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An anchor hanging from a rope
The Burnout Lesson I Hadn’t Learned Yet
The Burnout Lesson I Hadn’t Learned Yet 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve been struggling for the past few months. Honestly, I’ve probably been struggling for much longer than that. I just finally became aware of how bad it was recently.

To start with, I was exhausted all the time. Regardless of how much I slept, I never seemed to find that point where I felt rested. Hitting the mid-afternoon wall had become the norm.

One reason I wasn’t sleeping was that I was drinking too much in the evenings. That comfortable numb of a few drinks became a respite each night from whatever was wrong.

And something was definitely wrong.

I wasn’t showing up in my life as the best version of myself. Not even close.

On a few occasions, my wife had come to me to brainstorm some ideas with her (a task at which I generally excel) Then, after about 2 minutes of my responding to her request, said “Nevermind. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Ouch.

Around the same time, I had a networking call with someone who I admired. When the call ended, I thought, “Who was that guy talking? If I was her, I wouldn’t ever want to talk to me again.”

These are but a few of many examples where it became clear to me that I wasn’t myself. I was impatient, terse, and cynical. Sadly, it was at its worst with the people I care about the most.

On top of all this, my creative spark dimmed. I couldn’t find the inspiration or motivation to make new stuff within me. When I had no other choice, I found a way but it required about four times the effort to do so.

My friends and loved ones started checking in on me. They were worried about me.

Honestly, I was worried about me.

Finally, a thought began to creep into my mind.

“Maybe I’m burnt out again.”

I didn’t want to believe it. I’ve been there before. Twice. It was something I thought I had learned how to prevent from happening again.

My Burnout Gut Check

A few days after I started to consider this question, the universe sent me a sign. My weekly email from Big Think featured a video from Dr. Laurie Santos talking about burnout.

She explains that burnout is a clinical syndrome with three specific symptoms.

  1. Emotional Exhaustion – This is not just about being tired, but feeling like you cannot emotionally handle another thing on your plate.
  2. Depersonalization (or Cynicism) – You are on a short fuse with the people around you. You also get cynical about people’s intentions.
  3. Personal Ineffectiveness – Feeling that even if you do your job well, it doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t give you the same value it did before.

If you’d like to watch the video, you can see it here. It’s a great 7-minute explainer.

As I wrote about back in 2020, the way I knew I had burnout was that I began experiencing a sort of emotional flatline – I just didn’t feel much of anything.

The same thing happened in August of 2022. Now, it was happening again but this time with an intensity greater than in the past with a healthy dose of physical exhaustion to go with it.

Emotional exhaustion…check.

Cynicism and being short with people had become way too common for me. This is the part of burnout that we probably don’t talk about enough because it’s painful. We don’t want to hurt or mistreat the people around us.

But when we are suffering in this way, we often do. I know I did, sadly.

Depersonalization…check.

Finally, I was really struggling to feel any kind of motivation in my work. Even when doing work that I knew was having a real impact, it didn’t feel like it really mattered. Intellectually, I knew it did, but it didn’t feel that way in my body or my heart.

Personal ineffectiveness…check.

Thanks to Dr. Santos, there was no more avoiding it. I was in deep burnout.

How did this happen?

In a weird way, knowing I was experiencing burnout was sort of a relief. It at least helped explain why I had been feeling and behaving in the ways I had, which meant I could start working on healing.

But I was also feeling a mixture of frustration and bewilderment. How did I let this happen again?

I’ve narrated my journey through burnout in my work as a way to live my mental health out loud. I’ve shared what I have learned about the importance of self-care in both preventing and healing from burnout.

Yet, here I am again.

Despite the lessons from my past experiences with burnout and a commitment to self-care, I ended up in the same place–maybe worse.

Burnout apparently still had more to teach me.

Treating the Cause vs. the Symptoms

Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is vital when it comes to our mental and physical health.

When you have a meaningful and effective self-care practice, it makes you stronger and more resilient to the stresses and challenges of everyday life.

Sometimes, self-care acts like a vitamin to help you build strength to prevent you from getting ill. Other times, it acts like a pain reliever, helping to make the current stressful situation survivable.

But here’s the lesson I seem to have missed: Self-care doesn’t address the root cause of burnout. 

Imagine finding yourself in the middle of a lake with heavy weights tied around both of your legs.

At first, through pure strength and determination, you might keep yourself above water but you get tired quickly and start to struggle.

