25 Mar

Feeling tired? Overwhelmed at work?

We all know that when we are tired, it’s good to take a break. They say that ‘a break is as good as a holiday’!

I actually took a break from blog posting for a while. The break came when it was hard to devote the time to explore blog topics amongst other projects. I felt that a break might refresh the old leadership brain cells. So hello again friends! And thank you for your patience in my absence.

While I took the writing break, I continued with my coaching practice, supporting leaders across the globe in their various roles and industries. And in these discussions I am hearing many ‘burnt-out’ stories. People, it seems, are tired. Actually, they are EXHAUSTED!

Some people are leaving jobs they like because they can’t cope anymore. Some are taking extended breaks. Others are taking time off work altogether – ‘early retirement.’ Still others are choosing to stay and trudge on, even while feeling spent.

I’m concerned whenever a client has a period of exhaustion, or overwhelm. I am most concerned when they tell me they know what will help them reduce stress and  overwhelm, yet somehow can’t find the time or motivation to take the action they desperately need. Because this often seems like an added burden when many of these people berate or blame themselves for not committing to taking a stance or making a change. So the spiral of negative thoughts, and sometimes feelings of helplessness escalates.

Take it from me, what I describe here is in no way isolated to a few people. It’s widespread. So if any of these descriptions sound like you then the first thing to say is – YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Sometimes even that knowledge in itself is helpful.

The next thing to say might be a bit harder to process…only YOU can make a change. Ouch! While your boss, your company, your colleague, your team might be able to help in several ways, they won’t necessarily make the first move, or take action. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed, we fall into the ‘blame game’. This is where we blame our boss, the pandemic, our employees for us feeling overwhelmed.

When we blame other people, we can forget that sometimes they don’t even know we are in danger of ‘burn out’. People don’t usually ignore our pain on purpose. At times they might know we are struggling, yet unable to know what assistance to offer.

When we blame circumstances such as the pandemic, or government restrictions, or change in organisational structure, we can get stuck in what many call ‘victim-thinking’. I see this as when we lay blame on things beyond our immediate influence, and then sit back assuming there is nothing we can do.

So…if you are felling burnt out or overwhelmed, what CAN you do?

  1. Take a break
  2. Gather your thoughts – be specific and honest
  3. Identify options
  4. Make a change

Take a break

Our brain is an energy hungry organ. The part of our brain that needs a lot of ‘feeding’ is our Pre Frontal Cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for our logical thinking, problem solving and decision making activities. To operate effectively, it needs fuel, especially glucose and oxygen. When we are tired or emotional, we are not able to give this thinking zone what it needs to be its best. Often our emotional brain centres are busy draining the energy supply when we are overwhelmed.

Before we can make any decision about what to do, we need to let our brain recharge. So please take a break! Some of you will be thinking that you can’t because…you are so busy. Well, if you don’t, then busy will consume you. And it will further deplete your brain’s resources. And on and on the spiral continues.

All you need is 5-10 minutes. Hey, if that’s too much, take 2 minutes. What about 2 minutes now to get outside, have a cup of tea, walk down the hall way, take a nap, play with the dog, listen to music?

Regular breaks help your brain. And by doing so, they enhance your ability to problem solve. And in some respects, overwhelm at work is another problem to solve. Breaks also help us be more focussed when we get back to tasks. This can mean better productivity to get through the work.

One thing I sometimes see with those in a state of overwhelm, is that they spend so much time feeling overwhelmed and thinking about how tired they are, that they have no focus to achieve goals.

If you need more information on how breaks help your brain, then check out Psychology Today where they have a good article that goes into more detail. And of course, if the overwhelm has progressed to a state of depression, severe lethargy, or anxiety, then please do see a trained professional. If truly ‘burnt-out’ then recovery may start with some additional psychological or medical assistance.

