COVID-19 has created much upheaval in our personal and professional lives. Those of us who love routine and tend to resist change, were totally knocked off balance. If you are an empath, someone who feels deeply, you may have felt almost incapacitated at times; as if you were carrying all the worries of the world on your shoulders and like you were on an emotional roller coaster, one day up and the other day way down. Others pivoted quickly, their creative juices flowed, and they were able to quickly adapt and adjust to an ever-changing new reality. Why and how is this so?
I believe it is partly due to personality, partly due to previous life experience and partly due to environment and mindset. If you believe that embracing change (and uncertainty – which is change that comes “out of the blue” that you didn’t invite into your life) is a creative process that opens you up to new possibility, the way you feel and act during times of uncertainty is quite different than if you fear and resist change and uncertainty.
If you live in a beautiful natural environment and can easily get out in nature on a regular basis (and at the same time maintain social distance), these past months have not been near as difficult for you as for those who live in densely-populated areas or concrete jungles with little or no access to nature.
If you have had previous life experiences such as living and working in conflict zones and areas with restricted movement, you may have learned some valuable lessons you can apply to your current reality (see previous blog for more details – https://pamela-thompson.com/dealing-with-uncertainty-insights-and-lessons-learned/).
A number of women leaders and colleagues I have spoken with have shared their experiences of what it has been like to live and work during these uncertain times. Many have found it challenging to deal with a number of their direct reports who are stressed and having difficulty dealing with working at home. Previous emotional tensions have been aggravated. Working at home with a spouse in close quarters, while at the same time trying to manage young children, is not easy. Many report having to work more hours than normal and having difficulty separating work from life. A number of women leaders are feeling “burnt out” and are also seeing burnout in their colleagues and employees.
So how can we prevent leadership burnout? Based on my own experiences of almost burning out several times in my career here are a few practical tips.
- Set clear boundaries between home and work. If you used to leave work at 5 pm, turn off your computer at 5 pm and, if possible, go for a walk outdoors.
- Establish clear expectations of your direct reports or colleagues. Let them know your hours of work and model work-life balance for them.
- Take a 5-minute stretch and walk around every hour, if possible, to release the tension in your body and give your eyes a break.
- When fears and worries about the future come up, take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and notice how your body responds. When you take such breaths the hormone oxytocin is released which calms your body and your mind. Share this strategy with your colleagues and direct reports.
- Begin meditating daily. There are a number of meditation apps available including:, https://www.headspace.com/, https://www.calm.com/ ,
- and one of my favorites Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day meditation experiences – https://chopracentermeditation.com/
- Spend some time getting clear on what is really important for you in life and in work and then create an action plan to move forward daily in those priority areas. Let go of people and activities that do not nourish you.
- Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
- Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
- Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
- Begin integrating mindfulness practices into your life. For additional strategies on how to prevent burnout and thrive in uncertain times, I invite you to check out my #1 best-selling book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” (which is also helpful for men) and emerged from my experience of almost burning out.
Over to you, what strategies have you found helpful to prevent burnout during uncertain times? I invite your comments below.
 Mindfulness practices help you “get of your head” and “into your body”. An example is mindfulness walking meditation which can be done indoors but is more powerful when done outdoors in nature. Rather than thinking of our upcoming meeting or the recent argument we had with our partner, we focus on all of our senses. We feel the wind on our cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot and see the beautiful vistas that surround us.
Many of the critical issues we are facing in the world today are due to holding on to old paradigms and belief systems that no longer serve us. These include: valuing logic over intuition, leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, rewarding individuals over teams and undervaluing collaboration and teamwork, believing that we are different from others based on religion, race, country of origin …, and acting and believing that our planet’s natural resources are infinite.
I believe that “authentic” feminine leadership holds the key to addressing these critical challenges and to creating a world that works for everyone.
What do I mean by a world that works for everyone? In a nutshell I mean a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
Why feminine leadership and Why Now? Why the time is right for women’s leadership and active participation in creating a world that works for everyone:
- Lessons from history; when women are involved in decision-making and politics, outcomes are more inclusive and positive
- Lessons from COVID-19 and women political leaders’ rapid and effective responses using their feminine energy and feminine values; (e.g. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, British Columbia’s provincial Medical Officer of Health)
- Recent demonstrations against the police and anti-black racism around the world and the acknowledgement of systemic racism in our societies and institutions by leaders worldwide.
The world is ripe for change. We are at a point to examine lessons from the past, let go of old beliefs and structures that are no longer working, explore new paradigms and focus on creating a better world: a more equitable, humane, just, sustainable and peaceful world.
The difference between masculine and feminine energy – Female Energy (Yin) is associated with BEING and GIVING whereas Male Energy (Yang) is associated with DOING and RECEIVING.
