Stand Out Without Burning Out with Sara Ross

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

In this episode with Sara Ross, we discuss how leaders can create a positive workplace culture that fosters personal growth and prevents burnout in their teams.

Takeaways We Learned from Sara…

Caring vs carrying.

Recognize the difference between caring for your people and carrying them. As a leader, your goal is to activate the potential in others and not do all the work for them.

Be ready for feedback.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, bring in people you respect and care about to give you feedback on how you approach your work. Don’t overpersonalize things and remember that feedback is not a personal attack.

Be your best self.

Remember to bring your very best self forward, your most energized self forward. It’s important to allow yourself to shine and bring your unique strengths to the table.

Success is not just doing more.

Recognize that success is not just about working harder or doing more. It’s about taking care of yourself and cultivating a sense of aliveness in your work and life. Success can come from a place of rest, play, and joy as well as hard work.

Empower others.

Asking simple questions can empower people to ask for help and avoid burnout. Questions such as “How are you doing from an energy perspective, mentally, emotionally, physically?” can help.

Leaders set the tone.

Leaders set a tone by their actions, so it’s essential for them to be open and vulnerable about their experiences to create a culture of openness and support.

Stress is part of life.

Generalizing stress and seeing it as something negative can lead to helplessness and hopelessness. It’s essential to recognize that stress is a part of life, and it’s possible to manage it with strategies, mindsets, and support systems in place.

It’s not necessary for leaders to fix everything.

Leaders don’t always have to fix everything for their team members. Sometimes, it’s better to ask the right questions that will help them become accountable and take ownership of their situations.

About Sara Ross

Sara Ross is an international keynote speaker, founder, and chief vitality officer at the leadership research firm BrainAMPED. Sara Ross is on a mission to redefine success by helping leaders and their people reignite a sense of aliveness in their work and lives. Her clients include Microsoft, Cisco, PepsiCo, Bayer, Wells Fargo, T-Mobile, and the US Navy SEALS. Sara lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Mike.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn. Today our topic is how to stand out without burning out. Our guest is Sara Ross. She is an international keynote speaker, founder and Chief Vitality Officer at the leadership research firm BrainAMPED, Sara is on a mission to redefine success by helping leaders and therapy will reignite a sense of aliveness in their work, and in their lives. Sara, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Sara: Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to it.

Allison: My pleasure. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?

Sara: At least you start out with an easy question to really warm us up to this. I think that there Oh, I’m sure we’ll hit a couple. But I think in the context of what we’re talking about today, this idea of how to stand out and I will just clarify out of the gate, when I say standard, I really mean how to allow yourself to bring your very best forward, your most energized self forward. I think for many leaders, very well intentioned leaders, especially over the last couple of years, they have inadvertently created this environment where they have, they are needed for everything.

And that can be incredibly challenging, because that means you actually have to be available for everything and respond to every email and be a part of every meeting. And I think that there is something to this very simple idea to remember that caring for your people is so important. And we’re going to talk about this today. But that is not the same as carrying your people.

As a leader, your goal is to activate that potential in others and recognize that doesn’t mean you do all of the work of putting that into play.

I’ll leave that there. But I find that that is a powerful idea for people to start thinking about.

Allison: I love the translation between caring and carrying. And I’m hoping that we can wrap tie that back during that episode. Okay, fantastic. Your book came out in January Dear Work: Something Has to Change.

Sara: Yes. I know, it’s a bizarre title. It’s not the typical title.

Allison: It is a fantastic title. But I think that we’re going to have to kind of dive into some of the content that’s inside of that today. Sara, how can people tell whether their career needs to change or they need to change?

Sara: I mean, I do think it is such a huge question. And, and I kind of break this out in the book I talk about this idea of there is no doubt that from a workplace perspective, there, there are challenges of workloads there is this idea of trying to do more with less. If you’re out there and you’re a business owner, there is absolutely no doubt you are feeling the pressure of trying to hire people and keep people. That is so incredibly challenging. And there are the challenges of the workplace. And then there are challenges with our beliefs about work. And when I say beliefs about work, I think that they can be broken into our beliefs about how we think we need to achieve success, how we approach stress, and then actually how we think about and apply strategies when it comes to how we rest.

But really, I think that how we think about success is one of the places that gets trapped at times because we think that the only way to be successful is to kind of go all in all the time every single day. And while the intentions and while the motives are always so incredibly good, it actually ends up putting us deeper into that kind of survival mode where we are spinning our wheels and it is much harder to do the work we need to do in an effective and strategic way that also demonstrates that empathy and leadership that is required.

