The Happy Engineer Podcast

150: Victory Over Imposter Syndrome and Burnout with Jimmy Burroughes

How do you beat burnout as an engineer? How about imposter syndrome? What does it take to ignite peak performance, and sustain it? Whether IC, Manager, Director, or VP… this matters.

In this episode, meet Jimmy Burroughes, a former British Military Officer turned international coach and brilliant author.

Jimmy shares his mission to “Beat Burnout – Ignite Performance” in his playbook for building high-performance team cultures. He helps organizations all over the planet achieve 10x results without burning out. 

If you are hungry for bigger and faster results, but not sure how to get there without burning the candle on both ends, this conversation is for you.

Having lived and worked in over 65 countries, Jimmy’s approach to leadership development doesn’t include fancy jargon or complex formulas. He believes in simple, practical solutions that get results.

So press play and let’s chat… let’s beat burnout before it starts.

Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 150: Beat Burnout and Ignite Performance!



LISTEN TO EPISODE 150: Victory Over Imposter Syndrome and Burnout with Jimmy Burroughes

Previous Episode 149: Promotion Playbook Yearly Rhythm | My Signature System to Align and Accelerate Results in 2024


Top 3 Tips on Beating Burnout for Engineers and Engineering Managers

In this episode, we dive deep into the prevalent issue of burnout in the engineering world and how to effectively address it. Jimmy Burroughes, an experienced professional with a military and corporate background, shares his personal experiences and valuable insights.

Here are the top three insights:

1. Spot Burnout Early: Jimmy emphasizes the importance of recognizing burnout early on and the need to change habits and beliefs to avoid reaching a point where sabbaticals or stress leave become necessary.

2. Leadership Mindset: Jimmy emphasizes the power of collective decisions and alignment within a team, regardless of job titles. He also encourages individuals to take on a leadership mindset in creating a positive work environment.

3. Responsibility for Healing: Jimmy stresses the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own healing path and not blaming others for a toxic culture. He also shares practical insights for addressing burnout.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, click the podcast link below and listen to the entire conversation.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right. All right. Happy engineer. Welcome back for an amazing, amazing conversation today. And Jimmy, I am pumped for this. If ever there was someone whose work is like right in the heart of the happy engineer and what I am all about at the Oasis of Courage and our coaching. It is the work that I saw from you in preparation for this conversation.

[00:00:19] So welcome to the podcast and thanks for making time for the chat today, man. It’s great to be with you. 

[00:00:25] Jimmy Burroughes: Zach, thank you so much for the invitation, and it really is a privilege to be here. I’m genuinely thrilled. let’s see how we can help. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:30] Zach White: Amazing. So, okay. Your, your history starts, well, maybe not starts with, but at least the piece I would love to begin with has a couple of decades of time in the British military, so I, I wanted to actually begin there because I’m very curious.

[00:00:46] When we think about burnout and you’ve authored this incredible book, beat burnout, ignite performance, and we want to dig into high performing teams and culture. And how do we do that without burning out? And I wanted to see. Did that begin for you in your military days, and if so, how so? 

[00:01:04] Jimmy Burroughes: It wasn’t two decades in the military. It was, just under a decade. and then I transitioned across to the corporate world, but I’ll share with, you two moments, in those two decades that, that probably are going to be identifiable to, to most, in terms of what happened to me personally, but they might not be the familiar scenarios that, that people who are your listeners are familiar with.

[00:01:27] And the first one is, 23 years old, Jimmy, fresh faced, graduates the equivalence of West Point. It’s called the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. 

[00:01:36] ready to change the world.

[00:01:37] And finish on a Thursday, get to my base in Germany on a Sunday, and I’m told that the regiment is at war, war being Gulf War II. And so managed to get myself on a commercial flight to Kuwait with a little bit of help and hitchhike up to Basra, which is things that you look back and go, how, why, what? but I was this, you know, shiny brand new army officer.

[00:01:59] arriving in the midst of a war. And all of the people around me, you know, even though they’re maybe three months older than me, they were the intake before in, in the academy, they were men and I was a boy and I felt so out of place, you know, I felt like the imposter. And it was the first time I encountered imposter syndrome as something that was.

[00:02:21] really affecting people in terms of the way that they operate and the way they function. And there’s some really great research around imposter syndrome, which I fully encourage people to have a look at. essentially what it says is that we have some coping strategies for the way we deal with imposter syndrome.

[00:02:36] And one of those is to work really hard and become the expert, you know, to go all out. So you’re infallible. So nobody can potentially catch you out for not being good enough. Um, another one is to just go in alone. So a lot of our people that we meet through our work now, they go into individual contributor roles or they go into consulting roles because they don’t want to be caught out by somebody.

[00:03:00] And if they only have to work by themselves, then nobody can catch them. And it’s, these are all fear responses, but it’s the way we choose to manage and navigate through those fear responses. So let’s say I’m 23 years old, I’m suddenly given the responsibility for logistic resupply of Basra, and I’m surrounded by soldiers who’ve got 10, 20 years of experience, and I’m in command of them, sitting there thinking, Smugs, what do I do now?

