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Are You a Primitive Leader Or An Innovative Leader? And why you're currently more primitive than you think

Currently, without even realising it, many more of you will be Primitive Leaders, rather than Innovative Leaders, and it’s impacting you, your people, and your performance.

Here’s why!

As your stress levels increase you move from the intellectual part of the brain, the part that always gets things right in life, innovates, and sees possibilities, to the primitive part of the brain, the part where your fight and flight sits, the part where you can operate from previous patterns of thoughts and behaviours, the part that sees you in panic mode, always on the lookout for the next imminent danger.

The primitive part of the brain is what kept the hunters safe when we all lived in caves. It wasn’t weighing up whether any of the wild animals had eaten and encouraging you to sit down in the middle of the field and have a picnic with your friends, it was keeping you on red alert, and keeping you safe.

And it’s this red alert, that many Exec teams have been living in since 2020. And until you take the time to pause, to stop, to calm down and to reduce your stress levels, you cannot be an innovative leader, however hard you try.

Enough with the crisis management, it’s time to pause before Burnout!

Many of my Exec coaching clients find themselves in the same situation, that is, moving from crisis to crisis and busy to busier, every single week, with no let-up, very little downtime, and seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.

The crisis management started in 2020, and it hasn’t stopped. And it’s probably no real surprise given everything that has been happening in and around the world since 2020, but what seems more common amongst my clients, is that their companies were doing really great stuff pre-pandemic.

They had created people-first and people-focused cultures, performance was good, their people were happy, performance was great and they loved their roles. 2020 came, the company, at the same time as the whole world, was turned upside down, and whilst they were able to maintain performance, and focus on their people, they were doing so in the mindset of crisis management, and that mindset and crisis management hasn’t stopped.

What was, pre-pandemic a culture of collaboration and community, in 2020 went into command and control, following guidance, doing what seemed right, and managing as best they could with the situations as they presented. Fight or flight mode, survival mode kicked in.

What was a visionary, innovative leadership team, became helicopter leaders, just moving from week to week and month to month, waiting for guidance and advice on what the business could and couldn’t do for their people, including customers.

Wars, a cost of living crisis, bank closures, government changes, impacts on profit and loss, new ways of working, job losses, office closures, interest rate changes, lending changes, four-day working trials, and more people demanding (and rightly so) anti-racist, inclusive workplaces for all, and leadership teams find themselves moving from one ‘crisis’ to another trying to work out what priorities to focus on first on their ever-growing list of priorities. 

The hamster wheel is spinning ever faster and leadership teams are trying to keep up, and are pushing harder, working harder, hustling harder, and 77% of Execs are reaching Burnout faster.

When I speak to my clients, what is clear, is that there needs to be a collective pause, and a collective breath.

We know that rest and recovery are vital for maintaining high performance, and yet many leadership teams are forgetting to take the rest, and forgetting to focus on recovery. Many leadership teams are focusing on doing more, not less, and with that comes additional stress and pressure on them, and their teams and the next pandemic on the horizon is that of Burnout which is increasing weekly.

In order to pause and move forward, courage is needed. Because it takes courage to say ‘Let’s just pause here, reset, reflect, and recover’ because we’ve been taught and conditioned to believe that the only way to succeed is to hustle harder. And yet many leaders are in fear of being the one to say ‘let’s pause’ in case they are pushed out for being ‘lazy or disengaged’.

And we saw just this with the ‘quiet quitting’ that filled our news feeds in 21/22, but it wasn’t about quitting quietly, it was about people creating and communicating the boundaries they want to implement in their personal lives.

For far too long, leaders have expected their people to give more and more with little back in return. Many leaders work upwards of 60/80 hours a week whilst being paid for a maximum of 40 hours of contracted time, and we see doing less than 60/80 hours a week as not caring about your work, and yet you can love your work, and be committed to doing a great job, and create boundaries at work to allow you to reset and recharge outside of working hours and spend time with loved ones and friends.

We believe that in order to grow our companies, recover from the last three years, and set up our companies for healthier futures, that now is the time to put our heads down, push harder, and move quicker. 

But it’s not.

Now is the time to pause, rest, reflect, and then come out stronger. Of course, there are essential parts of your company and your customer interactions that need to be maintained, but not all of it. And you won’t know what needs to be done or improved until you actually slow down.

If you took part in the four-day week trial, you’ll know that it’s not about doing more in four days, it’s about letting go of what’s no longer working, or adding value, so you can do more of the right things and being more productive in the four days.

There will be things in your business that are no longer adding value, and you don’t need to be paying one of the top four consultancies millions of pounds a year in order to find out what. You just need to pause, reflect and listen to your people, they know what needs changing, but they can’t do it because of all of the added pressure your mounting priorities are putting on them.

If I want my own business to be successful, I need to do only that that adds value to me and my clients. Doing stuff because everyone else is doing it, or because I think it’s the right thing, doesn’t make business sense, and yet you’re doing the same, daily!

And you need to look at your ‘priorities’ and strip them right back because that list of growing priorities and measures is not helping in the way you think they are. If you want to achieve more, you need to start doing less.

And that all starts with you.

As the senior leaders in your organisation, you are the role models, and yet, you’re not taking the right decisions for yourself, your people, or your business, because you are exhausted and on the brink of burnout. You are in your primitive mind and therefore being a primitive leader, unable to be innovative, or see the right next step. Because when Burnout comes ever closer, your ability to make informed, innovative, and incredible solutions, diminishes. You start to lead less because you start doing more. And it’s just not sustainable.

There is always going to be a crisis around the corner, and some will be world-changing, some life-changing, and some business-changing, but if you want to keep moving forward, you need to be able to pause collectively, take the collective breath, and from the pause, decide what’s next.

Burnout, stress, and mental, emotional, and physical illnesses are costing organisations billions of pounds a year. Our minds and our bodies cannot live healthily in fight and flight mode, we need rest and recovery mode too, and the same applies to your business.

In order to take yourself, your leadership team, your people, and your organisation to the next level:

  • Pause, reflect and then decide on what’s next, get really clear on you who you are, what you do and what you stand for
  • Reduce the number of priorities in your business, set those all-important boundaries about what REALLY matters, and let go of everything else
  • Always start with the people-first mentality, and recognise that you are a person in your business too - take that time out, daily! 

And if you don't where to start because you can't get out of fight or flight mode, let's talk.


I'm Kelly, the Burnout Prevention and Recovery Strategist, for C-Suite leaders who are ready for a fabulous life beyond burnout. 

As a lifelong high-achieving, over-performing, recovering perfectionist who thrives under pressure, I know a thing or two about stress and jeopardising your wellbeing. I reached Burnout twice. And I've spent the last 9 years creating strategies and techniques to stop me, and my clients from burning out again.

Join Me At POWER UP 2023 where leaders create their power-full future


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