Picture yourself climbing Mount Everest.  

It’s the challenge of a lifetime and one where you don’t leave anything to chance. You meticulously prepare, so when you take it on, you’re equipped to reach the pinnacle.  

Is your company prepared for its own Mount Everest?  

Leaders at global companies often bring me into conversations about transformative challenges – like their 2030 or 2040 vision and long-term efforts. As they focus on critical business objectives, they want someone like me in the room to provide insights on the people side of their strategy.  

They know they need to invest in technology and processes to work efficiently. However, they’re not always clear on which investments must be made to ensure their people can function at their best, most strategic, and most creative.  

Here’s the big question I ask them to consider: As you prepare for the future, are you readying your teams for change? Or are you just making changes without considering the impact on the drive and energy of their people?  

I often hear about the tension and pressure leaders face trying to stay upstream and proactive.  

Their level of exhaustion is directly related to decisions about which tasks to take on. Unfortunately, when we are tired, we don’t spend time on higher level cognitive functioning tasks (communicating clearly, delegating, problem solving, facilitating, coaching) leaders require now more than ever.  

To face modern work challenges, we’re calling on people to use their full capacity and do higher level work. It’s both a mental and a physical challenge as the brain uses significantly more glucose and oxygen than it does when focused on simple or repetitive tasks.  

To keep your brain fueled, you must keep your body rested. To be at the top of your game mentally, you must be physically renewed and replenished.  

Developing Personal Sustainability Methods  

Unlimited PTO hasn’t done much for personal sustainability. In fact, it often made it worse as workers with unlimited PTO actually use fewer days than the average employee.  

Other companies are moving toward mandatory or incentivized PTO. However, they’re still not getting at the root problem.  

If you have to force people to take PTO, they’re not seeing the connection between their energy/personal sustainability and the factors driving the business.  

On an individual level, personal sustainability occurs when you’re able to prioritize and compartmentalize your work, drawing firm boundaries between what matters in your professional life and what matters in your personal life.  

Your work efforts become more sustainable and less exhausting when you begin to practice:  

  • Self-disconnection: removing yourself from the lure of technology and the need to always feel hyper-connected 
  • Overcoming the fear of disconnection: The fear of disconnection signals a lack of trust in your abilities. If you haven’t set your team up for success, they may need you 24/7. If you’ve built good processes, you should be able to disconnect and trust one another to manage the work.  
  • Respect boundaries: Does physical activity help you ensure peak performance? Build it in and protect that time. Do you want team members to focus and do deep work? Cut back the meeting schedule.  

Most importantly, personal sustainability relies on fulfillment, not adrenaline, to create energy. Adrenaline puts you in survival mode and leaves you always seeking the next high – whether it’s handling issues in crisis mode, obsessively crossing items off your list, or spending every waking hour connected to technology.  

When you fuel yourself with fulfillment, you still work hard. You do your best and are at peace with how you grow through challenges, not just what you achieve. Pride in your work and in your team is communicated. A sense of commitment shines through. Equally important, you have the maturity and poise to separate the outcomes you can’t control from the effort you can control.  

Constantly running on adrenaline requires winning at all costs – including your own physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion and distress. If “winning” makes your work unsustainable, is it really winning? If you’re miserable and your people are quitting, that doesn’t necessarily sound like winning at all.  

Baking Personal Sustainability Into the Culture  

I’ve talked about resilience in the past – the ability to face challenges and respond, as well as the ability to level up on the amount of adversity you can take in stride.  

We need resilience to be successful in the face of change. We also need a focus on personal sustainability, on creating ways to navigate and thrive even in environments with high expectations and high levels of stress.  

When we share our vision of everything we expect our team members to achieve and create over the next 10 or 20 years, are we also communicating how we will support them and provide the tools they need to get through it? Are we clear about what we’re eliminating to make space for the new? 

As leaders, we must encourage our people to develop personal sustainability. It’s the only way they’re going to make it through the ongoing challenges of the modern workforce.  

Many companies invest in HR initiatives and wellbeing programs. However, to be effective, they must go a step further. As you plan for developing greater personal sustainability for your team, ask:  

  • What materially different efforts will be required to make your people successful? 
  • What’s  the behavioral change you want to see?  
  • How is the organization communicating it?  
  • How do you position and implement the learning and tools to build the necessary capabilities you wish to see? 
  • Is it sinking in? Are you seeing the changes you need to see?  
  • How do you sustain it over time?

When you’re leading for the future, you want your team powered by people whose work matters and who are ready to achieve sustainably.  

Create the connections between wellbeing, personal sustainability, and business outcomes. Once you do, you’ll begin developing a culture that keeps people energized, engaged, and ready to make a difference.  

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