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How to Combat Feeling Stretched, Stuck and Sapped


Feeling stretched, stuck and sapped as you approach the end of the year? Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Leadership has become exponentially more challenging in an age of disruption where uncertainty is perpetual, change is constant, work is distributed, and complexity is real. 

In a recent ongoing survey* conducted by Fluency, we’ve been asking Communications and Marketing leaders to rate their most pressing challenges from a list of ten challenges we’ve observed in our practice. With almost 100 responses to date, here’s what bubbled to the top:  

1) Time and Resources: Doing More with Less 
2) Leading Through Uncertainty 
3) Burnout and Overwhelm 

The connection between the top three challenges is not lost on us. Continually doing more with less while still meeting high expectations, coupled with perpetual uncertainty, change and a lack of direction, are paths that lead to burnout and overwhelm.  And those paths are tied to our physical, emotional and mental well-being and impact how we show up as leaders. It’s just not a sustainable picture.  

But Let’s Talk About the Real Challenge  

 We observe that these top challenges are symptoms of deeper underlying problems for leaders.  

Just as we can’t pave a new path by simply filling potholes, we can’t address symptoms without tackling the root cause and underlying illness. If we take that route, we’re destined to revisit the same challenges repeatedly.  

So, let’s look at the top challenges and the real issues underneath them.  

Time and Resources (Doing more with less). Let’s face it, time is undefeated and fixed. But we have agency in how we use and manage that time; how we prioritize, set boundaries, delegate, communicate, influence, manage up, and plan.  The real challenge lies in our ability and confidence to manage and regulate these factors.     

Leading Through Uncertainty: Leading through volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (the VUCA world) is the new operating system and it’s here to stay.  The real challenge is we’re using old skills, paradigms and mindsets to manage a new era instead of learning new future-ready skills to help us adapt and navigate forward.  

Burnout and Overwhelm: There’s considerable evidence to suggest that we often don’t know when we are burned out, as it creeps up on us and we normalize it as part of the job. The real challenge is we need a high level of self-awareness to recognize the complex interplay of factors that lead to burnout and overwhelm, and build habits to manage our energy and health through better self-management and self-care.  Only we can get ourselves off the hamster wheel. As journalist Tony Schwartz, author of “The Way we Are Working Isn’t Working says, “How you feel so profoundly influences those you lead.”   


Mastering your Zone of Influence 

A helpful and frequently asked go-to coaching question is, “What’s in your control and not in your control?”  

I love what Doctor Henry Cloud Dr. Henry Cloud, psychologist, author and leadership expert, has to say about this.  

“Attempting to control things beyond our influence has a profound impact on the brain. When you feel like you don’t have control, your options run thin, your brain activity changes, and it becomes negative…which triggers stress responses and leads to increased anxiety and a sense of powerlessness.” 

He advocates focusing on what we can control, as this approach fosters a sense of agency and reduces stress levels.  

When we acknowledge and manage what’s within our zone of influence, we can optimize our mental well-being and decision-making abilities.  As for the things we can’t control…cue music…Let It Go!  

As you think about managing the real challenges above, here’s a few questions to think about:  

What are my assumptions and narrative about these challenges? 

Where do I have agency?  

What do I need to let go and/or accept?  

What do I need to learn?  


Forged in Fire  

Ask anyone, I’m an unabashed optimist, so I want to end with a bit of optimism as we think about our challenges.  Just as the word “crisis” embodies both “danger” and “opportunity”, there are upsides to the obstacles we face.  

When we ask leaders what words they use to describe what leading has been like the past 3 ½ years, we see words like exhausting, uncertain, difficult, challenging, unlearning and relearning, which express aspects of effort and struggle. We also see words that express other facets of growth, emotion, and progress like connected, heartfelt, new, fulfilling, evolving, courage and innovation.     

It illustrates that as leaders, we are forged in fire. The intensity of our VUCA work world not only shapes our resilience and strength, it fuels our learning and growth in a way that leads us to feel more authentic, connected and fulfilled in our leadership.    

Leadership challenges will be ever present; it’s how we understand and manage them and ourselves that makes the difference.  


If you want to be intentional about how you tackle your challenges, lead yourself, and build your leadership capability, talk to us about our Future-Ready Leaders Collective, a nine-month leadership learning experience for Communications and Marketing Leaders.  Details here.  

*Our tiny “What’s keeping you Awake at Night” survey for Comms and Marketing leaders is still open. Weigh in on your challenges here.    

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