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Wipeout Workaholism to Enjoy Your Career and Love Your Life

Creating a work culture that honors well-being is an investment in the people who work with you and promotes productivity, retention, engagement, and fulfillment.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins

Caroline Dowd-Higgins

Caroline Dowd-Higgins is passionate about unlocking the art of the possible in her work with individuals and organizations as a certified executive coach, a best-selling author, a dynamic speaker, and a sought-after consultant. Her new book, “Your CareerYour Career Advantage Advantage: Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life, ” empowers people to enjoy their careers and love their lives. Caroline hosts the award-winning podcast, Your Working Life with listeners in 34 countries. Her celebrated TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure is available on YouTube. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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:01 – Hugh Ballou Welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, where we work with leaders building synergy around the common vision. Your job is the vision. Other people do that work because you’re the leader. And our guest today Oh, we’re going to talk about this. Workaholics. Oh, wow. Caroline Dowd-Higgins is our guest. Caroline, tell people a little bit about yourself and why you do this important work.

0:38 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Hugh, thank you for having me. What a delight to be with you and your global audience today. So I’ll give you a nutshell view of my career over the past 20 years. I’ve held leadership roles in nonprofit and higher education organizations. I’ve also had an active side hustle as an executive coach, an organizational development trainer, a speaker, and an author. And if I could boil it down to one thing, I would tell you that my passion is helping people make their work lives better so they can honor their personal lives as well.

1:16 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins one point that I want to raise, in 2023, I took my side hustle full-time. So I am now a full-time entrepreneur, And I’m also pleased that I am a certified women-owned business. So delighted to be with you today.

1:31 – Hugh Ballou Well, we are certainly delighted that you’re here, that you are here with us. You and I talked a few minutes before we went live here, and I was sharing with you, that I see very often way too often people get burned out because leaders are overfunctioning there. We’re doing things that other people can do. So. You have some statistics about burnout and how over-functioning impacts the culture places where we lead.

2:05 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins I do. And Hugh, that’s a great point of departure. So let me go back and give a little definition of burnout. Burnout can be exhaustion and overwhelm which decreases productivity. It decreases engagement and even accuracy. So not only does our work product fail or lower in efficacy, but Our health can really dive and it can be incredibly detrimental to our mental and physical health. And this audience needs to understand that the World Health Organization has defined burnout as a workplace issue.

2:46 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins And not a self-care issue. So I get it. We all need a good night’s sleep. We need to eat well, have our broccoli and exercise. But that’s not what this is about. This is about overwhelm at work. And there’s an interesting study that was just launched with data from 2023, the most recent year, that said burnout at a global level is over 86%. And I think that’s staggering.

3:15 – Hugh Ballou That’s a crisis.

3:17 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Yeah, I agree.

3:19 – Hugh Ballou And, you know, leaders, many of us are not aware of the consequences of our actions, even though it’s well-meaning actions. The consequences are not what we expect and we blame other people. So we’re talking about creating a healthy work culture, aren’t we?

3:38 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins We are, and I would also add, Hugh, a sustainable work culture, because there’s a buzz out there about creating positive cultures, not only to attract talent to organizations but to retain talent. You know, this is still a very hot job market and people have choices, but the key word there is sustainable. This is not a one-and-done, and it’s not let’s make a great culture. We need to live a great culture.

4:08 – Hugh Ballou And as a career-long conductor of choirs and orchestras, I know that the culture is a reflection of the leader. If I want different results, I need to change. So let’s go back to the work culture, if you have a culture that honors well-being, why is that essential for an organization?

4:28 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins So it involves several things that may not be intuitive to our listening audience. The number one thing is psychological safety, a place where people feel safe to share their ideas without repercussion, especially if they differ from the leaders or others in the organization, a place where they are safe to make a mistake and learn and recover from those mistakes. We’re human. We all make mistakes. None of us try to make mistakes. It’s not intentional, but these things happen.