And so is there a way to tell what the difference is? I would say the first step is to actually kind of step back and look at have you created an environment get some feedback, so I should start there like actually ask some people when they are observing you that one of the things I see people do is they get so overly consumed with work like they I’m going to throw another one it like being committed to your work isn’t the same as being consumed by and when we get overly consumed, we tend to over personalize things and, and all feedback feels like a personal attack and our way is the only way. And if people aren’t doing it the same way, then they don’t care the same and, and I think that that can be a really vicious cycle. It is a hard thing when you’re in the middle of it and feeling overwhelmed to figure that out. And we aren’t good at doing that. So bring in people that you respect and care about to start to give you some feedback on what they’re noticing about how you approach that that work? I don’t think there is. I don’t know I think I’m going to, as soon as we’re done here, I’ll think of something perfect about what that one, one thing is.

But I think that it often comes down to just how overly invested we end up getting in work sometimes and recognizing if your work wasn’t something that you were doing, if your title wasn’t your title, would you still be okay. And if you would be okay, and you’ve got some perspective, and people have given you some feedback to say like, Hey, maybe taking a break sometimes will be really important. Versus, hey, you’re working in an environment where this is chipping away at your confidence, and it is eroding your wellbeing. And you have tried to set those boundaries. And we’ve had these conversations, and I’ve seen you try to take action and things aren’t changing, those are so different. Like when you’re in that place, I do believe the cost of there is not a cost that makes a job like that worthwhile.

Before people jump out, just make sure that you’ve actually done the things to set the boundaries to have the hard conversations before you leave a role or an industry that you’re passionate about.

Allison: What you’ve shared, and I’m just going to reinforce kind of the words you just use, because I really appreciate what you just said is, there’s a fine line between being committed to one success and then consumed by this. And that is a very common coaching conversation that we have with clients. And I think not only is it a fine line, but it’s a difficult balance to achieve. Yep. And I appreciate like recognizing, like, you know, if you’re doing all the right things, then the right results will happen ultimately ended. At the end of the day. If someone’s listening today, and they are feeling more consumed than committed, what? What would be like taking a step back, but how did they resolve for that quickly?

Sara: I would say so, when you ask that. How do we resolve for that quickly? How do we back away from feeling consumed? Yeah, I think what we that’s kind of what we’ve seen, and I’m just going to put it out there that quiet quitting? I do not believe is the answer. Because at the end of the day, sir, yeah, like we and we, and there’s a whole different, like, it’s how it’s being interpreted. And all kinds of different people see this differently. I think anything that is done quietly means that we haven’t had the conversation. And then just miss the opportunities when we don’t actually have conversations. And so the first part is to actually bring that to the table, to bring that to the people that you are working with working for to have that conversation to share how you are experiencing, to also share that the way you are experiencing work, perhaps it’s through that exhaustion or that overwhelming stress and pressure, you’re feeling that it is not actually best for the business, and that your goal is to be able to contribute your very best.

And so can we have a conversation about what that might look like? There are all of the things that everyone is talking about there is setting boundaries, there is putting an end to your day, there’s taking breaks in the middle of the day it is, you know, stopping and actually disconnecting from work mentally, as much as you do physically. There are all those things that we all really know about. But it kind of comes back to that same thing that we talked about before. There is nothing wrong with being committed to your work, like loving your work. There’s nothing wrong with being helpful and wanting to be responsive to your clients, to your teammates to your boss. There is nothing wrong with drive or having high standards. But when some of those emotions, those kind of, I’m going to call them blackmailing emotions when we start taking those values that are really important to us. And we use fear, obligation, guilt or validation when one of those four we use those against ourselves to start overriding what is best for us to do in that moment.

Ultimately, what is best for the business in that moment as well. And that is usually where we get ourselves stuck. So our brain is designed for questions, a simple question can be, are these actions helping me bring my best most energized self forward? Or are they keeping me and pushing me deeper into survival zone? Like sometimes simply interrupting the narrative? And the energy we’re putting into something? And adding a question is all our brain needs to be like, Ah, this doesn’t seem to be working. Like we don’t give ourselves enough credit, to ask ourselves the question and reflect on it. And it’s often because we just haven’t thought of the question beforehand. So have a set of those questions, ask yourself and check in is the am I doing this out of a sense of, like, fear of, of worry, I’m letting people down of guilt. If I if I don’t do this, then everything’s on my shoulders, or, and I see this is probably the most dangerous one, sometimes that have a sense of validation.