A self-care practice acts as a life preserver. It helps you stay afloat and not get pulled under by the weights tied to you. The heavier the weights and the choppier the waves, the more life-preservers you need to just stay near the top of the water.

In time, the numerous self-care practices start to consume a lot of time and energy. You struggle to hang on to all of those life-preservers, losing your grip on a few as you begin to sink.

This is what it felt like to me. No matter how many self-care practices I tried, no matter what they were, I was getting pulled under the surface.

It wasn’t until I realized that I was getting pulled under that it finally occurred to me what needed to happen.

Untie the weights.

Burnout has a Cause

As I’ve taken time to reflect and begin my healing, it’s become crystal clear that I’ve been avoiding the root cause of my burnout.

My business was wearing me down.

This cycle started in the summer of 2020. As the world was disrupted by COVID, my business and work had to adapt to survive.

In hindsight, I’m grateful and proud of my efforts at that time. I adapted to seize opportunities that were available at the time. By most measures, the business did really well throughout the pandemic considering the circumstances.

But…

This took me down a path with the business that led to a place where my work began taking far more energy to run than it was returning to me. I’d created a business that was slowly and steadily consuming me.

It became the weight that I had tied to my own legs.

As a result, I didn’t have the resilience I might have otherwise had to rise to the challenges of life. This led to burnout in the summers of 2020 and 2022.

Each time, I turned to self-care life preservers to stay afloat. But I never considered untying the weights that were pulling me under. In fact, I think I may have added more.

Then I arrived to this summer.

When I told a friend that I had realized I was burned out, she replied, simply, “Of course you are.”

When I look back over the past few years, it’s been a doozy of a ride.

There was that whole global pandemic thing.

Then there was death. I lost both of my last living grandparents and one of my closest friends.

Add onto that the experiences we’ve had with my wife’s campaigns for mayor and state legislature. Both were hard-fought, intensely partisan battles that didn’t go our way. This alone is enough to break a lot of people.

Pile this stuff on top of a business that was grinding me down and it seems almost comically obvious that I’d end up in burnout or worse.

The Lessons in the Struggle

As I work on healing, I’m approaching the process differently this time.

While I’m still leaning into self-care practices like meditation, sleep, exercise, and retreat time; this time I’m also focusing on addressing the root cause–untie the weight that’s pulling me under.

My work is a calling. It’s what I was put on this planet to do and when I do it the right way, it fills me with energy and joy and passion.

The necessities of the pandemic forced me off course for a bit. I’m grateful to have weathered the storm. But, it’s time to get back on the path.

It’s time to cut loose the weights that are pulling me under.

There will be changes coming and I’m still making sense of it all. But I am feeling energized and optimistic about the path ahead.

I’ve learned a few things through this experience, and I’m sure I will learn many more as I process and heal. Here’s a few insights I’ve gleaned thus far.

Perhaps they will help you take steps to avoid being where I am.

  1. Listen to the people who know you best. When they ask if you are okay, it’s not a question. They are telling you that they can see YOU AREN’T OKAY and they are worried about you. Instead of shrugging it off (“I’m fine”), take it to heart and do something about it. Ask for help if you don’t know what to do.
  2. Find the weights. When you discover you are burned out or that you might be burned out, remember to both heal yourself and determine what caused the burnout. If you don’t, you’ll likely find yourself right back in the same spot again in the future. This might mean taking a hard look at your workload or finding a new job. It might mean finally getting out of a bad relationship. It might mean finally investing in taking care of your health. Whatever it is, find that weigth and care deeply enough about yourself to cut it loose.
  3. Name how you are feeling and talk about it with others. The more I’ve shared my experiences with friends and colleagues, the more I understand it (and feel understood). In these conversations, people share their similar experiences with you and you know you aren’t alone in the struggle. Plus, when you talk about what you are going through, it allows those who love you to provide more help and support.
  4. Slow down. Life isn’t a race and you aren’t falling behind. You are right where you are supposed to be. This is a lesson I’ve needed to learn for the past twenty-five years. And I’ll credit this one to Brianna West, author of a book I have found really helpful as I’m recovering, When You’re Ready, This is How You Heal. Pick it up if you need someone to remind you that you are worth the effort it takes to heal.

My hope is that I won’t need to share future posts about my experiences with burnout. I’m optimistic that this was the lesson that I had yet to learn that equips me to move forward and onto the next chapter.

