How Empathetic Leaders Can Set Strong Boundaries to Avoid Burnout

We are in some tough times. 

Layoffs, Market volatility. For many, returning to work or at least navigating change in a hybrid environment.

Managers are currently caught in the middle. They are feeling pressured from above to get back to delivering stellar results and improving profitability. And they are squeezed by their people, demanding (rightly, after many decades of the opposite) a more human-centered and healthy approach to integrate their work and life. The Pandemic accelerated this movement, and many workers don’t want to go back.

That leaves many leaders stuck – and exhausted.

These folks want to embrace compassionate leadership as a catalyst for innovation, collaboration, and engagement They really do. But how can they do so without losing their own health and sanity in the process? How can they avoid burnout?

The answer is not to give everyone whatever they ask for, nor is it to force you or the team to take on extra work. It also does not mean you become an unlicensed therapist and then slip on your own responsibilities. 

In my new book, I’m developing five pillars to being an effectively empathetic leader while still expecting excellence, setting boundaries, and avoiding burnout. 

Setting boundaries is essential for any leader to prevent burnout and maintain high-performance standards while still caring for their people as…well, people. Here are some strategies that can help leaders set better boundaries at work:

  1. Set clear expectations: Communicate with your team members and colleagues about your availability, working hours, and the time it takes to respond to emails or messages. This will help them understand your boundaries and respect them.
  2. Prioritize self-care: Take care of your physical and mental health by exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough rest. Find hobbies that keep you in the present moment or simply give you joy, working out a different part of your brain. This will help you feel more energized and productive during work hours.
  3. Delegate tasks: Identify tasks that can be delegated to team members or outsourced to external vendors. And then trust them to do it! This will help you focus on high-priority tasks and prevent burnout.
  4. Say no: Learn to say no to requests that do not align with your priorities or are outside of your capacity. It’s better than saying yes and then dropping the ball! Saying no can be difficult, but it’s necessary to maintain boundaries and prevent over-committing.
  5. Take breaks: Take regular breaks during the day to refresh your mind and recharge. This can include taking a walk, meditating, or engaging in any activity that helps you relax. Schedule them in your calendar, or you likely won’t do them!
  6. Unplug: Set aside specific times during the day when you will unplug from work-related technology, such as email and messaging platforms. This will help you disconnect from work and prevent burnout. Again, scheduling and time blocking this is key.

Remember, setting boundaries is a continuous process that requires self-awareness, communication, and commitment. By setting clear boundaries, you can improve your well-being and productivity as a leader. – and still, be empathetic and compassionate with your team.

Editor Note: I experimented with ChatGPT to initially draft this blog post and then polished it to make it my own. I was delighted to find that many of the concepts I’ll be talking about in my new book, coming Fall 2024, are referenced in this list. While I am always skeptical of AI technologies, I highly recommend you play with ChatGPT for your own content, research, or brainstorming!

Photo credit: Danie Franco on Unsplash

How to Redefine Success with Empathy

Modern market trends, as well as the pandemic, show us that leaders and brands acting with genuine empathy are winning right now. When companies have been there for the community, valued employees, even made tough decisions like layoffs or closures with respect – the market has paid attention.

Just look at the media attention lavished on Zoom for offering free K-12 access to schools, Salesforce offering extended paid family care leave, or Starbucks increasing employee mental health benefits.

Beyond that, Research shows that Millenials and Gen Z demand a new kind of work culture. 71% of them want their workplace to feel like a second family. Top talent will no longer accept workplaces that don’t see, hear, and value diverse viewpoints. They’re demaniding respect. Work life balance. Empathy.

Companies and leaders ignore this shift at their own financial peril.

But why? Is it simply because you are too caught up in the day to day fires and stress to strengthen that muscle? 

Sometimes we avoid developing good habits because it’s easier to stick with the bad habits we know. Don’t let this happen with your leadership style. (TWEET THIS!)

There are so many organizational benefits to adopting an empathetic lens. Even if you need that kind of external motivation to ignite internal change, that’s fine. Just get there….before it’s too late.