Gather your thoughts

This step is important. So, take a nice slow deep breath and answer these questions:

  • What specifically do you believe is driving your sense of overwhelm? The key here is to be as specific as possible. Rather than saying “I don’t have enough time in the day”, think exactly about the main cause. For example, it might be that you have 5 projects with the same deadline and the work required for each project would result in a 100 hour week to achieve the requirements. Or, it might be that your manager gives you tasks to do at short notice, and you are finding it hard to fit them amongst the more longer term projects.
  • Is there anything that you are doing/not doing that might be adding to the issue? This is where we must be honest with ourselves. For example, does procrastination factor in? Do you spend excess time chatting to colleagues? (I’m not saying chatting is a bad thing!) Do you put off discussing your challenges with your boss? Do you struggle to negotiate different deadlines with colleagues? Do you say ‘yes’ to work that isn’t in your role, or that you know will overload you?
  • Of the causes and issues above, which are you able to influence?
  • How committed are you to resolving the overwhelm?

Identify options

Now that we have an outline of the specific issues, it’s time to think about possible solutions. I suggest a blank piece of paper and list as many possible solutions that come to your mind in 3-5 minutes. Try not to limit your brainstorming with ‘that’s silly’, ‘that won’t work’. Just start by listing ideas, no matter how realistic or workable they might be.

Once you have the options to reduce your overwhelm, go back over them and highlight those that sound reasonable, achievable, or worth exploring further.

Then identify the one that you think would be the best to start with. It might be ‘best’ because it’s a quick win to get you motivated. It might be best because it will reduce your workload the most. It might be best because it involves the whole team. Whatever the reason it is best, simply choose.

Now identify 3 more options that are ‘next best’.

For the chosen options, what is the first step in making them happen?

Make a change

Now comes the opportunity to take action! Using your options above, starting with the ‘best’, begin to implement them. This may take planning and courage if the option involves a difficult conversation. Or it may be an option that puts you outside your comfort zone. Making change and taking action is not always easy. Yet what if taking this step actually helps?

Time for a deep breath and a dose of self-courage. Even small changes, like implementing regular breaks, or sticking to a set ‘finish’ time can be enough to shift the balance so you can reduce the overwhelm.

The truth is, life can be busy, work can be complex and hectic. And all of us have the same number of limited hours in the day. So taking action and making change will definitely need to start with you. It may not solve everything, yet you do need to start somewhere.

These steps are only starting points, and I get that sometimes we can all do with extra help and planning. If you would like some support to address the work overwhelm, then I am available for professional coaching! Just contact me to find out more.

engagingPOTENTIAL: facilitation, training, coaching, team development

Helping managers create extraordinary teams!

28 Feb

Who’s the imposter?

Cyber Crime Eye

“It is because we are all imposters that we endure each other.” – Emil Cioran

Imposter syndrome – what is it? The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first used by two clinical psychologists – Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. They used it to refer to apparently successful people who are convinced that they do not deserve the success that they have. While technically this ‘syndrome’ is not an actual clinical disorder, the effects can be quite significant.

John Steinbeck – famous American author; the man responsible for ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Grapes of Wrath’ – once wrote “I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”

People with Imposter Syndrome are anxious that they will be discovered as a ‘fraud’ – that someone will ‘out them’ as an unqualified, inexperienced fake, who does not deserve to be in the role that they have. When someone is feeling this way, they will often downplay their apparent success. Their internal dialogue might sound like: “No one else must have applied for this job”, “What will happen when they realise I can’t do this?”, “Someone is going to find fault in this presentation!”.

The inner narrative downplays success, questions abilities, and predicts failure.

Emma Watson – actress, model and UN ambassador – she seems to have it together – yes? Well, in a 2015 Vogue magazine article, she spoke of feeling uncomfortable about her acting success, and that at times she felt like an imposter. She has spoken about walking down a red carpet, then going into the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror and asking “Who is this?”

Sometimes people experience these feelings only in particular situations (e.g. a new job, before a presentation). For other people, they may feel crippled by their thoughts more frequently. Regardless of how often it happens, it can be very draining. While they may outwardly appear self-assured and capable, internally they are having thoughts of inadequacy and low self-confidence.

People with Imposter Syndrome may procrastinate in big tasks (because they assume they won’t succeed), or they may over prepare, seeking to cover every aspect in minute detail. Regardless of the actions that play out, the internal dialogue, anxiety and stress can result in burn out, missed opportunities, or negative impacts on relationships.

A 2007 article estimated that 70% of the US population had experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives… Wow – that’s a huge amount of people.