If my journey feels resonant to you, know that you aren’t alone and that it’s not your fault. If you are feeling burned out, talk to someone. And find some time and space to unplug. It isn’t permanent. You can find your way to the other side.

Reach out if I can help you on your journey.

Until next time.

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Is it time to abandon the idea of “culture” at work?
Is it time to abandon the idea of “culture” at work? 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

As companies are requiring employees back into the office, one of the most common reasons cited is culture. 

CEO’s will argue that their culture requires being together in the office. Others suggest that remote work is degrading or ruining their culture.  

The first reason listed by Andy Jassy, CEO at Amazon, for requiring employees back to the office recently was culture:

“It’s easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues.”

“Our culture has been one of the most critical parts of our success the first 27 years, and I expect it will be in our next 27+ years as well. Strengthening it further is a top priority for the s-team and me.”

But here’s the thing. 

I’d bet a stack of cash that Jassy (and most CEO’s using culture in their RTO messaging) couldn’t describe with any detail what their culture is, how it works, or how it’s driving business results. 

Jassy talks in generalities about how people “tend to be more engaged, observant, and attuned…” in the office but offers no evidence or supporting data. 

The idea of corporate or organizational “culture” has steadily grown in popularity as an idea and concept over the past 40 years to the point that we simply accept any reference to it as if it’s a tangible thing. 

It’s not. 

The concept of corporate culture wasn’t invented until the 1980’s. Like many other popular management and HR concepts (I’m looking at you “employee engagement”), the concept of “culture” was created as an attempt to make sense of something in the workplace that is difficult to describe or quantify.  

And like employee engagement, culture was co-opted and monetized by management consultants and technologists who put their own spin on it and sold it as the next great “silver bullet” to sovling your workplace challenges. 

At the same time, these same consultants (with the help from some academics) began introducing the language of “culture” into Harvard Business Review and other trust resources until executive leaders started using it and accepting it as important.  

And then some companies started attributing their success to culture. Zappos, for example, was propped up as the poster child in the 2000’s. Tony Hseish. founder and CEO of Zappos, became a celebrity of corporate culture

The result of all this is that we end up with a concept like “culture” which becomes accepted by both employees and leaders as something of importance and value without any real understanding of what it actually is.  

This is why “culture” is being used as a primary tool to force employees back to the office.  

These CEO’s may not know exactly what culture means, but they know you don’t either. And since both parties agree it’s important, it’s hard to argue against it. Referencing culture is the perfect leverage to use to get you back in the office.

(Side note, they cite concerns about “innovation” and “collaboration” for the same reasons. We have accepted they are important, but there’s fuzziness about how they actually work. Hard to argue against.)

As I have been watching this play out, it has raised what feels like an important question for me. 

Is it time to leave behind the idea of culture at work?  

Over the past couple months, I’ve had over fifty conversations with HR and operational leaders at organizations of all types and sizes about remote and hybrid work approaches.  

Any time “culture” was referenced in these conversations as a challenge or hurdle to remote working, I asked for more detail. I learned that the real challenge was alsways more tangible and specific than just “culture.”

For example, one person shared that people don’t really get to know each other the same way they used to when they were all together in the office. This is a legit concern. Relationships are critical at work.  

But is this culture? Maybe.

That’s the problem. When the word culture is used, it always requires further explanation. 

In my experience, when you ask someone to define culture, they will almost always use two other concepts to do it: values and behavior. 

In fact, when you press most people to define it, they will say that culture means the alignment of behavior with organization values. This is important stuff. But, if that’s what culture means, then why don’t we just talk about values and behavior directly? 

Why do we need this ambiguous term “culture” to reference things that are more tangible and clearly understood?  This ambiguity is allowing bad things can happen. 

My questions about culture are not new. Twenty years ago, as an executive recruiter, my spidey senses would tingle anytime a hiring manager said they were rejecting a candidate because of “cultural fit.” 

When we allow culture to be used so loosely, invoking “culture fit” in recruiting and hiring has historically provided air cover for biased decisions based on race, gender, age and everything else you can name. 

“She’s not a culture fit” is often code for “I just don’t like her” or “she isn’t enough like me.” 

This has harmed countless people (and organizations). 

Is “culture” doing more harm than good?

There are a lot of companies out there who have done some great things in the name of culture. 

Ironically, when you dig into what’s below the surface in most of these organizations, you find clearly articulated values and behaviors that they have determined drive their organization’s success. 

These culture codes or manifestos are incredibly powerful within the organization. The truth though, is that if you took away the word “culture” from them, they would lose nothing about what makes them effective.

