Why burn-out hits women leaders twice as often

It was a beautiful Monday early morning in Spring, I was in bed with the curtains still closed. Staying in the darkness actually felt good, really good. Because it was exactly how I felt inside. I remember calling my boss that morning. I didn’t want to, however, I had no choice. On the Friday before I was still hoping that the weekend would give me enough energy to keep going for another week, but it didn’t. I told my boss literally: “I am throwing in the towel”. While saying this I was actually surprised. Apparently I was in a fight, but whom was I fighting?

I was mainly fighting myself. I had been exhausting myself and I didn’t know how to end this painful behavior. How to return to my energy, my radiance and connect to my inner wisdom. I only knew how to push on, how to be strong, and how to not give up.

I had learned how to keep on going, but I had never learned how to contemplate and return home, to myself.

This happened in Spring 2012. And as I found out, I wasn’t the only female leader that hit a wall. Until today I am meeting women who are fighting their way through, burning themselves down, struggling to find the right balance inside.

Staying on track – running on two legs 

Research shows that female managers experience burn-out twice as often as their male colleagues, and typically ten years earlier – in their late thirties. (NEA 2015, CBS). The period in which talented leaders move into their first senior/ executive leadership roles and family life is peaking. Why does burn-out hit women leaders twice as often? Here are my thoughts.

From my experience many women leaders are running on one leg i.e. only using half of their powers: their masculine power.

The use of feminine power is ignored or obstructed in the intricate design of our society, our organizations and leadership development programs.

Using only one leg just isn’t enough – even with a lot of hard and dedicated work – to keep women on their designated leadership track. Women leaders and women with the desire to lead need to be taught how to also use their natural, feminine power so they can authentically develop themselves as leaders.

Investing in the feminine side of leadership

On top of that, Global Human Capital Trends 2016 by Deloitte state that of all respondents nearly 50% report little to no investments are being made in specifically developing women leaders. These findings correspond with my personal experiences. Many organizations pay little specific attention on how to retain and develop their talented women. In these companies it can feel very uncomfortable to raise awareness regarding women-specific leadership programs. Especially as a woman! And then we haven’t as female leaders even spoken about the unease of talking about the feminine side of leadership. Yet, if we don’t, we’ll end up investing in business education and gaining (more) titles only. In the end, this is not what creates balance in our lives. This is not what creates balance in us as leaders. Natalia Goncharova, senior performance manager Corporate Banking at ABN Amro and president of Women in Financial Services (WIFS), highlights in a recent interview with ‘Topvrouwen’ the importance of finding balance between feminine and masculine values.

A huge misunderstanding is that women believe they can only make a difference by what they do. The reality is – as a leader – you make a difference by who you are. People notice your leadership presence when they are interacting with you.

To excel in leadership positions and prosper as female leaders, women need to learn how to connect to their full powers. Don’t rely on the one-sided masculine power only. This will only tempt you to ‘man-up’, to join the rat race that eventually will drain all your life force. Develop your feminine power and learn to balance yourself. This will also bring back the balance in your life. As we grow our feminine side, we unconsciously give men space to do the same. And together we will bring back the balance in our organizations, our communities and in our society.

As we need women leaders to stay on track in our society and in our organizations, we need to acknowledge the feminine side of leadership.

That’s the reason I started The Women’s Leadership Program: because developing leadership in women truly works different than it does in men. I’ll write more about this in my next blog. If you already like to learn more, please visit my website.

I would love to hear your stories and your thoughts! Hope you will share them with me.

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