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has admitted to imposter feelings at times. In her book ‘Lean In’, she talks about going to Harvard and yet feeling like she didn’t deserve to be there. Even when she excelled there, she felt like she had fooled them and would eventually be found out.

At Engaging Potential, we’ve read a lot about what we call – ‘imposter thinking’. We’ve coached people with it, had friends with it, had it ourselves from time to time. Most of what we read and hear about this thinking pattern is negative. And yes, it can be a paralysing and negative thing.

Yet, is there any upside to Imposter Syndrome?

In a training session I was once asked what the opposite of Imposter Syndrome was – instantly I replied “Arrogance”. That got a laugh, yet I wasn’t trying to be funny! Sometimes I see arrogance as almost worse than the dreaded imposter.

Could imposter thinking actually help us focus on our abilities? If we are listening carefully to our internal dialogue, when those self-doubts creep in, it could be an opportunity to reflect, and bring self-awareness into play.

If we walked around believing we are the most fabulous, perfect, successful, intelligent person on earth, and had no self-doubt, then maybe we could be described as arrogant! And potentially we may not grow and improve.

Now before I am howled down by those who say self-confidence is good, let’s pause – I’m not encouraging people to berate themselves emotionally. All I’m saying is that a little self-reflection may be useful. Being humble and honest, rather than being over-confident and self-delusional. Reframing your inner dialogue to think realistically about your situation and turn the anxiety into proactivity and confidence.

Ariana Huffington talks about the voice in her head that at times held her back – she called this voice her ‘obnoxious roomate’. She has said “I wish someone could invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything that we tell ourselves.” She goes on to say that perhaps if we heard this played back, we would realise how important it is to stop negative self talk, and deal with the ‘obnoxious roomate’ with a dose of wisdom.

Well, we may not be able to record our inner thoughts, yet we can use our awareness of imposter syndrome to become conscious of unhelpful thoughts early-on in the self-dialogue.

Knowing that many people have similar feelings of being a fake, a fraud or being caught out hopefully helps us realise that it is common, and can be addressed. The first step is being conscious of what is going on inside our head. Ignoring it, or suppressing the thoughts is not the best option – let’s crash tackle this thing with some wisdom and logic.

An example…

You have a presentation to give to your peers. You start to prepare and then notice an inner voice saying “Who am I to give this presentation, to these people…they know a lot more about this than I do!”

Now, if you have a strategy to acknowledge and address this inner voice, it gives you the opportunity to pause, assure yourself, or to look for areas where you may need to do more work. The key is to hear the voice and refute/question it; rather than hear the voice, believe it, add more negative comments and spiral into a paralysing pit of self-doubt.

Step 1: Be attuned to picking up the inner voice when it first starts – notice it consciously.

Step 2: Find something simple to say internally to acknowledge the negative thought patterns. E.g. “STOP!” Or “Hang on a minute…!” Or “Whoa there!” Whatever word or phrase you use, it is simply something to act as a circuit breaker in the thought pattern.

Step 3: Outline what the REALITY is. What’s the background for the project/ job application/presentation? What is the aim of my involvement? Am I really here to save the world?

This brings our logical thinking brain into play, rather than letting our emotions run away and create some false drama.

For instance, you might say to yourself “I’ve been asked to give this talk because of my experiences on this project. The goal of the presentation is to share ideas on improvements for the future. My perspective here is valid. I don’t have to be an expert, it’s just a point of view…” And so on.

Step 4: Review strengths and acknowledge any specific gaps. Notice how I say ‘specific’. With Imposter Syndrome, we often catastrophasize – “everything is bad” – we make it bigger than it is. Being specific identifies what it IS, not what we dread or fear it to be. What are my strengths? What valuable experience do I bring to this? Where have I succeeded in the past? Is there one thing I could maybe do to make this even better? What is a gap I can work on here?

While I do not suggest people should love their imposter thinking pattern, I do suggest that being aware of this inner dialogue is an opportunity to change the narrative; identify strengths, acknowledge a weakness if there is one, and develop a plan on how to move forward. Much better than cycling on perfectionist and unrealistic expectations, and berating yourself when you don’t meet them.

Rather than being scared of your imposter thinking, embrace it as an indication to pause and choose a more productive thought pattern.

