch” or “take breaks” — but this is a superficial solution in truth and likely pushes the drivers that cause us to put ourselves last into overdrive.

Here I will offer some psychological insight, to leaders — on why self-sacrifice and relentless work has become the norm — and what to do about it.

Me, myself & threat

When I watch our neighbour's dog lying on his blanket out in the sun, I often envy the contentment he can so easily access. When a car passes or our cat emerges, his calm instantly switches into a frenzied state where he shouts for all to hear and races with all of his might at his new target. I hear him enter this state many times in the day and similarly see him lying there, deep in slumber.

Much of his neurological anatomy, we as humans share. We carry the same adrenal system that can at any moment spot a threat or exciting stimuli and kick into gear. In an instant, we can go from calm to fully activated both physically and neurologically. Physically designed through evolution to fight or fly, to access our full potential in an instant.

Much is known about our adrenal response. Both that for a time it improves our functioning both physically and mentally. In fact, as humans we perform better for a time if we are stressed — hence the need for goals and performance orientation as leaders and teams.

But if activated for too long we slide into exhaustion and eventual burnout.

Unlike my neighbour's dog, our psychology is equipped with a rich tapestry of additional psychological capabilities than enable us to live and succeed but can become the drivers rather than our support mechanisms. The performance curve is shown above — a neurological fail-safe to enable us to fight external threats, can in fact be driven by internal threats. Our own thoughts.