The power isn’t in calling it culture, it’s in the work that was done below the surface to create real clarity about what’s important and what matters.

This is where the value lies. So, it begs the question.

Would we be better off if we abandoned the term “culture” and instead forced ourselves to be more intentional in our language?

I think there’s a good case to be made here. This work is too important not to get it right. 

If you are going to use the term “culture” to make decisions in your organization (like forcing thousands of people to disrupt their lives and return to the office), then you should be able to answer these questions. 

  • What is culture and why does it matter?
  • What is your culture?
  • How does your culture drive your organizational strategy and success?
  • How do you manage and cultivate your culture? 
  • How do you measure your culture? 

These are not easy questions to answer. 

If you don’t want to do the work and ansewr them, then you shouldn’t be using the word. It’s irresponsible at best and profoundly harmful at worst. 

What do you think? Is it time to leave “culture” behind?

 

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How to Have Effective Check-in Conversations
How to Have Effective Check-in Conversations 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

It was my birthday and I was craving some time with my kids.

In a brazen attempt to pry my kids away from their technology, I offered a trip to Dairy Queen for some ice cream. My hope was, once they were a captive audience in the car, we’d be able to chat a bit.

But before we could even get loaded into the car, a shouting match exploded between the two of them. Apparently, my son (the thirteen-year-old) “slammed” the door before my daughter (the fifteen-year-old) could walk through it. She was startled and took immediate offense to this crime of epic proportions.

In a flash, there was screaming and accusations flying back and forth, with my dream of a fun ice cream outing quickly fading.

Eventually, I got the two of them calmed down enough to get in the car. They weren’t happy with each other, but their love of ice cream ultimately prevailed.

As we drove, I asked each of them some questions just to get them talking. We chatted about school and friends. The heat of the fight slowly faded as we drove.

Then, as we were waiting in the drive-thru lane for our ice cream, something surprising happened.

My son, from the backseat, said this, “Bailey, can we talk about what you think is funny?”

This struck me as a strange question, but Bailey was curious enough to say “Sure.”

He wanted to talk about what had happened back at the house. He shared that he thought closing the door right in front of her was funny, but now realized she didn’t think it was funny at all.

In the next few minutes, they talked about how slamming doors is never funny because someone can get hurt. He asked a few thoughtful questions, listened to what she said, and then said, “Okay, I won’t do that anymore.”

And just like that, the wound of the fight was healed.

Having the Conversations that Matter

This entire exchange took place in the span of just a few minutes.

My son asked a question that felt really important to their relationship. That question, in turn, created a meaningful conversation. He listened, reflected, and then decided to do something to make the relationship better.

Let me be clear, I’m not sharing this story as some evidence of my parenting skills. I was floored by the whole interaction.

They are good kids and they are thoughtful kids, but they can be pretty vicious to one another as siblings tend to be. This was not typical behavior.

The reason I share this story is that my son, in this moment, did exactly what I teach people to do with check-in conversations. I wish I could take credit for teaching him the steps. But if he learned it from me, it’s been simply through observation.

He used a check-in conversation to quickly repair some damage to a relationship that mattered to him.

It was such a simple and beautiful example of the incredible power of bravely stepping into a meaningful conversation with someone who matters to you.

The check-in conversation, as I teach it, is a technique to skillfully invite the conversations that matter with all of the important people in your life. It’s a vital skill to master as a manager and leader, but it’s also vital if you want to be a great partner, parent, or friend.

Pushing through the discomfort

Learning to have effective check-in conversations is simple. Every effective check-in conversation involves four steps which I will share with you below.

Knowing how to check-in is actually the easy part. The more challenging step is finding the courage to have these conversations instead of avoiding them. They often lead us to places that many find uncomfortable. When you skillfully check-in, you frequently hear things you may not like or aren’t prepared for.

In my son’s case, he learned that he was mostly at fault for what had happened. And, if he wanted to avoid this experience in the future, it was on him to make a change. I’m proud of how he responded because it required courage and vulnerability.

When you check-in well, you can get to the truth of what’s really going on with the other person. Whether hearing it makes you uncomfortable or not is irrelevant because it is their truth and their reality.

Learning to embrace the discomfort of hearing these realities is important because knowing is always better than not knowing if you want to foster strong relationships.

Four Steps of an Effective Check-In Conversation

Every check-in conversation, regardless of whether it’s with your direct report or your sister, has four steps.

