I write here about you. 

After a day of coaching, learning with, consulting alongside four different C-suite leaders - I find myself pondering about each of your individual current realities, your grit, your desires, your struggles. 

How did you show up? What were your needs? Was I helpful? How else can I support you? I add here what I have learned from all of you both today and before.

You have transforming influence. You lead. But many of you find yourself in the responsible seat; you are the top dog; the buck stops in your office; you are the face of your organization in your C-suite role. To be an executive leader is an honor, but it is quite the load. I see the weight you carry. I feel for you. I celebrate you. I support you.

See if you find yourself in my descriptions. You are...

 L          LOOKING 

You are constantly scanning your environments. You are like one of those Sci-Fi light beams that look under every nook and cranny and behind every tree. You look mostly forward but assess divergent views on a myriad of subjects so you can moderate and influence any potential harm and opportunity to your organization. You read the room, assess the health of your leadership team, your staff, your board members, your donors.

You look ever forward. What does the data say? What do you need for success?

You yearn for vacation and find hope in knowing it is coming.

Your eyes are wide open. 

 E          EAGER 

You are eager to know the future. Not exactly excited because of the wear and tear of all the changes this last year and the energy taken each time in responding to new guidelines, remote working arrangements, altered activities.

You know you are not going back to the "normal." 

You have learned that "normal" was not good for everyone in the first place. You want more than an assumed DEI posture as an organization but wonder how to move everyone towards a lived-out commitment. 

You are not sure where to find time to reorganize performance assessments if a flexible workplace really becomes a thing in your organization. 

You are deathly sick of Zoom and yet realize it has afforded you new possibilities, some of which you want to continue. You are eager to know how next fall onward pans out.

You are hopeful but a little shell-shocked trying to stay nimble in not assuming what will be and yet somehow being prepared. 

 A          AGILE 

One of the leaders I work with in Canada is under their 4th lockdown. You quickly moved to last March’s first lockdown and were successful due to the adrenaline that comes with acute stress. Your team learned their way with virtual check in’s, remote work, and how to interact with clients and students over a screen. Last summer, you asked me to facilitate Zoom gatherings of school music directors, athletic directors, and guidance counselors, who wondered how in the world they might respond to the pandemic guidelines and still feel they were instructing.

We interacted with young mothers working as Agency Directors from home who did double duty as they kept their children on remote learning on Zoom. You worked on figuring out what open door policies looked like when you were on a computer, while responsible for the health and emotional well-being of hundreds of senior residents.

You did not just organize Plan B. You are now working off at least Plan D,  holding less fiercely to any plan knowing it will most likely need to change again, too.

You are discerning one year focus goals instead of five -year strategic plans. You are like an agile, fleet-footed soccer player, responding and reacting. 

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 D           DETERMINED 

I see your successes despite this past year’s difficulties.

A year ago, you could not imagine how the building program would progress. Now you have hosted a ground-breaking ceremony, complete with elementary students arrayed in plastic construction hats.

Your fundraising abilities felt shot to pieces without the face-to-face relationship nurturing options. But you and your team persevered. You hosted virtual donor galas and then figured out virtual graduation or drive through ceremonies. You figured out how to navigate the PPP funding.

You opened a new furniture plant out of state. You created that national board presentation that had you stymied. You had a new baby in the pandemic.

You never gave up or threw in the towel. Your grip on effort and commitment to your organization has been locked in. 

 E          EXHAUSTED 

Above all, every one of the executive leaders I have interacted with this past year has one connecting thread: they are all exhausted. 

Executive leadership comes with a weight regardless and leading through the pandemic has made your responsibility more like swimming through concrete.

Opportunities exist. You have been successful. You have joy. But you are so tired. The bandwidth available for one more decision, one more variable, one more scenario is just so taxing month after month. To say we are all emotionally inflamed is an understatement. 

You tell me you struggle for restful sleep. You enjoy your wine on the weekends. You find solace in walks in the woods, time with your goats, getaways on your motorcycle, cooking something new. But you need more. You need a break. 

You need some release from this constant being on the edge of what will happen if the second shoe drops. 



You are not a quitter. You are committed to your organization, your business, your school. You keep getting up repeatedly and trying to make this new normal work, to be better. Richard Boyatzis, author and professor of leadership development,  says that resilience is made up of hope, compassion, and mindfulness.

I see you have hope. You believe in your community that supports your organization. You believe in the individuals that surround you to keep working hard and staying committed to the mission. 

You have compassion. You have gone above and beyond in caring for your staff this past year. You suspended performance evaluations. You have led service campaigns to help others even while in the seat of a pandemic. 

But I do see you struggling to embrace mindfulness to build your ability to stay in the game. You feel guilty if you say you are unavailable or choose to work from home when you can go to the office now or take a day for yourself when everyone else is working. 

Your busyness is a threat. Stop and smell the roses.

You must to continue leading effectively. 

 S           SELF-CARE 

From my vantage point, this is your greatest need. You put yourself last too often. You have a servant's heart. You love and honestly believe in your organization. 

To lead effectively, you need to model to your employees that it is not self-indulgent to protect what you need to be whole. Check and make sure you are not falling into the Sacrifice Syndrome, which will derail your leadership influence. Check your response to the oft-repeated infrequently followed mantra of, put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

Do you honestly think you are an exception who doesn't need to prioritize self-care?

The hard reality is you are not.

Schedule mini-breaks at a minimum. Stand up. Walk outside. Have a walking meeting with one-two persons. Stop kicking the can down the road of when you will get serious about unplugged time. 

Determine to do what it takes to be more present with your loved ones, with yourself. Refuse to feel guilty about your emotional health.

Your team’s well-being is counting on you caring for yourself and then holding them accountable to do the same with your blessing. 

I applaud the many C-Suite leaders I know. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 The world needs you to continue leading. 

You must prioritize taking care of you. Please. 

You are looking, eager, agile, determined, exhausted, resilient, and in need of self-care. You have led through the last year that was unlike any other from the previous century. You are in your role for such a time as this. 

Allow us, certified coaches and process consultants, to help you and walk alongside you for your continued success. Your organization needs your eagle-eyed and passionate leadership. It is okay to ask for help to deepen and widen your tent poles of transforming influence.

I celebrate you today and in what is to come. 


Contact Dawn  to start a conversation of how Dawn or Design Group International colleagues can support your leadership. 

Dawn Y Graber MAEd l Senior Consultant l Executive Coach
Design Group International
Dawn Yoder Graber
Post by Dawn Yoder Graber
May 11, 2021
Coach to Rising Women Executives & Energizing Educator for your Team’s Targeted Learning Opportunities.