Our organizations and societies have been focused on DOING and RECEIVING and it is time to create a balance between Female and Male Energy. When people feel pressure to continually drive and strive (be in their masculine energy), it creates chronic stress and negatively impacts their bodies, their minds, their relationships, their productivity and their bottom lines.
It is time for more women to step into leadership positions and for feminine leadership qualities to replace the dominantly masculine ones that our systems and organizations have been built upon.
What are Authentic Feminine Leadership Qualities and Why are they Important to Creating a world that works for everyone?
An authentic feminine leader is:
- Compassionate – “feeling and showing sympathy and concern for others” (Oxford dictionary). “Compassionate people often have other positive traits like generosity, kindness, and understanding. People who are compassionate feel the need to impact the world around them in positive ways.”
In order to create a world that works for everyone this quality is essential. To better understand and deal with critical issues such as systemic racism and gender-based violence, we need to learn and model compassion. To be compassionate has been perceived as weak and not what leaders typically do; however, as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, so thoughtfully commented recently:
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
- Intuitive – uses their body as well as their mind to make decisions e.g. heart and gut.
When I reflect on my life, all the decisions I have made by “going inside” and listening for the answers, have always been the right decisions for me; whereas those made solely from making the ‘pros and cons’ list and only using left-brain logic have not always been the ‘right’ ones. Did you know that our heart and our gut have nerve endings that send signals to our brains, and that our hearts and intestines contain neural tissue? The HeartMath Institute has done research to show the powerful influence our hearts and guts have on decision-making and strategic thinking. I encourage you to think about how you typically make decisions and the impacts of those decisions.
To remind us of the importance and power of intuition I offer this insightful quotation from a brilliant man:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)
- Creative – As a leader is important to create a shared vision to lead and inspire others. I’ve experienced first-hand the power of creating a shared vision among various levels of an organization while doing strategic planning and also when designing and implementing international projects that involve different disciplines, cultures and religions. A well-designed and facilitated process has the power to create understanding and ownership and to change attitudes and beliefs. To encourage creativity and innovation it is also important to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and learns from its mistakes (e.g. annual Failure Report from Engineers without Borders).
In the words of Ashley Good in Engineer’s without Borders 2017 Annual Failure Report:
“We hope this report serves as an acknowledgement that systems change is complex and therefore some degree of failure is inevitable. … we need to create room for ourselves to try new things and experiment in pursuit of figuring out what might work to shift the system towards our vision. Therefore, the best thing we can do is be willing to take the risk of trying something new, and at the same time, get really good at detecting where our efforts are failing early, analyzing effectively, and applying our learning to continuously improve 
- Collaborative – believes in and models collaboration. This is important when dealing with complex situations and issues. Barbara Gray, an organizational theorist and veteran mediator, has written extensively on the importance of involving multiple disciplines and sectors to solve complex problems.
- Inclusive – recognizes the importance of different races, religions and ethnic groups being represented “at the table” so their voices are heard, understood and included in the process and outcome.
- Emotionally Intelligent (EI) – capable of recognizing their own emotions and those of others, discerning between different feelings and labelling them appropriately, using emotional information to guide their thinking and behavior, and managing and/or adjusting their emotions to adapt to environments or achieve their goals … Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater job performance, mental health and leadership skills.  Leaders who are not emotionally intelligent often surround themselves with people similar in thoughts, beliefs and actions to themselves, do not see their blind spots and also are challenged with differing points of view and in being creative.
- Authentic – “walks their talk”; clear on their own values and beliefs and lives and leads aligned with these. As a leader it is important to consistently “walk your talk” so people feel safe, trust you and are aware of what is expected of them
What can you do to help create a world that works for everyone?
- Get clear on and live life in alignment with your core values. (For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/)
- Practice Regular Self-care. Do yoga, go for regular walks in nature, have a bubble bath.
- Listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom.
Some tools to help you connect with your body’s wisdom are Mindfulness practices. Such practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They help us to live “in the present moment”.
Think about someone you’ve hired in the past, who on paper looked great, but you had an uneasy feeling about during the interview process. You let your left-brain logic rule your decision-making, and within a few months had evidence that this person was NOT a good fit for your organization. For tools to assist you to learn to make decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2
- Tap into and express your creative side (right brain) on a regular basis.
Is there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it and lose track of time? It could be film editing, painting, writing, gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
- Choose an area of focus that you’re passionate about; e.g. climate change, women’s health, gender equality … and get involved with a group that is advocating in that area of focus; a group that you feel aligned with.
Here’s to You and to working together to create a world that works for us all!
Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Feminine Leadership holds the key to creating a world that works for everyone? I welcome your comments below.
 Note that men can also have and learn these qualities
 Gray, B. 1989 Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
 For more info on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/