Whether you want to generally check-in on someone’s well-being, the status of your relationship, or career progression; this four step process will ensure that you have a meaningful conversation regardless of the topic.

Check-In Conversation Step #1: Ask a great question.

Most well-intentioned check-ins go wrong before they even get started because we ask bad questions.

We are all guilty of it. Think about the last time you checked-in with someone. What question did you ask them? I’d bet it was one of the following:

  • How are you?
  • How’s it going?
  • How have you been?

All seemingly nice questions, but what kind of response do you typically get to these questions?

Fine.

Good.

Busy.

One word that tells you nothing other than they don’t really believe you want to have a conversation with them.

Asking a great question is the key to a great check-in. A great question is one that invites a response that requires a follow-up.

My son’s question in the car was a great example. When he asked “Can we talk about what you think is funny?” whatever she responded with was going to require some follow-up conversation. It would have been impossible to leave it there.

My favorite, universal check-in question is actually a simple modification on one of the questions above. Here it is.

How are you on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being “couldn’t be better” and 1 being “couldn’t be worse”?

The beauty of this question is that it doesn’t take long for them to respond and whatever number they share is a doorway into a meaningful conversation.

Any question that invites a response that requires a follow-up is likely a great question for a check-in conversation. You can click here to download my list of 18 Great Check-In Questions.

This brings us to the obvious next step.

Check-In Conversation Step #2: Ask the follow-up question(s).

Once you ask a great question and get the initial response, you obviously need to ask the follow-up question or questions that foster the conversation that matters.

The important thing to remember when asking the follow-up question(s) is that the goal of the check-in is for you to get an understanding of what’s really going on with the other person. This means being open, curious, and non-judgmental – regardless of what they say. (This is where embracing discomfort is important).

The follow-up questions you ask will depend on what great question you started with.

For the question I shared above, the follow-up depends on the number the person shares with you.

  • If they share a higher number like a 9, it’s an invitation for you to learn about and connect with them. You might ask, “What’s going well for you right now?”
  • If they share a lower number like a 2 or 3, your follow-up will be different. “That’s not good. What’s pulling that number down for you today?”

The follow-up question opens the door to the conversation you want to have. Be thoughtful, curious, and caring in your follow-up and the person on the other side of the conversation will usually reward you by sharing.

Check-In Conversation Step #3: Shut up and listen.

While this may seem obvious, the next vital step is to close your mouth, open your ears (and eyes) and really listen to what’s being shared.

When we ask a great question and a thoughtful follow-up, the sharing and conversation that really matters can begin. To get the most out of this opportunity, it’s critical to pay close attention to what’s being communicated. This includes what’s being said, but also what’s not being said along with the non-verbals being shared as well.

Listen patiently and allow the person to open up. When it makes sense, ask more follow-up questions.

Your goal is to learn and understand what’s really going on with that person. And once you’ve done that, you can move to the final step.

Check-In Conversation Step #4: Offer support and encouragement.

The last step of an effective check-in is to connect the conversation to your desire to be supportive of the other person.

If the conversation reveals that the individual is struggling, what support can you offer to them to help them through the challenges? This doesn’t mean you have to solve their problem. In fact, it’s often more powerful to ask a question like “How can I help?” or “What does support from me look like for you right now?”

If the conversation focused more on what’s going well, then closing the conversation with some appreciation and gratitude for the individual could be warranted. Or you might share how excited you are for them and ask if there’s anything you could do for them to be supportive.

In the example I shared with my kids, the check-in conversation was to repair a rift in the relationship and revealed an opportunity to do something different in the future. So, my son closed out the check-in by committing to behaving differently in the future.

More Check-In Conversations = Better Relationships

Being a great manager has everything to do with the relationships you build with your people. To foster a loyal, high-performing team requires that you invest in building relationships with each individual.

Strong relationships require strong communication. Mastering the check-in conversation is the key to building better relationships with your people. And as a bonus, it will help you improve every other relationship in your life as well.

I recently posted a video on my YouTube Channel outlining how to check-in effectively. You can visit that video by clicking on the video below.

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What Baggage are you Carrying into 2023?
What Baggage are you Carrying into 2023? 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

Like so many others, I decided to take some time off between Christmas and New Years. 

My goal was to largely put work aside to rest up, spend time with my family, and reconnect with some friends. 

The first few days went pretty well due to all of the great distractions that Christmas provides. Cooking, cleaning, shopping with the kids, and all the rest. But once the holiday passed, I had a problem. 