[00:03:24] Um, and my response was to just work and work and train and train and become the expert. You know, I memorized the grid references of every junction in Basra. So if we had an incident, I could rattle off that grid reference straight away. I would double and triple and quadruple check everything. I would sleep three hours a night.

[00:03:42] And it was a real challenge for energy levels. And just thinking about it now, it wasn’t sustainable approach to leadership. It was an enthusiastic approach to leadership, but it didn’t necessarily work for me. So that was the first example. And then if we fast forward 15 years. I’d moved out of the military.

[00:03:58] I was living in New Zealand and I was a GM in an organization. I had a very good corporate career where I was fast tracking my way to the executive table. And this was the role that was going to take me onto the executive table. I was 15 years younger than anybody else at my level in the organization.

[00:04:15] And there’s a little imposter syndrome bubbled up again, I’m 15 years younger, they all think I’m inexperienced. I’m from outside the industry. I was a bit of a wild card. I have to make it work was one of the things that my boss said to me, uh, have three bosses in 18 months. And so every time when you get a new boss, you have to prove yourself, don’t you?

[00:04:32] Of course. Uh, and add to that a really complex organization. I was traveling 10 days out of 14. I was working with a team of people across 26 countries. we had a, about a 40 which in one night due to a government decision, 20 million has wiped off our bottom line straight away. And I was told, Jimmy, you need to work out a way of fixing it.

[00:04:56] but don’t do anything too risky because we’re a really conservative organization. And as you can probably 

[00:05:01] Zach White: imagine, go back and redouble the size of your, your business unit, but don’t take any risks. Of course. Yeah. 

[00:05:07] Jimmy Burroughes: Yeah. this constant tension, if we need to transform, but we don’t want to be transformative and we need to make more money, but we can’t be risky.

[00:05:14] These tensions were starting to take a toll on all of the GMs around me. They started to leave one by one. They were, they were signed off for stress. They’re on medical leave. They were resigning. Yeah. And so, you know what you do when you have a lot of work to do? You give it to a busy person. Jimmy, can you take care of this?

[00:05:29] And Jimmy, can you jump onto this project? And Jimmy, can you be the sponsor of this? And all of a sudden I found myself really, really overloaded, overwhelmed, working, seven days a week, 20 hours a day, living on four hours sleep. And do you know what happens when you do that? You start to have a glass or a bottle or two bottles or four bottles of wine when you come home because you need to wind down.

[00:05:50] You start to wake up in the morning and you’re thinking. I don’t know if I’ve got this in me today. I don’t know if I can go to work. And it all came to a head in 2017 where I just sat on the edge of the bed and I said, if you keep doing this to yourself, you’re going to kill yourself. You’re going to have a heart attack.

[00:06:04] You’re going to have a stroke. Something is going to go wrong. You need to get out. So I got out. And what led me from there to here was a journey of really self understanding initially, but then identifying there was so many people in the world who were experiencing the same thing and they didn’t know how to help themselves.

[00:06:22] So we came up with a way of 

[00:06:23] Zach White: helping them. Amazing. Okay. So let me, let me stop you here because there’s a hundred points already that I’m super excited about. And just to acknowledge how much overlap there actually is with these engineering managers and leaders that we work with at the Oasis of Courage every day, while they may not be the same scenarios, these principles, these failure modes, these fear responses that you described, I hear these same things all the time.

[00:06:50] So really quick, let’s go back to. This new, shiny, excited, enthusiastic Jimmy coming out of the academy and, and going into a war zone that feeling of everybody else here, these are the men and I’m just a boy in comparison that, that gap. And you mentioned it was not a sustainable approach, but it was an enthusiastic one.

[00:07:19] And what I want to hear your thoughts on Jimmy is. In a way, are those two things truly opposite each other? if you’re overly enthusiastic, are you gonna fall into something that’s not sustainable and that’s a danger? Or how do you think now, looking back on that, what does it look like to have enthusiasm but also have a sustainable approach?

[00:07:42] And is that possible? And maybe describe that a little bit. What do you think about that? 

[00:07:47] Jimmy Burroughes: I was lucky in a way to have a fantastic leader and mentor in those early years, who was able to channel my enthusiasm effectively, because, when you’re in your 20s, you’re kind of running around like with your hair on fire, just trying to do everything and attack everything.

[00:08:04] And certainly with imposter syndrome, prove myself in everything. so I felt credible in front of others. for some of your listeners, they’re probably in the mid phase of their career and they’re hiring and, and taking on some of these young 20 somethings who are trying to find and prove themselves in the world.

[00:08:20] And the role that my leader took was to, and he said something really wise, and it sticks with me to this day. He said the true secret to sustainable performance. It’s to work at 80 percent of your maximum, because if you’re going at 110 percent of your maximum, those maintenance issues are going to crop up.