Because we get approval, and we get applause. And we get accolades. When we are the people who everyone counts on, and I am like, I must put two hands up, because it is one that that is probably been, was the hardest thing to deal with writing this book continues to be the one that I have to be like, Oh, I know exactly why I’m doing this. Because I want someone to be like, we can always count on Sara. But that actually takes away from what I can offer my clients, the business and when anybody else can, which is actually how I started this. Because if you’re the only one that does everything, then you actually disempower the people around you. Right?

Allison: So what you’ve just shared are simple questions that we can ask ourselves when we’re in that situation. Are there other simple questions we can ask to empower the people around us to ask for help, and help them basically not get to a point of burnout?

Sara: Yeah, well, I think that there’s a couple that help right away. Like I think that we have two people at if you are people that you are responsible for, or you have people that you just work alongside with the fact that we care about those connections matters. And that means sometimes we have to have like a specific check in like not to, not to see how work is going but to actually say hey, how are you doing? If we were to talk about, you know, if I can check in not just how are you doing, but from an energy perspective, like, mentally, emotionally, physically? How are you feeling? What’s really working? What’s getting in the way? What’s distracting for you? Is there anything that we can do as a team I can do as a manager that would help remove some of those obstacles or distractions like that.

Openness, just I think we get so caught on one of the perfect questions that we completely underestimate how just being present, demonstrating true curiosity and care, and just trying to open up those conversations and be vulnerable to say, I don’t know if I’m even overstepping, but I care about you. And I care about your ability to work in a way that is healthy for you. So I really want to check in.

And if you’re a leader, I mean, you set a tone, whether you realize it or not you lead by example, whether you choose to or not. And so I think for leaders to also express some of the things that they’re experiencing what’s working for them, and, and what has been really challenging.

Allison: That resonates with me at this moment, on this day. For a lot of ways, thank you. In, in what ways do we accidentally create cultures of helplessness?

Sara: It is or it is not, is not a popular opinion. So I’m going to start this way. And I am going to say that it is one of these things that can be it comes down to how we talk about stress, I think a lot and I am going to be the very first person I have been studying leadership, emotional intelligence, the impact of pressure and stress for the last 15 years. And so there is 00 argument that that too much stress for too long, is going to have a negative impact on people. It really can if there is if there aren’t strategies and mindsets and support systems in place to work with that stress in a different way. But the reality is if you ask me Most people nowadays, like how they’re doing, it is so typical for someone to be like, I am so stressed. And we now talk about stress to represent every single thing we don’t like, whether we are bored, we’re stressed, we’re busy, we’re stressed, we’re overwhelmed or stressed, we have a difficult person we’re dealing with, we’re stressed.

And what has started to happen is we’ve kind of generalized what being stress means in this negative way. And so we just see everything we are experiencing as, as stressful and, and when you when we go back to the, to the work around what lends itself to a resilient and optimistic outlook, it’s, it’s when people recognize that things happen in, in kind of, for specific reasons in specific areas. And, and they recognize that they have a contribution to that sometimes in the environment. Sometimes circumstances also have a contribution. But what we have started to do with stress is just generalize it. So it feels like stress is impacting every single aspect of our life. And, and it’s always this way, and we are losing sight of some of those positive things. And then we’re either getting caught in a over personalization, like, I suck, look at everyone else, they’re pulling it off, they’re doing it so well. They’re not feeling overwhelmed, they don’t have all the resources, and they’re still figuring this out. So we either do this, which makes us feel stuck and helpless, right?

Or we do the opposite. And we say see what’s happening to me look at all of these things around me. And we when we do that, we inadvertently give away our sense of agency, we give our sense, give away a sense of power that we have in a situation. And as cliche as it is, we can’t always control the things that are happening to us. But I cannot think of a situation outside the immediacy of something occurring. I can’t think of a situation that I have been in it that I have heard from anyone I’ve researched that I have come across from a coaching perspective, where there was not an opportunity for someone to do something for themselves to change that situation.

Allison: I really agree. Yeah.

Sara: But I think what started to happen is, with all of the in everything, I will say with all the best of intentions. There are many people who are like, come and fix this for me, like work isn’t working for me right now. It doesn’t feel meaningful 24/7 Like, I’m not getting the feedback I want. I’m getting too much feedback that I don’t want. And please know, I think leadership is a hard skill. And I think there are some great leaders and I absolutely know there are some not so great leaders.