I kept waking up early (real early) and couldn’t go back to sleep. My mind would start up on work. And, in particular, a couple of specific issues.  

The first night, I thought it was just a fluke. But on the third morning in a row of being awake at 4 a.m., I finally grabbed a cup of coffee and got to work. 

The things on my mind weren’t huge issues, just loose ends–things I hadn’t resolved and thus I couldn’t let go of. 

After a couple of hours, I’d done enough work to put these issues to rest in my mind. And the next morning I didn’t wake up so early. 

I call issues like this “psychic baggage.” Things that we hold in our mind because we know that they are unresolved. 

Carrying around psychic baggage has a real cost. Depending on the issue, it can drain your energy, interfere with your sleep, or harm your relationships. 

We all carry some of this baggage, some more than others. And we all have the ability to set at least some of that baggage down, if we choose to do so. 

What is Psychic Baggage?

It’s easy to overlook how much baggage we are carrying. 

In my case, I didn’t even realize these issues were weighing on me until I started paying a penalty in lost sleep. 

Psychic baggage comes in many shapes and sizes. 

Sometimes, it’s as simple as things we have chosen to carry around in our head instead of writing them down. How many times have you thought something like this? “Oh, I need to remember to follow up with Jenny about that project we discussed.” 

Instead of making a simple calendar reminder, we just “try” to remember. That’s baggage we have to carry.

It might be an important task that you just haven’t done yet. “I need to remember to call the plumber about that leak I noticed under the water heater.” Until you take action, it’s psychic baggage to carry. 

These are all relatively easy baggage to put down. The bigger, heavier psychic baggage that we carry around with us has to do with relationships. 

Conversations that need to happen. Checking in with someone you are worried about. Apologies you need to make. People you need to forgive. 

This type of psychic baggage can be a bit more challenging and complicated to put down. But, it’s the heaviest and most harmful baggage to carry around with you. And the benefits of freeing yourself of this baggage are immense.

Putting down your Psychic Baggage

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on how you might be able to put down some of your psychic baggage. Every time you succeed, you create more space to focus on what really matters to you. 

Identifying and setting down psychic baggage is an act of self-care. It’s an investment in your well-being. 

Here are a few prompts for how to get started.  

If you are worrying about it, confront it.

Identifying your psychic baggage is an exercise in mindfulness. Pay attention to where your mind goes when you are distracted or, in my case, waking up at 3:30 a.m. The baggage is often sitting in plain sight. 

What are you worrying about? What keeps coming up over and over? WHO keeps coming up, over and over? 

This is your mind doing the work of carrying the baggage. And it will keep happening until you notice it and take some action. 

Forgive others and yourself.

Most of us carry around a frightening amount of psychic baggage regarding other people who we feel have wronged us or whom we feel we have wronged. 

When we carry this baggage, it affects how we show up in our relationships with others. Holding onto resentments only harms you and serves as a barrier to other meaningful relationships. 

The key is forgiveness. We often make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness is something we give to others. It’s not. Forgive is something we give ourselves. It’s an act of putting down the heavy psychic baggage of resentment that you are choosing to carry. 

Forgive others. Forgive yourself for mistakes of the past. Put down that baggage. 

If you need to make some apologies, do that. Like forgiveness, an apology can have a positive impact on another person, but often the biggest impact is on you.  An owed apology is heavy baggage to carry. And issuing that apology allows you to put it down.   

Have the conversation that most scares you.

Perhaps the heaviest of all psychic baggage is the important conversation we are afraid to have.

This might be addressing a serious performance issue with someone who reports to you at work. Particularly when it’s something that may not have an easy solution. 

It could be talking with a friend who you worried about because of their recent life choices. 

Or, it could be talking with your parents about end of life issues. 

Or, having a conversation with your significant other about some issues in your relationship. 

All of this is heavy baggage to carry. And despite how scary the conversation feels as you consider them, what lies on the other side of those conversations always warrants the courage it takes to step into them. 

The unfortunate reality I’ve learned about this type of psychic baggage is that the longer you carry it, the heavier and more costly it becomes. 

Lighten your load

One way to make 2023 a great year is to choose not to carry around as much psychic baggage. You will feel lighter and more free when you do. 

Give yourself this gift. 

Over the next week, pay attention to what things come to mind when you are distracted, feel anxious, or can’t sleep. When you notice a particular issue, theme, or individual who keeps coming up, make a note of it somewhere (literally write it down). 