In summary,

  • Imposter Syndrome is not a clinical condition, rather a pattern of thoughts that create self-doubt.
  • Being aware of your inner dialogue is critical to being able to address negative thoughts.
  • Reframing the dialogue to a more realistic and positive version is the key to reducing the impacts of ‘imposter’ thinking.

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, facilitation

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

01 Sep

The ‘self’ in leadership Part 2

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold but not bully; be thoughtful but not lazy; be humble but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly” – Jim Rohn


In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the importance of both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ in leadership, what self-leadership is, common pitfalls, and then posed some questions to consider (below).

  1. Are you living those values and behaviours – leading by example?
  2. Are you bringing positive intent to all your interactions with others ?
  3. Are you respecting other people’s values through your actions ?

In this discussion, we introduce a very simple model to help hold oneself to account in self-leadership. We use the SELF model. It is fairly self-explanatory (no pun intended!) and is designed as a quick check list for those who are developing their self-leadership and collaboration style.

SELF Model

There are 4 core actions, and 3 core attitudes to this model.


Set and meet your goals

Having professional and personal goals is what sets many true leaders apart. Goals can provide you with clear focus, help you prioritise and motivate you toward results. Leaders achieve!

Engage positively with others

As we discussed in Part 1, positive intent and respect in your interactions is key to effective collaboration. And it must be genuine! Test yourself – “What impact have I had on this person today?” If you don’t like the answer, review your approach.

Listen to your brain

The brain is the core of the behaviours we exhibit to others. If we are stressed, tired or otherwise worried, our brain tends to use it’s vital resources keeping us alive and functioning and often doesn’t have much left in reserve to moderate toward positive behaviour. This is why in stressful circumstances we might withdraw from others or emotionally ‘explode’. We are not operating with our best logical brain in action. So listen to your brain – if you feel emotional, stressed, tired – take some time out. Exercise, sleep, relax, or at the very least  – breathe calmly – so that you can bring your best behaviour to your leadership. Don’t ignore your brain health, it’s important.

Focus on your development

News flash – your boss isn’t responsible for your development! Sure they should support you, yet ultimately you are responsible. No matter how experienced, qualified or smart you might be, there are always areas to develop. Listen and seek to understand feedback given – both positive and constructive. Be self-aware – monitor what you do well and identify what you can improve. Look for opportunities to grow professionally and personally.



The ability to empathise with others is an important leadership trait. This is most challenging when we are called on to use it with people we don’t necessarily ‘like’ or in situations that we don’t fully understand. You don’t have to agree with the person, take sides or solve problems – empathy is all about taking a moment to reflect what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. So remove judgement, bring positive intent, listen and genuinely demonstrate empathy.


Humility is all about keeping your ego in check! It’s great to be confident, wonderful to have an opinion and important to highlight your strengths. Humility is all about knowing the right time and place to do these things, and when to take a step back. This might be to allow someone else to speak, to seek another’s opinion, to recognise you don’t know the answer, to acknowledge a team effort, or to be gracious in success or defeat.


This does not mean that leaders have to be comedians! Nor should the humour be inappropriate – obviously! A positive leader understands the importance of laughter, lightheartedness and fun in human bonding. It’s not about cracking jokes, it’s about being willing to let down your guard, and show enjoyment of the lighter side of life – it’s being human.

What does your leadership ‘selfie’ look like? 🙂

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

21 Apr

The ‘self’ in leadership Part 1

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold but not bully; be thoughtful but not lazy; be humble but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly” – Jim Rohn

A common misunderstanding that is often raised in coaching sessions concerns the term ‘leader’. Many people believe a leader is someone who has direct reports; someone who manages or supervises others. Some interesting conversations and insights arise when we discuss the difference between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ and the fact that you don’t have to be a manager or supervisor to demonstrate leadership.

This is the ‘self’ of leadership – what you bring to the workplace that sets you apart from others, and what behaviours you consistently demonstrate. It is how you interact with and treat others, how you go about achieving results and how you handle set backs. Notice the use of the word ‘how’ here. The ‘what’ you deliver is very important to leadership; equally as important is the ‘how’ you go about delivering results.

If for instance, you achieve targets, yet along the way you undermine others, are rude to customers, throw tantrums in your boss’ office and break policies, then you are not showing good self-leadership. On the other hand, if you deliver results and along the way support colleagues, respect customers, uphold policies and professionally discuss issues with your boss, then you likely are demonstrating good self-leadership.