[00:08:38] And we were a logistics organization, so it was all about, keeping the trucks on the road and making sure that the fuel tankers worked. And he said, if you, if you’re working at 110 percent of capacity, those maintenance issues are going to come up faster and they’re going to be terminal. And when they hit, they’re going to take the fleet off the road.

[00:08:55] Um, do the same thing with the way you run your troop. Do the same thing with the way you run your business, you know, your team. because running at 80 percent means that you’ve got capacity and time to sit and think. And as I’ve now aged significantly, what I see is, and this chapter five in my book is all about the importance of downtime.

[00:09:14] And we go into it in a lot of detail. We can come back to it later, but essentially you need a bit of space to. to think, reflect, and prepare for the next challenge. And so if you’re enthusiastically running around, that’s great. If you’re enthusiastically running around more than your maximum, or at your maximum all the time, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice.

[00:09:36] Zach White: Totally. So did that over enthusiasm and running at 100 or 110 percent For so long, did that lead to any significant, burnout or downside experience in the military for 

[00:09:48] Jimmy Burroughes: you? Not for, no, not personally, but it was close. You know, when I came back from six months in Iraq, I was given some time off, which I didn’t know I was going to get access to.

[00:09:58] And I slept solely for two weeks. I was sleeping 16, 18 hours a day for two weeks. Wow. Because I’d just been running on this nervous energy. so I know it wasn’t sustainable, but when you’re young, you can do things like that. As you hit your 40s, 50s, early 60s, you don’t have those energy levels anymore.

[00:10:14] And so you can’t sustainably run at that tempo. Well, 

[00:10:17] Zach White: and in our engineering careers, we don’t Get the luxury of every six months, taking two weeks to sleep. It doesn’t work. 

[00:10:24] Jimmy Burroughes: Cause you’ve got other commitments, right? As well. You’ve got your family to go home to, and you know, you’ve got clubs and communities, societies, responsibilities.

[00:10:30] So you have to go, well, how do I dial it back to 80%? And we can probably just touch on something lightly here, which is the spotlight effect, where. One of the drivers of imposter syndrome is I have to prove myself because everybody’s watching me and if I get found out, I’m screwed. And the spotlight effect is that belief that we are literally in everybody’s spotlight.

[00:10:51] They’re all focused on us and what we’re doing all the time. And the reality is that everybody is also believing that about themselves. So they’re too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you. So if you dial it back to 80%, probably nobody will notice except you, but you have a more sustainable performance.

[00:11:07] Zach White: Really, really powerful. Jimmy, where do you believe that spotlight effect pattern comes from? Why do we so intrinsically believe that? Is that something hardwired? Or is that something we’re conditioned to in our culture? Or where do you think that? That belongs,

[00:11:24] Jimmy Burroughes: so if we go back to the developmental biology side of it, then it’s essentially the the sense of ego that we each possess. So when you’re about four years old, you develop your sense of self. When you’re about seven to eight years old, you develop the sense of other people’s perception of yourself.

[00:11:43] So we certainly become aware that other people. are aware of us. And from that point forward, if we have imposter syndrome, which is often again generated early in childhood through a trauma, or an experience that we have, then that kicks into the, everybody’s watching me all the time and I have to be good enough all the time.

[00:12:02] Equally, there are cultures in the world where this is far more prevalent, Western culture being one of them. so the American culture is, is a big one. UK, Australia, New Zealand, what I would say, Traditional, Western culture model is egocentric, whereas the Asian model, for example, is far more collective centric.

[00:12:23] So they don’t have that same battle at this, to the same extent. 

[00:12:27] Zach White: I, I appreciate that perspective and I agree. The other piece I would add to that, I’d be curious if you would say it the same way, or maybe you have some different perspective here, this developmental, schema that we build and you’ve mentioned about these fear responses that become.

[00:12:43] patterns and we fall into usually one dominant fear response. But there’s that point in our childhood where we’re being ourselves and apparent usually, but it could be others in our environment. Tell us not to be that way. And we pick up this Idea that it’s either not safe or not okay to be me, that I need to be something else in order to be loved or accepted or have my needs met in the world.

[00:13:09] You know, sex, stop doing that. Zach, stop misbehaving. Zach, sit still, you know, or you come asking for something. You don’t get it. And you build these responses to survive. And you have no idea And most of the time our parents have no intention of creating it. They’re just doing the best they can. And then we bring that into our adult life.

[00:13:30] and here we end up with these really deep rooted mindsets that hold us back from our own performance, because somewhere in the shadows is this belief that it’s not safe or not okay to step into fill in the blank part of myself and Where did you actually then hit that point of awareness in your own journey?

[00:13:52] It’s like you’re, you’re sitting on the edge of the bed realizing I cannot continue on this path. I know I’m going to crash and burn hard if I don’t stop this and you did. That’s awesome. But when did you actually fall in love with understanding why all this is happening and how it’s happening and become author of this incredible book?