5:02 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins And when there is a culture that is punitive, it dampens creativity, it dampens innovation, and it certainly impacts morale. So I would say that a safe space of psychological safety is incredibly important in a healthy work environment.

5:21 – Hugh Ballou Many times I see that we as leaders isolate ourselves from those in our organization, and we don’t really have a clear picture of what’s really going on in the culture. Any thoughts on how to connect with the culture? Sometimes people don’t think they have permission to talk to the leader about things. And we, I don’t know, it’s how we set that up, but we’re not getting the feedback that we need. Is that right?

5:47 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins You’re spot on, Hugh. And I would tell you that I believe this is part of the evolution of leadership. So again, looking back historically, the military created this idea of command and control, which was essential and frankly, life or death on the battlefield in combat. Happily, some leaders have evolved. And the present-day leader, when we look at 2024, some of the characteristics that we celebrate for leaders Include active listening to your point. Do I have my finger on the pulse of my direct reports and the people that I lead?

6:24 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Do I understand what’s happening in their life and career? I’ll add empathy to that list. I would also add a sense of creating a space where people can be authentic and share what’s happening in life and career. And be honest and open and transparent. And I think the biggest change for leaders is checking their ego at the door and being someone willing to be vulnerable and real, not only with their colleagues but with other stakeholders. Because I truly believe that being a vulnerable and authentic leader still means you can be an extraordinarily impactful and effective leader But it humanizes and helps people become more relatable, not only to their constituents but those they serve.

7:14 – Hugh Ballou Value the individual. Leadership in my world is based on relationships. And you just nailed that in what you just talked about in so many words. So the workers market has created choices for professionals. How should savvy professionals prepare for career advancement?

7:33 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Yeah, this is a fascinating time in history. And this is not only an American phenomenon, this is a global phenomenon, Hugh. So the job market is hot. Now, I get it. It was on fire as we navigated through the pandemic journey. And it’s lessened just a tad, but it’s still very much a workers’ market. And what that means is people have options. So they’re less likely to stick around and suffer through a very difficult boss or a bad situation or a role that doesn’t honor them and play to their strengths.

8:05 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins And we’re seeing more and more, especially with our younger professionals in Generation Z and also our millennials, Gen Y, that they’re leaving because they don’t have a loyalty to an organization. They want to work in a place that honors their values. So smart and savvy organizations are keeping that in mind. And I’ll add one more point. Retention is a huge problem right now. Because of the workers market, people are leaving if the work environment is not a good fit.

8:42 – Hugh Ballou I have seen that people don’t leave an organization, they leave a leader.

8:48 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins You got it. Yeah, yeah. May I share a little bit about that? Yeah, that phrase is evergreen, that has been around for a long time. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. And I have a little catchphrase that I created that I shared in a TEDx talk that I did years ago, that says the suckiness of a work environment is real, and pardon me for that term. But suffering is optional. So, let me also set up if you’re being harassed, or if illegal and egregious things are happening, get out fast.

9:26 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins But often our tolerance for bad leaders or even difficult colleagues is high. Not anymore. People are saying, I don’t need to suffer. I can find a place that is a better fit, and that honors me as a person. And I truly believe that that’s a good thing because it’s helping poor leaders take a look in the mirror and address their behavior. We need to be kind to people. We need to be compassionate. We need to listen.

9:57 – Hugh Ballou We need to listen. Another very underutilized listening scale. Just to clarify for our audience, when we suck at leadership, it’s halfway to success. So it gives you a whole new context of that. I stole that from another of your CDY. I’ll pass it on. So we set up the suckiness by our performance. Yes, absolutely. And so, yeah, we look at the, so those people that are burned out or leaving the profession, especially not private leaders, 1 out of 10 clergy before the pandemic made it to retirement.

10:34 – Hugh Ballou And those figures have not gotten any better. So, there’s a large percentage who haven’t left that are looking at the exit door. But haven’t found a place that can pay them the same money or whatever conditions to make them want to leave. But, you know, the grass is not always greener on the other side. So maybe there’s another way to thrive where you are. So talk about that a little bit.

