This is a reflective essay written as part of the WISE Emerging Leaders program.
I have decided to join the WISE fellowship in a moment in which I felt I was at an inflection point in my professional life. At the beginning of 2022 I was taking on a new role, serving a larger team as a manager, and overseeing a scale-up process in the organization. We were all, at a personal and professional level, still discovering how to navigate the uncertain withdrawal from the pandemic lifestyle.
More than ever, wellbeing, thinking about it, reflecting on it, learning about it, planning for it, seemed to me a bigger priority than the actual, on the job, goals and objectives I had. The conversations I have shared with my peers during the fellowship have helped me gain more perspective and understand that my challenges were not singular, we were all sharing dilemmas around balance and purpose, personal mission, and collective impact. It was clear to me that exercising leadership in the educational sector is as consuming as it is rewarding and purposeful. One of the questions that stayed with me ever since was ‘is it a personal responsibility to preserve wellbeing and not succumb to burnout or is it an organizational responsibility? Or both?’.
If we think of wellbeing as wholebeing, and we break the concept into its main components, the body, mind, heart, spirit, we realize that we must make daily small decisions about each component. This means, at an individual level, allocating time and energy for it, which we, oftentimes don’t feel we have.
At an organizational level, the question is how we create a work culture that allows for prioritizing all components of wellbeing, creates a context for employees to thrive, and is capable of assimilating the periods in which people are simply not well.
How can I, as a leader, be aware, mindful, and action-oriented regarding everyone’s unique definition of wellbeing? What are the critical decisions we have to make regarding wellbeing?
In addition, while discussing with my colleagues during the fellowship, I have sensed that more often than once burnout was not caused by the volume of the workload itself. It was questioning fairness and common values, lack of openness and sense of control that seem to overwhelm people in the workplace. So, the problem was less operational and more personal. How do I create as a leader the safe space in which these conversations can happen openly in my team and concerns are addressed early on?
Even though I have not discovered answers to these questions, I feel that I have started to have a constant internal conversation about wellbeing. It has grown into a constant filter in my mind, and I am more aware of this dimension in my decision-making, both when it comes to my team and to myself personally.
I have come to realize that it is on our generation of leaders to stop glorifying unrealistic overachieving cultures in our organizations and to systematically address wellbeing at the workplace as a necessity and a prerequisite for sustainability and organizational health.