How Great Leaders Avoid Burnout

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Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Ilan Mochari for Inc. magazine. He explains how and why great leaders have overcome adversity on their own, through mental toughness, with no help — and that’s how anyone else can became successful…but it could also be their downfall. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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One day in 2007, Arianna Huffington found herself lying on the floor of her home office in a pool of blood. After an MRI, a CAT scan, and an ECG, she learned there was no underlying problem — it was exhaustion which had caused her to faint, her head smashing the corner of her desk and cutting her eye.

The incident prompted her to ask deeper questions about her life of 18-hour workdays, seven days a week. By the time she delivered a commencement speech at Smith College in 2013, she was preaching the gospel of a good night’s sleep and asking graduates to measure their lives by a “third metric”–changing the world for the better–in addition to those timeless standards, money and power.

You’ve heard this sort of thing before. You’ve heard it from Harvard Business School legend Clayton Christensen. You’ve heard it from Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) and TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie. And you’ve heard it in at least half a dozen TED talks from other authors and notables.

So my first question to leadership expert Bill George, who just released an update to his 2007 classic, True North, was, why bother? How can you persuade any young leader–whose solipsistic workaholism has been the primary factor in her success–that she needs to take a proverbial chill pill? For it often seems as if entrepreneurs have to learn this lesson the hard way–by collapsing, literally or figuratively. And reminders of retaining a moral compass and striving for work-life balance are as old as the bible–though there’s no shortage of TED-talking gurus hawking contemporary versions.

George’s answer was optimistic. He hopes the personal-transformation tales gathered in his updated book (called Discover Your True North) will help young leaders “accelerate that learning curve, and become self-aware earlier in their lives, without hitting the wall,” he tells Inc. The updated book includes stories about Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, Chade-Meng Tan (who built Google’s employee-meditation program), and many others.

Mind you, George has lived the life and walked the walk himself. While he was CEO of Medtronic, a medical device and technology company, from 1991 to 2001, the company’s market cap grew from $1 billion to $60 billion. He then became a credentialed expert on the subject of leadership, authoring four books and joining the faculty at Harvard Business School. He’s currently a director at ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and the Mayo Clinic.

So what advice can George give to hard-charging entrepreneurs who may be on the verge of hitting the wall? In an interview with Inc., he boiled the answer down to two components. [Here’s the first.]

1. Find a support team of mentors you’ll actually listen to.

George believes Huffington could’ve avoided her collapse if she’d had a close support team around her–“people who could’ve been intimate with her, and told her: ‘Hey, you’re heading for trouble. Let me tell you what I see happening,'” he says.

George cites Zuckerberg as a young CEO who found the right support team–and whose performance has thrived (without hitting a wall) as a result. In 2005, Zuckerberg met Don Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company. Graham offered to invest $6 million in Facebook. Zuckerberg accepted, only to renege when Accel Partners offered to invest at a higher valuation.

Yet Graham, rather than feeling snubbed, was impressed with how Zuckerberg handled the situation. Later that year, Zuckerberg shadowed Graham for several days to learn how a CEO ought to behave. The relationship deepened. One benefit? Graham advised Zuckerberg to hire COO Sheryl Sandberg and encouraged Sandberg to accept the position, even though she’d be reporting to someone younger. Graham–today the lead director of Facebook’s board–benefited from the relationship too, learning from Zuckerberg about online initiatives that would engage Washington Post readers.

More than this, Zuckerberg’s relationship with Graham formed a template Zuckerberg would rely on in seeking mentorship. Today, his roster of mentors includes Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen. “People always ask, How does [Zuckerberg] have the wisdom of someone 20 years older?” says George. “The answer is, he sought out really good mentors, early on.”

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Here’s a direct link to the complete article.

Ilan Mochari is a senior writer at Inc. Here’s his Twitter link.

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