But we have created an environment where I think it’s that work is supposed to fix people, and people are waiting to be fixed versus saying have I done everything in my power to change the situation have, I had the conversations I need to have, I shared the boundaries that are really important to me, have I decided that there is a time that it is okay to shut my computer down?

Am I sleeping with my phone under my pillow and I say this because it if we are waiting to be fixed. People are just too, too tired. People need too many different individual things, we need to look at an overall system. But we have to recognize that we have agency in a situation and we have to be able to look at what we have an opportunity to make choices around. And if it is just based on how work is going to change them. We’re going to feel helpless and stuck and sad and miserable. And feeling like work doesn’t matter and or feeling like work does matter. But we don’t matter. We’re going to feel stuck in that cycle. And we do not have to. And so I would like to see before it was like self care.

And you know, here’s a gym membership, go deal with your stress. And I think it’s the pendulum swung a little bit to workplaces, fix this and make work wonderful all the time, which it’s just not always going to be wonderful, unfortunately. And I think we have to really come back and meet in the middle to recognize that it’s nuanced. It’s complex, but it’s a collaborative collective approach that we need to take. We have to address systems, but we also have to take our personal agency back and those two meeting together with conversations that that are open, I think lends itself to a much more successful future than waiting for one side to fix the other side.

Allison: I’m curious as a, let’s say, a leader listener who the listener who’s a leader right out at the moment. And they have someone who’s given up their agency and they are being looked to fix. How do you and maybe it’s not recognized by the other party? So, agency has been given up and they are looking to you. Yeah. And you need to have this conversation.

Sara: Let me make sure I know. Because I think my brain jumped to it. Because it’s, it’s, I think it’s the hardest one is what you’re asking me, if you are a leader, and you have someone who is who has given up their agency, they’re stuck in in helpless mode, and it feels really genuine to them, like you, you want to be empathetic and recognize they really feel and or that, you know, things can’t change. They’ve tried everything. How, as a leader, do you help get people out of that mode? Is that the question? Yes. Well, that is the multimillion-dollar question.

Allison: Are you not going to just give that to me?

Sara: No, I knew it, I would use it. And I think this is what becomes really important, I think, leaders, you don’t have to fix that for people. And I will come back again. And again, there are a couple of questions, I can share them really quickly if you would find this helpful. And it’s not specific to what you asked. But it’s the conversations around that will start to create people getting out of it.

I find that a lot of leaders get are suffering from what I call fixer fatigue, meaning that they are always trying to fix everything, and it’s exhausting. They’re like all I do is put out fires. So when someone comes to you with a challenge, I think what happens is sometimes as a leader, it’s like, Oh, I’ve got to help them and show them and help them see that they’ve got agency here. And they end up taking that problem and putting it on their back. 

And then being like, this is how you fix it. And then that person continues to feel helpless and stuck.

Don’t worry about the perfect questions. Here’s a couple of simple questions. When somebody you’re a leader, and somebody comes to you with a problem before you do anything else, ask this simple question. What have you tried so far? And it is so ridiculously simple. But we’ve all been on the receiving end of going to somebody asking for advice, bringing a problem forward a challenge, and then somebody does, but they give you the most obvious idea or solution or advice. And it is to the point that it actually feels offensive like you’re like. Thank you. I have tried that. That’s why I’m coming to you.

But I think for leaders to ask that question number one, is it helps respect yourself? The person who’s standing in front of you? Number two, and this seems so small, but if the answer is nothing, then as a leader, I’m going to ask you to recognize holds the emotions, the frustrations, whatever it might be, and recognize that there’s a very good chance that you have trained this person to know that you will fix things for them. Isn’t that interesting? It’s an again, it’s comes from the very best of intentions. So what have you tried so far? The other two questions are so are so simple that it follows up with what else would be important to consider about this situation. And here it would it’s starting to do is broaden how someone is thinking about a problem. And like other conversations might like other questions, other things might dovetail off of this. But now you’re allowing that person to also recognize that there’s other people involved. There’s other perspectives involved.

It’s broadening that piece and believe it or not, that makes people feel less alone, because now they’re starting to think about these other elements. And then the last question is probably the hardest question for many people, because it feels like it’s going to be a value Rob. And the reason I say that is the question is, how are you thinking of moving this forward? What’s are you thinking as the next step? What that question isn’t, is how can I help? What do you need from me? And that I always say that can be questioned for but that cannot be questioned three.

