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.

Fighting your natural way of being: who do you deprive of your authentic expression?

How do you make a difference when you feel something is holding you back and how do you stay true to yourself instead of fitting in?

These questions might be on top of your mind. Are you alone in this? The answer is no. Many other women leaders feel the same. Here’s part of my own leadership journey:

In 2006 I became corporate secretary to the Executive Board of a Dutch energy company. It was part of my management development process and I was trilled that I got this opportunity. It was the year in which “An Inconvenient Truth” was released, the documentary of Al Gore about climate change. And I was working for the executive board, people who had the power to make a positive impact. At first sight my experience in working directly with top executives was a disappointment. I expected to meet leaders who were driven by purpose, who wanted to make a difference in sustainable energy. Leaders who could balance steering for profit, people and planet.
I decided to share my findings and thoughts on leadership with one of my professors at Nyenrode University who teaches about purpose-driven leadership. The next day I unexpectedly received a phone call from my boss. It appeared that I had sent the email to my boss instead of the professor! What a mistake! What I could not have foreseen was that my boss actually was impressed with the email I wrote. He had forwarded my mail to one of the board members who invited me the same day for a meeting to share my thoughts on leadership. 

Ignoring my inner voice

The mistake I made changed the course of my career. But even more so, it helped me to realize how often I was actually holding myself back. How often did I nót voice my beliefs, my deepest truth? What I found out is how totally normal it was for me to ignore my inner voice in business. And whom did I deprive of my contribution by doing so? My fear of being different, of not belonging, kept me from opening-up, sharing and participating. And how many women voices are acting similarly under these circumstances? I mean the true, deeply authentic, inner voice that has the power to make a difference. That voice! I honestly believed at the time I was the only woman that did not voice what she deeply felt, but that appeared not to be the case at all!

Hitting the brake

Do you also feel the desire to make a difference as a woman leader? And are you satisfied with your contribution? Or do you, just like I do, often feel like you are fighting yourself? Do you know what this ‘fight’ is about? This is your deep longing to stay true to yourself; the need to stand up for what you believe in and to stick to your way of doing business. And this longing is suppressed by the idea that as a business woman, it’s better to adapt and try to fit in.

The moment in a meeting you feel different or you feel you don’t belong, that is an emergency signal for stepping into your leadership! This is where you release the brake! This is the moment where you can make a difference as a female leader.

The Women’s Leadership Program is for women who know they have so much more to bring into their leadership: the ability to make a difference with who they are. Feminine leadership and wisdom is about Presence. Presence to what you see, feel and notice, both inside yourself as in your environment. When you have completed the program you’ll have learned how to lead from this presence and make a difference with who you truly are. 

What you’ll learn:

•You’ll come to learn about the power of your feminine energy and how you can use this energy to accomplish more with greater ease, flow and better results. On this journey, you will be guided back to the essence of being a woman, so you can access the powers of your intuition, the wisdom of your heart and the passion of your body at any time.

•Understand where your radiance and your magnetism comes from and how to ‘turn your light on’.

•Develop your own Personal Leadership Vision and gain clarity on your leadership identity, purpose and goals. Read my blog on Why a Personal Leadership Vision is so powerful.

•You’ll learn to speak up for your ideas and your wisdom powerfully and authentically. Also in front of groups. Want to get inspired on how that could look like? Take a look at the speech of Sara Kuis, one of the first alumni of The Women’s Leadership Program. She gave this speech at Carla Clarissa’s Graduation Ceremony January 7th 2017.

Carla Clarissa Graduation Speech vimeo play


Why a Personal Leadership Vision is so powerful

What I was most afraid of is that I would spoil my chances, that I would not succeed in grabbing the right opportunities that come along once in a lifetime. This fear was real to me.

I often was clueless, I didn’t know whom to trust, I couldn’t follow my natural intuition. In worst times I didn’t even know what my intuition was trying to tell me.

Still, I had my Personal Leadership Vision. I had a clear vision about my leadership role and my purpose, but also about me: being a woman, a mother, a partner and a friend.

Losing my Fear of the Unknown

It took me years to unlearn and unwind everything that kept me from living the life I longed for. And this also kept me from stepping into the leadership role I desired and wrote about in my personal leadership vision. But here’s the thing: although it took me years before I felt empowered enough to follow my heart and trust my intuition, I had something to cling on to along the way.

My Personal Leadership Vision works threefold:

• it is my light in the more darker periods of my life

• it serves as my beacon when I am wandering

• it helps me to see the chances and grab the opportunities that come along, the ones that I write about in my vision.

Your Inner Guide

What I’ve come to learn is that creating a Personal Leadership Vision is like awakening your inner guide.
She fuels your journey, empowers you to move towards your vision, even when you are unaware of your next step. You have awakened your inner guide and she won’t be put to sleep until she brought you to the place you long to be.

Are you ready for change?

Learn how to lead with greater ease, flow and better results

Leadership works from the inside. The essence of The Women’s Leadership Program is that you’ll learn to familiarise yourself with your inner world first. From a woman’s perspective.

What do I mean exactly?

• You will learn how the Mind, the Body and the Soul of a woman works;

• You will come to learn about the internal forces that drive you, as a woman;

• You will understand why you experience many more stimuli than male leaders, how repressing your feelings represses your radiance and how you can process your feelings so you can translate what they are trying to tell you;

• You will experience that your body holds one of the greatest sources of your radiance. Knowing yourself, owning your mind, body and soul is what gives you your natural leadership presence.
Then comes the time in which we are going to write our own Personal Leadership Visions. So we’ll have our own guide with us, at all times.

How my Personal Leadership Vision looks like

I wrote my first Leadership Vision in 2012 and in the last couple of years it has come to fruition step by step. Last month I felt it was time to make further refinements. And you my dear, you are the first I would like to share a part of my Personal Leadership Vision with:

I live my life from a calm mind, a turned on body and a full and warm heart. I love practicing what I ‘preach’ and turning these practices into rituals that fulfill me, leaving me calm, energized, healthy and radiant. Thanks to exercising in the outdoors and a healthy diet I have plenty of energy to enjoy all the beautiful things that life has to offer me. I am o.k. with making mistakes, with learning. When I fall I smile, dust myself of and continue on my path. That is how I keep on growing.

My purpose is that every woman business leader knows and feels that it is she that inspires change. That it is the feminine energy inside of her that has the power to elevate the people around her. I am a trusted guide for women leaders who unconsciously know this truth and are ready to embrace it. I create space for them to discover this power, to make it hers, a place also where she can enjoy the presence and inspiration of other business women leaders who are on the same journey. Space where they can reconnect, re-energize and feel reborn to continue with their purpose.

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