What is an enlightened growth leader & how does one avoid burnout?

There’s an ancient Indian proverb about 6 blind men and an elephant. The proverb says that the 6 men all have different ideas of what an elephant looks like based on their experience touching the elephant.

The problem is that the blind men can not agree on what the elephant actually looks like as they each encountered a different part of the elephant. While one man felt the tail of the elephant and described it as an animal that’s like a rope, another felt the side of the elephant and described it as a wall.

This proverb speaks directly to one of the biggest challenges of growth and breaking down pre-existing silos.

Imagine the elephant as the customer and each department in an organization represents a blind man, all are going to be biased toward their own interaction with the customer, the part of the elephant that’s right in front of them.

Customer Elephant

An enlightened growth leader is an individual with a well-informed, modern, and rational outlook that breaks down biases and silos, influences others within an organization, and uncovers new opportunities in order to grow and sustain customer value over the long-run.

The enlightened growth leader visualizes the full elephant and helps get everyone on the team rallied around the challenge of leading the elephant to water.

The Challenge

Most companies are set up with different incentives across the organization, and this is what leads to silos.

Instead of thinking about how to deliver the most value to customers, departments are thinking about their own incentive… marketing working to lower acquisition costs, while product is working to ensure their new releases are delivering to plan.

“Silos are fundamentally a cultural phenomenon. They arise because social groups and organizations have particular conventions about how to classify the world.”
– Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect

It makes sense then that our different silos would see the customer differently.

Now, let’s flip the script.

Does the customer care who is in charge of their problem with your product? Will the customer pay more because engineering was the one that fixed their problem? Or will they thank the marketing team for finding them at a cheap cost? No! They care that their problem is solved and they can receive value from your product. That’s it.

An enlightened growth leader embraces the challenge of breaking down silos because they KNOW that’s where true innovation lies.

The enlightened growth leader knows that any opportunity found between silos is a competitive advantage that might change the company’s growth trajectory. They know that marketing channels will continue evolve and their marketing will have to evolve with it, but marketing is nothing without solid collaboration with the rest of the team and access to the product.

How does the enlightened growth leader sustain growth for companies?

If there’s anything I’ve learned from talking to hundreds of teams about growth is summed up to… growth is hard. Breaking down silos is hard. Finding new opportunities for growth in an ever-changing world is hard. It’s hard, but it’s also extremely rewarding, for those who are up for the challenge.

To be someone supporting or leading growth in an organization and to make an impact, you need to build resiliency to last the test of time, patience, persistence, and strain on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. After all, breaking down silos is one hell of a task that doesn’t come with a permission slip.

So, I’m going to walk you through 4 steps that will help you build resiliency and avoid burnout as an enlightened growth leader.

How can the enlightened growth leader build resiliency & avoid burnout?

Live & breathe the growth process

The growth process is a positive feedback loop that assumes there’s always more than one potential solution to solve a problem. It’s up to you to tackle a challenge by coming up with new ideas, prioritizing them against each other, testing them, and then analyzing what works and what doesn’t.

The growth process is at the heart of sustained growth for an organization and allows teams to learn and adjust quickly.

This process can be implemented in all aspects of life for any challenge. Have a troubled relationship? Try testing new ideas to see what can improve your communication. Want to get in shape? Try testing new active ways to do that.

The growth process is a learning mindset that assumes one thing… you will fail. You will fail and that’s okay. In fact, that’s good! You’re expanding your comfort zone, trying something new, and learning from everything you test.

When we fail it feels uncomfortable, we can get stressed, and we can get emotional. It’s in these times that we need to ask ourselves one simple question to turn our reactive thoughts into proactive learning. The question is “what can I learn from this?” Next time you encounter a failure, ask yourself this and use your mind to proactively learn from the risk you took.

By adopting this process in our life and our work, over time we develop the growth mindset. We find new and innovative ways to tackle challenges. We become great problem solvers.

Know yourself

In every project, scenario, relationship you have an unlimited number of things you can’t control.

However, you do have one thing that you’ll always be in control of, and that’s you. How you choose to react, how you make people feel.

Your biases, personality, strengths, core values, and who you spend your time with make up who you are and how you behave. The more you know about this, the better you can manage yourself in stressful scenarios and build empathy for yourself and others.

There are plenty of biases we could talk about, but I pulled out a few of what I find most prominent in growth to discuss today.