The reality is, when you help people start to recognize and think through solutions, even if they feel overwhelmed, like what’s the smallest first step you could possibly take? You help build the confidence that they can move things forward.

And truly, there is we really do confuse feeling helpless for being exhausted. And, and often the opposite is that feeling empowered Word is genuinely energizing. And so there’s this double win win. So all of a sudden, you’ve helped this person start to recognize that there’s some accountability on their side, it’s starting to challenge them just kind of think through and take some ownership of a situation, to expand it, to think of other people. And now to start to build the confidence to look for solutions to think through how to move something forward to not depend on another person.

And now as a leader, you’re understanding their thought process. Now, as a leader, you’re understanding what they actually need, you know, where perhaps this will be beneficial or, or where you can offer some heads up on different things. But now you’re meeting them where they are, and helping support them in the way that they need to move forward, versus you trying to drag them along to where you want them to be. So both sides, we’ve just created this environment that is more energizing, more positive and more empowering. I hope that helps. I hope because I can tell you, I use those three questions with many, many, people. And I have always heard positive feedback on them.

Allison: For those that who are listening currently to the episode, I will highlight those specific three questions in the big tip takeaway from this particular episode. So thank you, Sarah. I appreciate that. And then the fourth question, which you only ask if you have to.

Sara: That’s it. And believe it or not, most of the time, I’ll just say, how are you thinking of moving this forward often ends up being like, and here’s what I what would be really helpful from you. Right? Like it just now you’ve built a relationship. And that’s why I don’t think there is a perfect set of questions or a perfect strategy, because we have to meet people where they are. And not everyone is the same. And usually the people we’re having the hardest time with are the people that are either doing exactly what we do and we’re unaware, or they are the exact opposites. And it’s the things that are hardest for us to manage in either way, there is a learning opportunity on both sides.

Allison: Yes, I completely agree. I love the fact that your research is based on emotional intelligence, human soft skills. Thanks. So my question is, is how can leaders respond to difficult situations skillfully and with more empathy?

Sara: To not react, and that is so over simplified, but I think that often where I see people make some mistakes is that they feel the need to respond immediately. And so when those emotions do kick in, because they inevitably will, because leadership is hard, and people are wonderful, and people are heart.

Allow yourself the space to slow down. Like genuinely give yourself a moment to compose your thoughts, and start to recognize kind of, not only what do you want to say, but how do you want to demonstrate that in your body language, I think that is often highly overlooked.

And the reality is the messages we send come through, not just in our words, and in fact, we I mean, there’s lots of data on it. But at the end of the day, even if a leader says, haha to do as I do, do, as I say, people do as leaders do, yeah, because we follow actions, and we pay attention to body language. And we really do gauge from that.

And so for leaders, I think it’s really important to be able to slow yourself down, to check in with the kind of body language to dial up your sense of curiosity like that, it is not an easy thing to do. But our brain is genuinely designed for a sense of wonder and curiosity. And it may not be the natural state you are in. But quite literally, I say to leaders, like if you can just slow yourself down and shift into and this is the example instead of kind of mental narrative being like, What is wrong with this person? Or like, why are they doing that to as much as possible, just allow yourself a moment and shift into I wonder what’s going on with this person. I wonder what information I’m missing. I wonder what question will help them look at the situation differently.

So if you want to demonstrate empathy, you have to develop it first. And at the heart of empathy is an ability to withhold your judgments and get curious about the perspectives that person has what they are experiencing from where they stand. And that is inevitably, in all reality going to be different, even if you think you’ve stood in their shoes before. And so if you can actually be curious about what that is, and give them some time to express  what that is.

We just care about feeling like we care about feeling heard, and understood and valued. And that often comes from just being able to slow down and manage ourselves to demonstrate that, and then naturally, it becomes an empathetic response.

Allison: Very helpful. Thank you, Sara. I want to make sure that our listeners have an opportunity to find out where to get your book, and then also how to best connect with you.

Sara: So my book is available at any of the retailers that you purchase books from. I narrated the audible version of it as well, which was easier to narrate than it was to listen back to but it has been one of those one of those things that it was so powerful to be able to go through and put it to say the different things in my own words. It’s in hardcover and softcover. And if people are looking to stay connected, my website is But they can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Instagram. I’m at Sara underscore, J underscore Ross, and you’ll be able to stay up to date on all things going on and research we are sharing and programs we’re sharing from one of those outlets.

Allison: Fantastic. Sara, thank you so much for your time today. I’ve enjoyed our conversation immensely.

Sara: Appreciate it. Thank you.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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