[00:14:07] Like what was that journey to your own awakening around all this? Like, how did you get 

[00:14:12] Jimmy Burroughes: into it? I am a learner. so if we do the Gallup StrengthsFinder or Clifton StrengthsFinder, Learner comes out as my number one strength. Yeah. So I’ve always been a, consumer of knowledge. And if you ask my parents to their chagrin, I used to be the child who was annoyingly good at asking why, incessantly.

[00:14:34] And I think that same pattern, when you go through an experience like I went through, which was Essentially the destruction of my entire life, lost a relationship, lost all my possessions, ended up emigrating, really was the sort of a real melting point, or meeting point of, challenges and realizations.

[00:14:55] And I just thought to myself, Jimmy, how, how did you end up here? Like what on earth had to happen that you have basically burned your life to the ground? in your late thirties. What is going on? And so for probably six or eight weeks, just sat with that and took a lot of time and space to really reflect on what was my accountability in it?

[00:15:15] Because surprise, surprise, you are the consistent factor in all of the experiences that you go through. So what was my responsibility there? what were some of the causes that led me to it? And I started to realize that that I really had lost sight of why I was doing the things I was doing, my goal had been to be the CEO of an organization, probably about a year and a half into the GM role, I realized that I didn’t want to be a CEO anymore because it was a thankless task and it was really difficult and I wasn’t actually going to have the impact that I thought I could have, I was just going to be, dealing in politics and trying to be the bridge between a board and an executive team.

[00:15:52] So that purpose for me had disappeared. I realized Do you 

[00:15:55] Zach White: still agree with that perspective about the CEO role today? Or is that something that you believed then that just changed your, 

[00:16:02] Jimmy Burroughes: your mind? I think I believed it then, but it was enough. To make me really want to hone in on the importance and the power of purpose.

[00:16:09] And it ended up being chapter one of the book. 

[00:16:11] Zach White: yeah. The totally agree with the power of purpose piece. I’m just curious because I get a lot of engineers who have this question. Do I want to be a CEO? And it’s really interesting. The beliefs we create around that and sometimes the perspective. And so I was just curious if that’s still.

[00:16:27] You’re, understanding of that role. And if, if you would augment what you think is true about that today. 

[00:16:33] Jimmy Burroughes: Well, you know what? I would a hundred percent because now I’m the CEO of an organization, um, to help organization CEOs. So, um, 

[00:16:41] Zach White: we could come back to that later. I 

[00:16:42] Jimmy Burroughes: just was curious. No, and it’s a great, it’s a great insight.

[00:16:45] Um, I think. If somebody’s saying, do I want to go and be a CEO or do I want to stay on the track I’m on or go somewhere else, my immediate response would be, what’s the purpose of you being a CEO? What do you think, what are you going to do with that when you’ve got it? and for me it was, well, I can impact and help more people.

[00:17:02] Well, do you know what, today I impact and help far more people than the CEO of one organization. I can help multiple organizations. So for me, it was good. second realization was that I had lost my happiness. I’d lost the joy and I was always running in that fight or flight. we’re 20 million down, Jimmy.

[00:17:18] Can you fix it? we’re going to have to restructure, Jimmy. Can you take care of that? This project’s behind Jimmy. can you organize it? So it was always what I would call the scarcity response versus the abundant. There’s always enough to go around. We’re all good. I lost my connection to my tribe.

[00:17:33] all the people that I trusted and lent on were leaving, were going, were essentially abandoning me in inverted commas. So I was alone and isolated and that was scary. I wasn’t allowed to explore to my full extent. you have to make a magic happen, but don’t be too risky. How can I possibly do that?

[00:17:52] One of the core causes of burnout is my inability to affect results based on the challenges I’ve been set. So that causes this frustration cycle. And the final one was I had absolutely no time off. And I was working 20 hours a day. I didn’t take a day off in two and a half years. Even when I was in the UK visiting family, I was working through the night.

[00:18:14] to be online in New Zealand and then spending time with family in the day. So I never took time out to recharge and refresh. And it was that combination of things that I realized afterwards, like, what are all the things that were frustrating me, annoying me, causing me grief? It was those five things. And then when I started going on this kind of, okay, well, how do I rebuild myself?

[00:18:35] It was going and talking to other people on the road. I was traveling in Latin America at this point with a digital nomad organization, and they would move us from city to city each month. And I would meet this fresh new group of entrepreneurs, CEOs, solopreneurs, and a lot of them had burned out. And I would say, well, tell me, tell me a story.

[00:18:53] What was going on for you? And these same things kept on coming up again and again and again. And I’m a pattern spotter. and I saw the patterns and I said, Do you want some help with that? This is what I’ve learned initially. It was just, here’s what I’ve learned. And it was like, would you like some help with that?

[00:19:08] And then a lot of those people went back to their home countries and they said, could you come in and talk to our people about that thing we spoke about six months ago? And that was the genesis of the business. 

[00:19:19] Zach White: you had asked me independently of what you just shared, Zach, what are the top things that would lead to a.