So, this sounds like common sense – yes? Well, in many respects it is – most of us have learnt from childhood that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Yet this is where we encounter the ‘knowing-doing’ gap, the concept of differing values and the positive approach of emotional intelligence.

Knowing-doing gap examples:

  • “I know that I should greet all colleagues politely, yet at times I don’t, because some of them annoy me!”
  • “I know that it’s inappropriate to yell at people in the office, yet I find managing my emotions difficult and so occasionally I do yell at people.”

So you might know what is or isn’t appropriate; you might know the theory of a particular situation (e.g. giving feedback), yet are you actually ‘doing’ it as you ‘know’?

Differing values examples:

  • “I think humour in the workplace is positive; Geoffrey takes it too far because he likes to tell rude jokes that make me feel uncomfortable.”
  • “Respect is so important to me and I would never gossip about a colleague; I hear people talking about Jenny’s divorce when she’s not here and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
  • “If I have a problem with how we interact, I’ll tell you; it concerns me when I hear that you’ve been telling everyone else but me that you don’t like how I do things.”

We all have values that are important to us; yet what they are differs widely from person to person. And even if we have similar priority values (e.g. respect), what we expect of others in relation to these values can be very different (i.e. ‘respect’ can mean different things to different people).

These differences are ok – it’s part of being human – we are all different! We just need to look at whether we respect others’ values, where we are willing to be flexible with our values, and where/when we need courage to stand up for our values.

Emotional intelligence examples:

  • “In frustrating situations, I am able to avoid emotional outbursts, yet still discuss my feelings in an appropriate and productive way.”
  • “I am able to connect with others by seeking to understand their perspective, even if it differs to my own.”
  • “I know how to demonstrate empathy and support others.”
  • “I can raise challenging issues and provide feedback in a way that maintains relationships.”
  • “I understand that others will differ in their behaviours and values and that I can only control my own actions.”

Do you have the emotional intelligence to handle difficult situations in the workplace and to demonstrate leadership that sets you apart in a positive way?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most effective skills to demonstrate leadership – whether it be self-leadership or leading others in a team. A key ingredient to being able to develop emotional intelligence is self-awareness – being able to identify your strengths and gaps and recognise when you do and when you don’t demonstrate appropriate behaviours.

It’s not about making excuses – “that’s just me” – it’s about truly understanding your strengths and limitations. And then from there, it’s been willing and committed to consistently demonstrate strengths and work toward closing any gaps.

Your self-leadership challenge

Think about how you would like to be perceived in the workplace.

  • What values and behaviours would you like to be known for?

Now ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Are you living those values and behaviours – leading by example?
  2. Are you bringing positive intent to all your interactions with others (regardless of whether you like them or not)?
  3. Are you respecting other people’s values through your actions (whether you have the same values or not)?

Next post we will look at a simple model to help hold ourselves accountable to self-leadership.

In the meantime – what does your leadership ‘selfie’ look like?

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd

16 Feb

Leadership Valentine

“Better let my heart be without words than my words without heart.” – John Bunyan

Another purple heart Roz

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. We thought we’d have a bit of fun and see if there are any leadership lessons from this day that is sometimes loved and sometimes loathed across the globe.

  1. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. Leaders are bold and confident. They know that they may not have all the right answers, yet they have confidence in their team and their own decisions. They take calculated risks and learn from successes, as well as heartache.
  2. Flowers and chocolates don’t make a relationship. Leaders know that building a great working relationship takes time – whether it’s with their team, their colleagues, their boss or customers. Bubbles and gifts are nice, yet they fade in comparison to a strong and trusting relationship with mutually beneficial goals
  3. True success means expressing gratitude every day. Leaders are thankful for the privileges they attract, the teams they work with and the customers they serve. Every day they express this gratitude through their actions and words; it’s authentic and consistent.

I’m sure there are many other comparisons you can think of, yet these are a few of our favourites.

Hope you had a Happy Valentine’s day!

engagingPOTENTIAL: training, team development, coaching

Specialising in working with managers to develop extraordinary teams!

© Engaging Potential Pty Ltd