  • Curse of knowledge: this occurs when we communicate with others and unknowingly assume that others have the background to understand.
    When explaining anything to your colleagues or customers, ask yourself “what is the most simple way to communicate this?” and ask follow up questions to ensure the receiving party understands what you’re attempting to communicate.
  • Sunk cost fallacy:  this is when we’re more likely to continue with a project or idea because we’ve invested a lot of time, money, or effort, even when continuing is no longer the best path forward.
    When considering steps forward, ask yourself “what are other potential ways to proceed?” and “is this still the best path forward?” Talk to a third party to get an external perspective like a growth mentor that isn’t tied to any one solution to help expose blindspots.
  • Confirmation bias: this is when we favor information that confirms our existing beliefs.
    Ask yourself and others on your team “how can I prove this belief wrong?” and talking to a third party to expose blindspots.
  • Groupthink: this is when we come to irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcomes because we unconsciously don’t want to interrupt the harmony of the group.
    Try brainstorming ideas in smaller group settings or individually. Give everyone on the team an opportunity to submit feedback, even if that’s an anonymous box. Ask that everyone submit their ideas with any supporting evidence/data so that the ideas are well-informed.

In addition to knowing our own biases, it’s critical to understand these four quadrants about yourself, and ideally about those on your team. Ideally, you can fill out these four quadrants about yourself and start the self-study process.

  • Core Values: What are your core values and are they aligned with the work you’re doing? If they aren’t, tread lightly as this is a common recipe for burnout in this type of role.
  • Personality: What are your dominant personality traits? Knowing the strengths of your personality will help you better communicate with others. Take the HEXACO personality assessment for more insight into your personality.
  • Learning & Support: What learning are you doing that aligns with your core values? Even if it’s not related to your current role, the process of learning is important to maintain and improve over time. What support do you have in your role. If you are a minority in your environment, it’s especially important to find a tribe that will support you and your unique challenges.
  • Mentors & Buddies: Who do you surround yourself with? Are you checking in regularly with mentors that help you grow into your best self? Do you have growth buddies you can turn to when you need to brainstorm?

Learn how to rest

In the book Peak Performance, the authors analyzed top performers in different industries and found that they all had one major thing in common. They all diligently found time to relax.

In the research they found that people that sustained performance over time oscillated between stress that’s about 4% out of our comfort zone and dedicated rest. They also found that people that stayed in high stress mode performed worst over time.

When we stay in high stress mode, we sustain operation in fight or flight mode for extended periods of time, which significantly stresses our internal system and leads to disease and burnout. Yikes!

Now what does rest look like? I’ve tested for years and found that the best way for me to relax is to do yoga or hike outside and then sit in a sauna followed by a cold shower.

However, each one of you will have a different recipe for what rest looks like for you. You’ll need to apply the growth process to learn how you best relax.

Rest is NOT staying on our dopamine-intense adrenaline driven mode and brainlessly scrolling through social media.

Consider getting off of your screens, going outside in nature, moving your body, connecting with others that make you feel at home, listening to music, meditating, and finding a hobby that you enjoy.

Engage your rational thinking

In growth it is inevitable you’ll encounter stressful situations.

When we’re stressed, our emotional brain takes the stage, your rational brain momentarily lets go of controlling your cognitive processes, and you assess the situation from a state of fear. Our emotional brain is there to protect us from danger, and so it will scan the scene with a confirmation bias towards negativity, giving you a distorted view of reality.

In these stressful scenarios, we can practice pausing.

Let’s pause right now and try something together. Please close your eyes. Sit up straight. Place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your heart. Let go of any breath you have in your chest. Slowly breathe in through your nose into your right hand, continue up into your left hand, and completely fill up your lungs. Hold at the top for 3, 2, 1. Now slowly release from the top to bottom of your lungs. Hold at the bottom for 3, 2, 1. Let’s do one more. Inhale slowly filling up your belly, your chest, sipping in air at the top. Now this time stick out your tongue and sigh it out. Blink your eyes open. Notice how you feel. How any pressure left your body.
This is one of the many ways we can pause to reengage our rational thinking.

We can also go for a walk outside, noticing the nature surrounding us, the sounds, the smells and how the wind feels on your skin.

Try sitting in your chair, close your eyes and just feel the weight of your body connecting to the chair.

We can repeat a positive affirmation, something we know that we’re good at or something we’re grateful for.

The goal of the pause is to interrupt the stress cycle, to recognize when the stress is present, and use our tools to break the cycle of constant stress.

Just the beginning

Implementing these four steps are just the beginning of an ongoing process to becoming a well-informed, modern and rational growth leader. Want more tips? Join my email list (right-hand column of this page) to get new growth and sustainability ideas delivered to your inbox.

About the author

Since leaving her full-time role as Head of Growth at GrowthHackers, Dani Hart now teaches yoga specialized in helping people learn how to relax, helps teams apply psychometrics at scale with psyML, and brings Women in Growth together through a community and events.

She’s passionate about finding ways to help people in tech and demanding roles live a more sustainable life in order to achieve lasting results and build inclusive products for the future.

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