Your list might end up having one big thing or a bunch of little things. As I said earlier, baggage comes in many shapes and sizes.  

As you add things to your list, carve out some quiet reflection time to look at the list and ask yourself this question. 

What step do I need to take to put down this baggage? 

Do this for each one. Then, decide where and how to start. Pick an easy one first. You’ll feel the impact right away. 

Wishing you a wonderful (and lighter) 2023 full of joy and well-being!

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Performance Management Isn’t Only About Results
Performance Management Isn’t Only About Results 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

I recently finished binge-watching the FX show, Welcome to Wrexham.

It’s a documentary made about the team and community surrounding a Welsh Football (Soccer, for us Americans) Club that was purchased by two Hollywood stars, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in 2019.

I’d highly recommend, particularly if you are either a sports fan or even just a fan of Ryan Reynolds. It’s really good.

One arc of the story is how Ryan and Rob, despite being the owners of a football club, know very little about football and they learn to love the sport throughout the first season.

In one episode, after a Wrexham loss, the coach was discussing the game and describing how he saw what happened. One of the things he said about the loss was something they featured in the episode.

Instead of saying, “We lost the match,” he said, “We didn’t get the outcome we were looking for.”

The coach went on to talk about all the things the team did well that day and how they had played in the way he’d wanted. But a few things didn’t go as hoped and, as a result, they lost the game.

This choice of words has really stuck with me. Rather than write off the entire game including the effort and preparation that went into it as simply a loss, he honored and recognized the whole picture.

We didn’t get the outcome we were looking for. 

The power in these words for me is the reminder to separate all the efforts that go into producing an outcome from the outcome itself.

Sometimes, you can do nearly everything right and still not achieve your goals. Other times, you can work your tail off on the wrong plan and end up failing. And then there are times when you get lucky – pulling out a win even when you probably shouldn’t have.

This has been really helpful this week personally as we’ve grappled with my wife’s campaign for state legislature that culminated on election night. We didn’t get the outcome we were hoping for. That doesn’t mean it was a bad campaign or that good hasn’t come from it.

This has also been helpful for me in the past when a business or product didn’t work. When you can separate the outcome from the process, it creates an opportunity to learn. There are always things you did right and things you should have done differently

Separating the outcome from the effort is incredibly important when we think about performance. As a leader, you are in the outcomes business. But the only way you can consistently produce great outcomes through the teams you lead is by understanding the process it takes to create those outcomes.

There’s a reason some professional sports coaches consistently produce great outcomes for their teams and others can’t. It’s because they have a deep understanding of the process and components that will produce success. They know how and why they get the outcomes they do.

As a manager, it’s easy to hyper-focus on outcomes as the only thing that matters when we evaluate an employee’s performance. This is short-sighted and misses the most important steps you can take to unlock higher performance.

Here are two steps you can take to ensure you aren’t focusing on the wrong things.

Reward effort and intention, not just outcomes.

One of my very first “real” jobs was as a third-party recruiter. I was highly motivated to succeed, so I paid close attention to the little training they provided me. I worked the plan they gave me.

For seven months, I showed up and dialed that phone. I followed the scripts. I hit my goals for how many calls to make each day. But my outcomes were dismal.

In the eighth month, something clicked, and things started to happen. Within a year, I was one of the top-performing recruiters in the office.

I’m not sure what changed exactly. Sadly, I didn’t get much coaching, so I was trying to figure it out on my own. Frankly, I’m surprised they kept me around given my poor results.

What I do know for sure is that about 90% of what I was doing on a day-to-day basis didn’t change. I had been putting in the right amount of effort, doing almost all of the right things, but I wasn’t getting the outcomes we were looking for.

You’ve probably got people on your team like this right now. You’d consider them a low performer based on outcomes, but they may simply be a high performer that just needs that one piece to be unleashed.

Your job is to help them find it.

Understand why outcomes happen.

Another trap we often fall into as leaders is not trying to understand how our people are getting the outcomes they produce. This is particularly important with high performers.

This is something I’ve been guilty of this many times. As long as someone is producing and is low drama, I would let them do their thing. And while that’s okay to a point, it’s a missed opportunity to get a deeper understanding of performance.

As someone who started my career in sales, I learned early on that two salespeople could both work very hard, have the same skills, do the same things and get very different outcomes based on the nature of their sales territory. One territory might be more familiar with the brand you are selling than the other. Or maybe it had a terrible salesperson in the past.