[00:19:26] Absolute downward burnout spiral of depression and despair. And what I describe is like grinding my face along rock bottom. What I went through my own burnout experience and like, if you’ve got a burn burning my life down in my early years, the first three things I would have said are inside. The ones that you mentioned, I would have said total lack of purpose or connection to purpose in any way, the lost happiness or no joy, no, no sense of just the pleasure of life.

[00:19:57] You’re not happy about anything going on. And then I would have said, the no community, isolation, feeling alone, feeling no sense of belonging, no sense of what I call the life raft. people who are rowing the same direction as you and this ocean that we’re all navigating. it’s just interesting.

[00:20:13] when you start to zoom out and see these patterns, like it’s easy as we’re having this conscious conversation, just chatting to talk about these things. And I imagine any engineering leader we might pull into this chat would agree. So yeah, that all makes perfect sense. And yet we get into these places where all these things start to become true about our environment and our experience in our day to day life.

[00:20:37] And it doesn’t actually cause us to pause and change a lot of times until it gets really bad. And so tell me from your perspective, now that you’ve understood the causes, you understand and have helped and coached and trained a lot of people in how to mitigate those risks. But why do we get so far in the hole before we actually realize that we’re digging it even deeper and deeper, Jimmy?

[00:21:01] What’s your wisdom around this part of human nature that wants to bury ourselves in burnout? 

[00:21:08] Jimmy Burroughes: it’s so interesting. we use the, the plug hole analogy. you know, when you pull a plug out in the bath and the whirlpool starts and on the outside of the whirlpool, it’s not too bad. There’s not too much current, there’s not too much pull.

[00:21:21] and so it’s easy to swim out. And if you just take a bit of a rest, you could probably swim out of that whirlpool. When you get closer and closer to the bottom of the plug. the water is going faster. The pool is more and burnouts kind of similar. You know, when we’re circulating around the edge of being burned out, we almost don’t notice it.

[00:21:40]  the simple way to think of burnout is, it’s kind of like living in your overdraft. so initially, you know, you go a few dollars overdrawn, but when payday comes, you can pay it back. And then you go a few more dollars overdrawn. And when payday comes, you can pay it back. But each month you just go slightly deeper into the overdraft and the payday gets you back to zero until one day.

[00:22:00] It doesn’t. and that’s when you’re in the bottom of the plug hole. And so people are always working on the basis of, I’ve got a mortgage to pay. I’ve got a family to feed. I’ve got friends to look after. I’ve got a standard of living to keep up and keep up appearances on. I’ve got a career trajectory, so I’m just going to keep going into my energy overdraft.

[00:22:20] I’m going to keep pushing. And I know I’m tired, but it’s a loss of face to admit that I’m struggling. So I’m just going to keep letting that plug hole thing do its thing. And then eventually, Oh crap, I can’t swim out of this. I’m in real trouble. And the work we do is spotting the plug hole early and saying, well, let’s keep you paying your mortgage.

[00:22:44] Let’s keep you feeding your family. Let’s keep you in work. So you don’t have to take the sabbatical or the time off or the stress leave. Let’s fix it. By changing some of your habits and choices that you’re making and the beliefs that you have around those habits. the reason we do it to ourselves is because we have a reason to keep going.

[00:23:00] for whatever your reason is, whatever your personal reason is to keep going, it’s acknowledging that we want to keep you going, but there’s some things you’re doing that are hurting you. 

[00:23:09] Zach White: Yeah. So coming back to your book and I’ve got a special offer for anybody listening around the book, we’ll go get to at the end.

[00:23:18] So stick around. I’ll share that, but Beat burnout, ignite performance. First, would you be willing to share, and I know there’s so much to dig into in the book, but are there one or two simple actions that you say across the board, anybody who’s feeling the pull of that whirlpool sucking you down, you got to get these couple things in place if you have any chance of plugging the hole.

[00:23:41] What would be the first couple pieces you’d suggest that are simple, actionable insights around? burnout. 

[00:23:48] Jimmy Burroughes: the simple actionable insights that Zach’s talking to are actually called action tips. And they’re in the end of each section in each chapter, which is like the recipe for success.

[00:23:57] So let’s choose two. Let’s choose one that I can do with my team. And let’s choose one that I can do for me because At the end of the day, we want to help people. the biggest single shift we see in a team’s performance is when they get aligned on purpose. let me tell you a story about this because it’s fascinating.

[00:24:14] We were working with a sales team in a pharma business pharmaceutical business. we said to the sales team, are we all clear on the purpose of this team? Why does this team exist? And they all vigorously nodded their heads and said, yeah, of course, of course, and I said, okay, cool.

[00:24:30] Grab a post it note, write down what’s the purpose of this team? Why does the team exist? And we went around the room and, I’ll paraphrase, but it was like to make as much profit as possible, to drive revenue, to make sure we’re connecting, our customers with our product, to ensure that the warehouse is empty at the end of every month, to build relationships.

[00:24:50] And I said, fantastic. And none of these are wrong, but none of them are aligned. And it’s like when you start a hike, if you go for a hike with your buddy, and you walk shoulder to shoulder, if you go a kilometre, then you’ll be in the same place together. But if you just turn outwards, just half a degree from each other and walk a kilometer, by the time you get to a kilometer down the track, you’ll be about 50 to 60 meters apart.

