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It’s been a great year.  Best year in business, best year in marriage, best year with my health, best year setting boundaries both personally and professionally.  It’s all so good…  Right?  But, I’m exhausted!

Many of us are feeling overwhelmingly anxious, tight, tense, tired, sore, … and there’s a name for what’s happening.  It’s courage burnout, a.k.a. decision burnout.  (Inevitably, decisions require the courage to draw a line in the sand, even if it’s choosing NOT to make a decision.) 

Moving forward in our organizations, businesses, careers, and lives comes from understanding our motivations.  We’re motivated by data, dreams, pain points, opportunities, values, emergencies, competition, signs from the universe, and the list goes on.  Through these motivators, we get clarity on where we’re heading right now and why it matters.  At the minimum, motivations are the fuel for our organizational machines.  And if used most effectively, with clarity and purposeful intent, our motivations can connect us to each other in significantly more sustainable ways.  Understanding our motivations and bonding them together enable our organizations to not only survive but thrive. 

Sounds easy enough, let’s just share what we’re motivated by, right?  Okay, here’s a test.  What motivates you to do what you’re doing right now?  What motivates you to achieve the task you just finished?  What motivates you to care about something 5 years from now (assuming you do)?  Many of us assume that our motivations are clear.  But, that’s just not true.  I estimate less than half of the hundreds of coaching clients I’ve worked with are clear on their motivations.  It’s often a primary topic of executive, business, and career coaching: what do you really, really, really want…and why?  Yet, as leaders, we often assume that others know what they’re motivated by and “wish they would just tell us” so we knew how to bond together to not only survive but thrive.  (Or, let’s be honest, to get them to do what I need them to do!)

In my work consulting various teams across the globe through large scale, strategic, and transformational change leadership, we don’t tend to struggle with what or why we’re investing our time and resources into certain efforts. It’s almost always “how” we’re doing it that causes conflict.  There are many, many more options of HOW to do something once we’re settled on what and why we’re doing it.  In the minutia of completing the plan we felt so called to do, agreement on “how” we accomplish the task is where the sheer wall of decisions we must make come to the surface as stress, overwhelm, and fatigue. 

There’s another factor that can lead to more courage burnout.  Long range, strategic decisions often lead to more courage burnout than quick, tactical decisions.  Why?  When we’re backed into a corner, needing to decide purely out of reactivity (a.k.a. – putting the fires out), of course there will be stress in decision-making.  But, it’s often easier to choose when we’re in such a reactive position.  We have most of the information we’re going to get and normally something needs to be done right away.  The decision to even make a decision has already been decided! 

Now consider those longer range, strategic, “even better if” decisions.  We must identify a desire, motivation, or consequence exists to do things differently.  At NASA, I had colleagues tell me “better is the enemy of good”.  Yes, sometimes that’s true, typically when we are backed into a corner needing to make a reactive decision.  Unfortunately, better being the enemy of good is an attitude that can lead to complacency.  Organizational complacency exists when too many team members and leaders believe someone else in the organization should or will take care of something that’s an irritant.  

According to Brent Gleeson, NAVY Seal Combat Veteran, and owner of Taking Point Leadership, There are many obvious causes of complacency. And when an organization and its leadership team can identify those causes, it becomes easier to develop a plan to combat that negative inertia. Those causes include but are not limited to: the lack of any real visible crisis, the wrong performance measurement criteria, leaders drinking too much of their own Kool-Aid, too much positive communication coupled with the fear of real transparency and respectful conflict, and a culture based on self-preservation rather than taking calculated risk. The list goes on.” 

We can’t survive, let alone thrive, in a constant state of hustle, trying to be better than we were yesterday on an endless treadmill of change.  Yet, these long-range, strategic decisions are the type of decisions that most often leads us to courage burnout.  “Maybe it’s good enough the way things are.”  “Why mess up a good thing?” 

So, why am I doing all this work, feeling all this stress? If the desire to make a difference and make things better for yourself and others still burns in your soul, then our only option is to heal the courage burnout.

Luckily, we have some very simple strategies to help you heal courage burnout (besides quitting).

  1. Awareness is half the battle.  To overcome burnout of any kind, being aware of it is where we begin to heal it.  How do you know when you’re feeling courage burnout?  Our body tells us in many ways.  Sweaty palms, restless nights, upset stomachs, irritation when even your favorite person calls or emails with a request, etc.  
  2. Staying focused on the initial motivation to make a change is what keeps us motivated.  How much work did we spend in the beginning of a transformational change leadership journey to really understand everyone’s motivations? And how does this change support us all?  This is the NUMBER 1 place change management efforts fail.  It is still possible to overcome burnout even without having done the pre-work of getting everyone’s motivations aligned. It’s just much, much more effort after we’ve already shielded ourselves against a change. Go back to what motivates you.
  3. Celebrate milestone victories.  It’s natural to be consumed by the day-to-day minutia of change when we’re constantly battling the options of “how” to do things.  Is this the right way?  We won’t know that until we leap in a direction to learn.  “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you needed to know it.” – (Elisha Goldstein) Consider all the things that feel like celebration to you and pick one for each of the major victories along your journey, even when it didn’t work out exactly like we hoped!

Laurie Hall – a certified facilitator, certified coach and seasoned speaker – founded New Horizon Strategies, LLC (NHS) in 2011 to inspire sustainable change in the professional world. Today, Laurie provides executive, career and business coaching for individuals and groups to help people achieve their vision, goals and desires. By applying Socratic questioning, she enables clients to seek their own answers. She has coached clients from Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and around the world: Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Singapore, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, The Netherlands, Brazil, Honduras and Great Britain. In addition, Laurie facilitates programs and events to help companies, government agencies and professional associations achieve the highest possible levels of effectiveness. Topics for facilitated programs and events include Operational Excellence, Culture of Innovation, Change Management, Organizational Development, Strategic Planning, Process Improvement, Project Management, Leadership Development, Team Building, and Dare to LeadTM.  A frequent keynote and breakout session speaker on technical and motivational topics to inspire personal and professional growth, Laurie has presented at dozens of conferences and professional meetings from small groups to over 350 people.

Laurie brings a unique perspective to her facilitation and coaching work since she spent the first part of her career in project- and system-level engineering and management, facilitation and organizational development to support human life in space and operational excellence on the ground. Her work affected change at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Lockheed Martin, Jacobs Sverdrup and Schlumberger-Dowell. For Johnson Space Center alone, Laurie facilitated more than 20 process improvement events.