A lazy manager might conclude that one of these salespeople is a better performer than the other, but that would be the wrong conclusion.

Alternatively, you might have an incredibly committed and talented salesperson in a bad territory getting average results and a poor one in a great territory getting the same. But the performance is not at all the same.

As a leader, you need to understand not just the outcomes people produce, but the context, effort, and work they put into achieving them.

Both the process and the outcomes matter in performance management.

Once you start being able to separate the outcomes from the process, you can begin to gain a deeper understanding of what is truly contributing to performance.

And, you’ll start to see your people, their true performance, and their needs more clearly.

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Why we need to kill the dress code
Why we need to kill the dress code 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Perhaps the simplest and most potent management advice I have to offer is this.

Treat people like responsible adults.

Sadly, the legacy of traditional management practices we inherited doesn’t always do this.

Case in point: the dress code.

For most of my career, I’ve railed against dress codes as insulting and mostly unnecessary.

Our role as leaders is to create an experience of work that cultivates performance–one where employees are willing and able to do their best work.

I fail to see how controlling how someone dresses when they work has ANYTHING to do with that.

As we emerge from the pandemic, now is the ideal time to kill the dress code and the command-and-control approach it represents.

In this video, I take the dress code to task. It’s time for us to move on and let adults dress themselves.

People will often rise to your expectations of them when you give them the chance to do so.

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How to Make Work Suck Less
How to Make Work Suck Less 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

My recent video about Quiet Quitting generated a lot of reaction.

Reading through the comments, I was reminded of a sad reality. Work still sucks for a lot of people.

If you look at any article or video online about Quiet Quitting, you find the same thing–a bunch of comments that fall mostly into two categories. The biggest number of people are sharing how they’ve been “quiet quitting” for years because of how much their job or manager sucks.

The other group are the cynics who want to pile blame on these people for being honest about their job experience. These comments have the feel of “Suck it up you lazy whiners.”

What I haven’t heard enough is people talking about what’s actually wrong and how to fix it.

In this video, I tackle why I believe work still sucks for so many people. Spoiler alert, it has to do with work being a relationship. And, I share a few tips on what to do if you want to make work suck less for yourself and others.

Please leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments. It’s great to hear what you think and it helps others find the video.

Work can (and should) be a fulfilling, rewarding experience for everyone. And we can make it that way.

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Why You Should Ask Employees What Would Make Them Quit
Why You Should Ask Employees What Would Make Them Quit 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

It’s the conversations we are most afraid of that are the most important to have. 

This is true in all areas of our lives. And it’s particularly true at work right now.

As you worry about retention and losing our best people, I’d ask you this. 

Do you know why each of your best people might leave? Have you asked them? 

This is one of those conversations we tend to avoid because we are afraid of what we might hear. 

But what’s the alternative? It’s watching them leave knowing you should have done more to keep them. 

In this video, you’ll learn why it’s a good idea to talk with employees about why they might leave and how to do it. 

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Quiet Quitting is NOT the Problem
Quiet Quitting is NOT the Problem 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Is it just me or does it seem like references to “quiet quitting” are everywhere all of a sudden?

Thanks, TikTok.

Last year, it was to TikTok (also known as “for real quitting”).

Now it’s quiet quitting. But what is it? Is it actually quitting?

And it’s not really that quiet if you are posting it on TikTok, is it?

What’s going on here? And what should you do about it?

Today’s video has the answers.

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How to Fix Employee Performance Issues without Breaking the Employee
How to Fix Employee Performance Issues without Breaking the Employee 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

One of the biggest mistakes I see from managers and organizations is how they address performance issues with employees.

They treat the performance issue as if it’s some flaw in the employee to be fixed. Or worse, like the employee has somehow decided to under-perform on purpose and deserves to be punished.

Performance improvement plans are the pinnacle of this error. They rarely improve performance, but often break the employee’s spirit.

It’s a heart breaking practice if you truly care about people. I can still remember how crushing it felt to watch an employee mentally give up right in front of me as they were presented with their PIP.

This cruelty to employees is completely unnecessary.

When someone is under-performing in their role, it’s rarely their fault. They aren’t broken. They don’t need to be fixed. They need support.

In this video, I break down how a manager should approach employee performance issues. And, I share how to diagnose the cause of the issue and address it in a way that leaves the employee feeling both respected and motivated to perform.

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Jason Lauritsen