When Leadership is Emotionally Demanding

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As I reflect on two previous podcast interviews, with Dr. Pam Chatman and Keith “The Prince of the Delta Blues” Johnson, I saw a connection. On one hand, Pam’s work focuses on serving the people of the Delta. On the other hand, Keith’s story, in part, captures the spirit of someone who is doing as much as he possibly can not to be one the people Pam helps. Both Pam and Keith hail from the Delta and neither looks down their nose at their fellow Delta native. Perhaps, it could be said that Pam represents hopefulness and support and that Keith represents what happens when hope, opportunity, and drive come together.

Now, consider these other two aspects of their stories. In Keith’s day job, he works in HR at a casino in Tunica (By night, he is actually a blue guitarist and is known as the “Prince of the Delta Blues). He shared how he works to support the employees, who are usually Delta residents, to make sure they know how the organization can support them when they experience challenges that impact how they show up at work. Sometimes, it is impossible to maintain a boundary between your personal and work life. Meanwhile, Pam focuses on getting people what they need, whether it is resources to pay bills, food, or transportation to work.

I can imagine that they hear heart-wrenching stories on a regular basis. By the same token, their personal journeys attest that they are intimately familiar with some of the circumstances that they hear. As they do the work that they do, I also imagine that there are times wherein they feel torn because we know there have to be times when they are unable to help everybody who requests help.

Whether in nonprofit settings or otherwise, how do leaders grapple with realities like these and avoid burnout? Additionally, if you are a leader in an emotionally demanding context, how do you know you are burning out before hit the wall? What do you do to manage your physical and mental health?

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