Don’t wait for your CEO or “others” in your company to issue some decree. Start where you are. Be a new model of success in your own sphere of influence, wherever your sit. If you act with empathy through genuine curiosity, active listening, practicing presence – you’ll be able to get more done and be successful. You’ll reap all the rewards that research and experience shows empathetic leaders enjoy.

And when others see your path to success, you’ll start that ripple effect “Wow, look at how she operates. I can find success that way, too”  

You redefine success for others when you show them a model. They now see it’s possible to be compassionate and competitive. Ambitious and empathetic, Representation matters.  

We can bring influential leaders on board by showing them how empathy positively impacts the bottom line. And their behavior can have an exponential impact in redefining success.

Check out The Empathy Edge podcast to discover more real-world stories of leaders and brands that are redefining success through empathy.  

More reading for you about empathy as a new model for success:

 3 Leadership and Innovation Lessons form 50 Interviews

3 Ways to Show More Empathy to Your Customers

Does Empathy Make You A Better Leader…and Thought Leader?

Photo Credit: @smartworkscoworking via Unsplash

How to Break the Rules of Success

Be a maverick. Break the rules of success.

Everyone applauds mavericks and innovators for breaking the rules when it comes to products or technology.  It’s the classic Cinderella story. And we celebrate this image of the lone wolf, standing on a TED stage, sharing with the world how he or she refused to listen and followed their own heart to find success. 

We tend to think of technology companies or big thinkers with huge global acclaim when we envision this inspirational story.  

Some of you might believe you can’t be such sexy mavericks in your own industry. I mean, what can a wellness coach, website designer, or financial planner really do to break the rules and innovate? 

I’d like to encourage you to think bigger about breaking the rules. 

For too long, the myth of the maverick has been stuck on replay: Compete. Be fearless. Invent something new. Take no prisoners. Be relentless. Hustle. Move. Go. Go. GO!   

But here’s the thing: you can be a maverick, a true innovator, by breaking the rules… of success and achievement.  (TWEET THIS!)

You can show that vulnerability is sexy (thank you, Corey Blake!) and endear yourself to your clients or community. 

You can use empathy and compassion, not more paid ads, shiny objects or get-rich-quick courses to build a stronger community and attract raving fans. 

You can prioritize quiet time, family time or creative time and still keep forward momentum. 

You can patiently achieve your goals and still make space to rethink and reinvent without constant hustling, “crushing” anything, or grinding yourself into the ground.  

You can use your success–at any level–to make the world a better place. You don’t have to wait until you have Oprah or Branson influence. 

You can be scared, confused, lost, and unsure when tackling any challenge. And admit to the world that you are doing so. Calling fear out by name, publicly, can fuel your resolve and drain its most potent power: the power to make you turn back or never try at all. 

You have the power today to be an innovator and rewrite your story of success so that it works for you.  

So what’s your story going to be? 

Living Without Regret

LiveWithHeartMomWhen it comes to the end of your life, will you look back with regret or gratitude?

Unlike other tasks you may be able to put off, the thing about regret is that you kind of have to plan for this question right now. You know, since you’re currently living your life.

Life is not a dress rehearsal, people.

My mom, Elizabeth, passed away on January 30, 2016. She was 85 years old. She died rather suddenly for someone who has been ill for a long time with heart failure. In the end, it was, oddly enough, not her heart issues, but pneumonia and then a hospital infection that turned into sepsis, which sealed her fate.

She passed away surrounded by family and especially her faithful husband of 61 years, my dad. Before she left this world, she knew her four kids were successful, healthy and loved. She knew her grandchildren. And yes, she even got the chance to see my baby boy, the last grandchild. Her life was full of family, friends, travel, and love.

We should all be so lucky.

I think mom’s only true regret was never having had the chance to go to college. When her youngerbrother ditched college to join the Navy, it was not even a realistic notion to use the money for my mom. What did girls need with a college education, thought my Italian immigrant grandparents? Mom even told my brother a story about being scared when, as a young girl, she almost lost some library books, “ I mean, I was petrified. Mom didn’t even think girls needed to be reading in the first place.” Can you imagine?

She married at 24, but mom still worked. She was a legal secretary/office manager for many years before her kids came along later in life and the worked part-time off and on, focused on raising her family.