[00:25:16] And this is what happens in businesses where we’re clear on the purpose, but we’re not really, because what we have is decision making. Prioritization and resource allocation are all being driven by my belief of the purpose of this team. So let’s say, for example, I’m all about profit, so I’m going to be hustling to sell as much as I can and make as much profit as I can.

[00:25:41] But if you’re all about relationships, then sometimes you might give up the sale. to keep the relationship going, whereas the profit person might burn the relationship. The supply chain person saying our job is to make sure that we get all the product out the door could actually be affecting other customers because they’re taking product away that could have gone to that customer because they’re so hustling to get it out the door.

[00:26:01] Maybe to get it out the door, they’re running an incentive or a discount which affects the profit person. So you get these then tensions in the team and the analogy again is if we put eight people in a boat and we tell them all to row in different directions, on different timings, that’s what your team looks like.

[00:26:17] Yes. So what we want to do is get the team very, very clear on what does this team stand for. What’s our purpose? Why do we exist? And therefore, once we’re all aligned and agree on that, we make collective decisions, collective prioritization, and collective, resource allocation, choices based on being aligned.

[00:26:37] So that’s probably the team one that is most important, is just to sit down and do that activity, do that, what does everybody think? Then let’s create one version of it and all, buy into that. 

[00:26:47] Zach White: Before you share the individual, I’ll just add to that these types of exercises, which I love the way you framed that.

[00:26:54] And this, the simplicity of let’s get clear on what you currently think it is and what would it look like if we all rode the same direction the thing I hear a lot, Jimmy, from people, and it’s an excuse, it’s a justification for maybe why we’ve never done this before is, well, it’s not really my job to decide what.

[00:27:10] The purpose is of this team, because I’m just the manager level person. that’s really the director should be doing that. And then the director is saying, well, I don’t have the soul autonomy to decide what the purpose is. the VP of engineering needs to decide what that is. And we’re all kind of looking.

[00:27:27] up at someone else to tell us what it needs to be. And we’re unsure. Well, does every engineering department need to have the exact same purpose? And where does that come from? And what if we disagree? And like, well, hold on, hold on, let’s not boil the ocean here. Let’s just work on. Your space, your domain, your team, your scope, get clear on that.

[00:27:48] And then, you know what, if, if your director wants to provide some different guidance and direction, so be it, but I’d rather make the wrong decision, but start rowing hard one direction, then have no decision and keep rowing eight different directions. And I’m, I’m curious if you’d say the same or how would you approach that kind of mentality of, well, that’s not my place to make these kinds CEO doesn’t walk in here and tell us what the purpose is, then.

[00:28:13] We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. 

[00:28:15] Jimmy Burroughes: how many, how many of us have done that at some point in our careers, you know, we look up for guidance. There’s two ways I’d respond to it. Number one, leadership is a mindset, not a job title. So you are perfectly equipped if you’re the mid level manager or you’re the engineering manager or wherever you sit in the organization, you’re perfectly equipped to have the mindset of a leader and say, I want to control my environment.

[00:28:38] as much as I reasonably can to create the calm and the momentum that our team is capable of creating and reduce some of that ambiguity that people operating. Ambiguity creates scarcity and scarcity creates fear. So I’m going to reduce some of that by leading. The other one I mentioned earlier, we are the the single consistent factor in all the experiences we experience.

[00:29:01] And so if you’re the one who’s constantly frustrated because everything is not clear and you’re just waiting for somebody else to give you the answer and, oh, my God, that’s not my job, then step up, own up and take care of it. Because you’re the consistent factor in being unsure and being uncertain and being disengaged and being stressed out.

[00:29:20] So do you want to be a victim of the situation or do you want to be a leader in the situation? And I always prefer to be the one who’s creating my environment around me as much as humanly possible. Not being victim to the decisions of others. 

[00:29:34] Zach White: Yeah, I can safely say, Jimmy, we’ve got 140 whatever episodes of this podcast and no, no one yet has said being a victim is the way to success and happiness.

[00:29:43] Jimmy Burroughes: So I think it’s strange, isn’t it? But how many of us actually believe that, but then do the opposite? And that’s the challenge. Right? So it’s the knowing doing piece. 

[00:29:51] Zach White: Amen. Yep. All right. What about on the individual side? If I’m the one. Burning out. I need to deal with me taking responsibility, not being a victim.

[00:29:58] What’s that first action you’d suggest? 

[00:30:00] Jimmy Burroughes: there’s another story here that I can share with you. we were working with a large American retail business and we were brought in to help transition leaders into executive roles, so stepping up from being a GM or a director or a VP into an SVP role, and these were significant.

[00:30:19] roles. So average number of reports was around three and a half thousand, four thousand people. So pretty sizable organization. And these people were getting three to four thousand emails a day. They were working long hours, they were stressed out, they were busy people, and they were stepping into these even more senior, even more demanding roles.

