Leading in a Dysfunctional System #5: Seek Extra Support Outside of Work, by @drtoddwhall

Part 5 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the fifth entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. When working in a dysfunctional system like the one described here, it is critical to invest in other areas outside of work to sustain you. The two practices discussed below are simple, but difficult to do consistently when you feel constantly drained by a dysfunctional system. You must be intentional about them.

1. Spend extra time with close friends and family. I can’t overstate how important relationships are for sustaining you while working in a toxic system. Your secure relationships will provide three things you desperately need when working in a dysfunctional system: feeling known, feeling accepted, and wisdom.

Social support is one of the strongest predictors of just about every good outcome you can think of. People who have secure and meaningful relationships, on average, experience better physical health and a higher degree of emotional well being. This will help sustain you during stressful times working in a dysfunctional system.

Part of this is feeling known by others in your life. The opposite of feeling known is feeling unseen and alone. If you feel alone in what you are going through at work, it will take its toll all the more. Aloneness adds an exponential burden to the already painful emotions of a dysfunctional system.

You also need friends who accept you for who you are, and support you. Feeling accepted only comes in the context of feeling known. If you don’t feel known, the “acceptance” feels superficial. You need friends you can vent your frustrations to, and not have to worry about being judged, or having the information go anywhere. These are the friends who will listen first and be with you in the midst of the trials of working in a crazy system. But you have to seek them out.

Third, close relationships outside the dysfunctional system can provide you wisdom on how to handle the challenges you face.

Others whose state of mind has not been affected by your work’s dysfunctional system can often see a path forward much more easily than you can when you’re lost in the craziness.

2. Spend time on your hobbies. Do things you’re interested in that have nothing to do with work. This will not only help rejuvenate you, it will stimulate creative solutions at work. New experiences force the brain to shift out of autopilot and make connections between seemingly unrelated things. As you focus on other things your brain is working on problems in the background. You may have an “ah-ha” experience of a solution seemingly coming out of nowhere. If nothing else, this will help you gain perspective on what is truly important in life, and where you find your identity–the topic of the next entry.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #6: Reflect on where you find your identity.

Reflection: What relationships and hobbies rejuvenate you? How can you (re)engage these in your life?