I always thought my life was so different from hers. Part of that was by design: My mother wanted me to have all the educational opportunities she never had. She wanted me to stand on my own two feet and not have to rely on any man for anything except love.

But when she made sacrifices for me, I don’t think she realized just how different it would make our lives. I was a single girl focused on my career, living in the city for many years. I broke off an engagement in my late twenties and didn’t get married until my early thirties. I moved far away from home. I had adventures (and misadventures) my mom probably never imagined.

I rebelled so much against the traditional path that my mom, deep in her heart, would have liked me to follow. While she wanted me to have all the opportunities, in the end, I believe she wanted me to choose her path simply because she knew how happy it made her. When I didn’t, she wasn’t sure what to make of me. I wanted to follow my passions and I thought she just couldn’t relate. But, boy, was she proud.

Now, I realize how much her life was the lesson I needed all along. I see now that Mom followed her heart. She lived with few regrets. (Tweet)

She may not have blazed career trails or invented things to live her passion. But, that is because those were not her passions. Hers were different and, yes, she pursued them with gusto. She went on an epic cross-country road trip with my dad before they had kids. She enjoyed Caribbean cruises and Canadian casino bus trips. She traveled to Italy several times and kept in constant touch with family there, helping us kids forge relationships between our generation of cousins as well.

She read (voraciously). She went to every social gathering, party and picnic. She led clubs and volunteered at PTA, standing up to the administration on policies that she thought hurt her kids.

She cheered on her favorite football teams. She cooked giant holiday feasts and crowded as much family as would fit around the table.

When she couldn’t have kids after years of trying, she never gave up hope. Then she had my brothers in her late thirties, a ridiculously late age back in 1966. And then me, six years later, at age 42. She hustled. She got me and my older brother into acting as kids and shuttled us all over Manhattan. She knew exactly what we all wanted for Christmas–and I have no doubt shopped for and wrapped most of it herself

She raised a family and gave us a magical childhood of simple pleasures: boisterous holidays, family vacations, a modest summer house in Mastic Beach, Long Island (seriously, NOT The Hamptons!), full of lazy summer afternoons spent reading, feeding swans, swimming, and boating–no camps or video games! And, of course, warm summer nights where fireflies lit up our games of Tag in the backyard.

She moved from NY to Ohio in her early fifties to start a whole new life when my dad’s company relocated us. She nursed both my grandmother and my great-aunt in their ailing old ages until they each passed away.

My mom’s health was deteriorating over the past few years. It was always a tightrope when I returned home from visits there. Would this be the last time? One can never be sure. So it was always, “I love you” before every parting, at the end of every phone call.

I stayed home a little longer than usual this past Christmas, a full week which then got extended due to cancelled flights and bad weather. Maybe the Universe knew?! I made sure she got to watch my little one play in her living room for a few hours. She was not the most talkative or “herself” in recent years but it was enough to be in her presence, making small talk. I gave her an extra big hug and kiss upon leaving, and made sure my one and a half year-old son did the same. “Say ‘I’ll see you soon, Nonnie’,” I encouraged him. She loved hearing him say “Nonnie” in that sweet little baby voice of his.

Did Mom have other regrets? I’ll never know for sure. But in the last few weeks, I’ve realized that her life was one big adventure of enjoying the people and moments that mean the most. A life I always thought so different from mine. And yet…. she followed her own passions just as I want to follow mine. Exactly the kind of life I want as well. One big adventure. Soaking it all in.

No regrets. Just love.

So I ask you: Today, at this moment, are you setting up your life to do the same? Are you launching that business, writing that book, taking that trip, or simply spending time with the people who matter most?And remember, like my Mom, living a life without regret is not about “living hard” or doing crazy, epic things, either, unless that’s truly what calls to your soul.

Are you following the passions close to your own heart or simply living a life others say you should have? Are you measuring your success with someone else’s yardstick?

At the end, when it’s all said and done, no one will care about your course launches or “six-figure business” or book deal or social media followers or marketing to-do list. My mom never had any of those things and she could have cared less. She was just fine.

In the end, are you going to have no regrets, just love?