[00:30:37] And we set them a challenge. We said to them, at some point during each week, we want you to leave your phone, leave your laptop, have your EA block out, your diary, and we want you to go and sit somewhere else with a notebook. And just Reflect and notice and try and switch off for a minimum of 20, ideally 45 minutes and see what happens.

[00:31:04] And as we checked back in with them through the course of the year, we were seeking their feedback. And as you can imagine, you’re saying to these people, hey, you work an 18 hour day, but just go and sit under the trees for 45 minutes or go and sit in a cafe for 20 minutes and see what happens. And some of them are like, yeah, great, whatever.

[00:31:20] I’m not doing that. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time for that fluffy rubbish.  and we were like, well, give it a go if it and see if it works for you. If we fast forward now 12 months through the program, many of the people who had scoffed and said impossible didn’t make it through the transition.

[00:31:36] They didn’t make it to the end of the year because they kept going with their old habits of high delivery and they burned out. Or they failed because their decision quality was poor because they were the hamster on the wheel in operational delivery, not in a strategic senior leadership role. Some of them changed during the course of the year.

[00:31:55] the ones who changed started to talk like the ones who adopted it from the outset, which was, my God, this is actually quite useful. I’m seeing things I’d never seen before. I’m having realizations I hadn’t realized. And just taking those few minutes out helps me really think about what’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now.

[00:32:13] We then, we thought that was interesting, but we said, well, is there any validation here? Is this helping? So we asked the talent team to map the transition of all these executives onto a performance potential map. And what we saw was that those leaders who took the 20 to 45 minutes out were in the top percentiles on the talent and performance graphic that they had.

[00:32:34] The ones who had adopted halfway through the year or at some point during the year were. certainly medium to high performers and was seen as having greater potential and learning agility. The ones who scoffed were in the bottom quadrant. moral of the story, the Aesop’s fable here, or the Jimmy fable is the single biggest.

[00:32:53] change you can make in the downtime that you take is taking these micro breaks in the course of the week to really look at, what’s the most important thing I should be working on right now, planning for the week ahead. I can’t be everywhere. I have 3000 emails a day.

[00:33:08] Where am I going to put myself and my energy? Where am I going to delegate? how do I step off the hamster wheel? And it’s kind of, you know, we use the cliche of working on the business versus working in the business, but when you’re a senior leader, it’s working on yourself so you can run the business better.

[00:33:23] Zach White: So good. Anyone who’s worked with me in one of my programs knows we have a. A system around how we approach development that we call our playbook. And it includes these rhythms of action. when are we reflecting? When are we planning? When are we learning? Being very intentional to step away, unplug, get alone, have that journal and do that.

[00:33:41] And that weekly rhythm, tell every client I’ve ever had, if you get one rhythm, right, that weekly rhythm is the one to master. And I love this, 40 minutes. And if you’re too busy to do it. Then it’s even more important for you. That’s what I thought. The busier you are, the more important you should be.

[00:33:59] The more you think you don’t have time for this, the more important it is that you make it a priority. It’s so, so essential. And by the way, for anybody in the US, a diary is your calendar, in case you didn’t know that. I remember the first time someone from the UK and then Australia, you know, the Aussies always talk about their diary.

[00:34:16] And it’s like, wow, that’s really cool. You still have a diary. I don’t have it. I don’t do that anymore. Jimmy, this is so good. And we could go all day with these tips and actionable insights. And I do again, recommend everybody to go get a copy of your book. not even just for your own health and success and avoiding burnout for you, but thinking as a leader and really being able to coach and lead teams.

[00:34:38] Maybe to kind of land the plane in your own experience here, Jimmy, if there’s one message that’s mainstream or you see a lot around work life balance or this idea of burnout, you go scroll LinkedIn and there’s a million Zach White’s out there preaching burnout, sermons. What’s the thing for you that you think?

[00:34:59] Is the most misunderstood or it’s, it’s the thing that people are not getting right and they need to be careful or that message is maybe leading to some of the root causes of failure rather than success. Is there anything that you’re really passionate about where you just see that they’re getting it wrong?

[00:35:16] Jimmy Burroughes: It’s probably going to sound a little bit contentious and I don’t mean it to be insulting. I mean it to be a bit of a wake up call. but having, we’ve worked now with nearly 4, 000 leaders in various organizations, and the single biggest realization that we’re seeing is that the reason you’re burning out is because of you.

[00:35:37] And when I say because of you, it’s the habits and the choices that you are making, which leads you into that plug hole effect. It’s the conscious decision to just work a little bit longer. It’s the conscious decision to, to not be able to say no, to not be able to delegate or not want to delegate or not be, in a position to delegate.

[00:35:58] It’s the conscious decision to keep working in that company. You are the cause of your burnout. Your environment is always going to push you in that direction, but you get to choose how you live your life. And so. If you’re starting to struggle with this, if you’re feeling like you’re on the ledge or you’re starting to feel the suck of the whirlpool, it’s really important to start looking at some of the beliefs that are driving the behaviors and the choices you’re making, which are leading to the burnout feeling start to bubble up.

[00:36:25] I think we, at the moment, it’s really easy and the mainstream media is doing a great job of sensationalizing it, saying, oh, burnouts caused by poor leadership and bad organizations. And sure, I could go into a whole new podcast about that topic. But the reality is. We are the consistent factor in all the experiences we experienced.

[00:36:43] So we’re the ones that are leading ourselves there.

[00:36:48] Zach White: Super important. I totally agree with that. And it’s sure easier to blame a toxic culture or a bad boss or something else, Jimmy, but it’s not going to get you into the life of your dreams and a sustainable healing path from this. So if someone’s hearing this. They’re resonating with it. They want to get into your work and go deeper and they know it’s time to take action and put some of these tips into practice.

[00:37:12] Where can people find you, Jimmy, the book, uh, the best places to get connected and take this further if someone’s ready for that next step. 

[00:37:21] Jimmy Burroughes: you want to find the book, this week, actually, we’re launching on Amazon, so the book is now available both as an ebook and as a paperback copy.

[00:37:30] and it’ll get to you wherever you are in the world. equally, if you. have your appetite whetted, but you’re not sure you want to spend the money yet. You can go to my website, which is jimmyburrows. com. And there is a sample chapter that you can download and get access to chapter one, all about purpose.

[00:37:47] We give it away because we think purpose is crucial. so we were like, just get this into the hands of the world. Good, good. Also on jimmyburrows. com, you can find access to our podcast, the high performance leader, and a little bit of information about what we do. But realistically, if you’re interested and you’re feeling like that was something that resonated with you.

[00:38:04] I’m a conversation guy and I’m not a sales guy. I’m a conversation guy. And I like to nerd out with people about what’s going on in your world. And if we can help, of course we’re going to help. And if that works, let’s do some cool stuff. but equally, if you are more of a social media person, hit me up on LinkedIn.

[00:38:20] Uh, that’s the best place 

[00:38:21] Zach White: to find me. Amazing. So happy engineer. All of that will be linked up in the full show notes and go check it out right now. Feel free to hit pause and go look up Jimmy and I’ll do you one better if you’re hesitant on spending the money for the book. Like I said a moment ago in the podcast, the first.

[00:38:37] Three people who email me with Jimmy’s book, beat burnout, ignite performance in the subject line. Send me your address and I will mail you a copy of Jimmy’s book for free. The first three of you who reach out and do that. Cause I think it’s extremely important for you to get your hands on this material.

[00:38:54] So Jimmy, I can’t thank you enough for being here. And I’d love to hear your thoughts as we wrap up today. this is an amazing coach and leader yourself and great engineering. Has it in common that questions lead answers follow and we all want better answers in our life. We want that happy, fulfilling, successful life.

[00:39:13] We don’t want to experience burnout. So what would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with coming out of this conversation? 

[00:39:22] Jimmy Burroughes: one of the reasons that people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel cared about. And whether it’s, you my boss didn’t care about me. I don’t have anybody else who cares about me. I’m not connected or I’m feeling isolated. care has been consistently shown as the single biggest clincher in me deciding to leave my role.

[00:39:43] And it’s interesting, you know, I mentioned we’ve worked with four, nearly 5, 000 people now. And I asked most of their leaders that we work with, you care about your people? And I’ve only ever met two that have basically said they’re cannon fodder. everybody else is like, of course I care about my people.

[00:39:58] Of course I do. Um, I know I want the best for them and I’m a genuinely good person and I, I want to see them succeed. But then when you go and ask their people, they say. I don’t feel cared about, my boss doesn’t care about me, he just wants me to do the hard work. when we dial it back, we found it’s very like the love languages.

[00:40:15] And the love languages are, we tend to love how we want to be loved. Management and leadership is very similar. We tend to lead the way we want to be led. And so when you go into a conversation, you say, Oh, I’ve just done this for you. Or I’ve checked your work to make it even better for you, or Hey, I’m giving you a challenge.

[00:40:34] You haven’t cared about that individual. So the question that I would encourage happy engineers to lead with would be how can I help you to feel cared about? And if that’s too fluffy for you and it doesn’t sit well with you, then it’s, Hey, how could I lead you better? That’s going to help you feel like you can do your best work because.

[00:40:53] One of these pieces, then somebody’s going to say, well, do you know what? Actually, if you gave me more space or if you could help me more, that would help me feel cared about. I love 

[00:41:02] Zach White: this. How can I help you to feel cared about? Jimmy, this is amazing. Thank you again for your generosity today, sharing your wisdom, your lifetime of experience around this.

[00:41:14] Crucial topic. And honestly, I think the unspoken, uh, pandemic of burnout that is happening in, especially in engineering organizations. And, uh, I took away a ton. I know the happy engineer did too. So thank you so much. It’s been amazing. Thank you. No, it’s just 

[00:41:30] Jimmy Burroughes: a lot of fun and I really appreciate it.