11:01 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins I’m grateful that you brought this up. Often we’re wooed by a job description that has a stellar salary a very intriguing job description or even a title that can be appealing. And that’s fine. One needs to do their due diligence and look at that. But often the workplace drama, the conflict, and this is where my experience as an executive coach comes in, is a communication gap. So perhaps I’m not communicating appropriately with my leader so I would encourage everybody out there who’s bucking heads with the leader or a difficult colleague.

11:41 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins To have a safe space conversation, learn what’s the best way that you communicate. How do I get the best of you? How do you get the best of me? You get the worst of me when all of these communication questions are rarely spoken because we’re so busy and we’re on that fast-paced treadmill. And often it boils down to how do we play together in that sandbox and learn how to honor our differences and also celebrate our weaknesses.

12:12 – Hugh Ballou When I travel, I hear lots of leaders talking about their boss and that there’s no communication, no open line to talk. I hear about non-profit leaders. Talking about their relationship with their boards and that the boards expect everything at a minimum salary. So how do you have those different start those difficult conversations with maybe somebody that you might think is unwilling to have those conversations?

12:37 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins I want to back up a little bit because you said something so poignant and I’ve been in the nonprofit space for well over 20 years presenting. It’s a passion. We’ve reached this arena because we’re committed to helping people. And I know that is also deeply part of serving in the clergy and in houses of worship. And often those professionals experience burnout because of compassion or empathy fatigue. We’re constantly helping and serving others. We don’t always prioritize our needs.

13:09 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins But back to your question about how do we start that conversation, often the communication is so poor that people don’t have eye-to-eye contact. You and I are using technology right now. We can see each other even though we’re on a video screen. So I would say whether you have the luxury of in-person communication carve out that space to get to know each other. So it’s not a business meeting where you’re talking about tactics and strategy and certain things, and you’re listening and you’re giving space to really learn.

13:46 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins How can I help you? How can you support me? What do you need to do your best work? As a leader, one of the most important questions that I always ask my direct reports or those that I’m coaching How can I empower you to do your best work? Now, I want to say that again, because I’m not doing that person’s work. How can I empower you to do your best work?

14:15 – Hugh Ballou So those of you who are leaders listening to this, I don’t care if you’re a corporate leader, there’s a lot of corporate leaders that sit on boards, clergy, nonprofit leaders, local charity, educators in a university or whatever. How can you use these tools to not be that leader that’s difficult? How can you branch out of where you are? And so that eyeball to eyeball, ear to ear, listen with your eyes, listen with your ears, And, you know, Carolyn, as I was studying my coaching methodology, silence after someone talks is a confirmation you’ve listened.

14:54 – Hugh Ballou Is that right?

14:56 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Absolutely. And I wanted to honor the power of the pause, Hugh. We’re in such a sensory overload environment with instant messages and text messages. We almost have a Pavlovian response when we hear the ding of a new email come in. And the beauty of silence, and you and I are both musicians and we call that a rest in music, silence is magic. That’s where the anticipation happens and the audience is on the edge of their seats and the panelists and the singers are breathing in the beautiful music.

15:28 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins We can learn a lot from that and bring it to our career space as well.

15:34 – Hugh Ballou And the rest is not the absence of sound. It’s a punctuation.

15:40 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Brilliant.

15:43 – Hugh Ballou It validates what’s happened and it’s a setup for the next place and it’s a time to think. That’s great. That’s great. You’ve just given us so many tools. If you’re just coming by, watching us online, this is The Nonprofit Exchange, Hugh Ballew. I’m interviewing Caroline Dowd-Higgins, who’s given us many, many tips that we can put to work right away. You can find this interview at the nonprofit exchange org you’ll find this and you’ll find 375 others.

16:19 – Hugh Ballou This one’s at the top of the pile and it’s very, very relevant to today’s world. I’m introduced sometimes speaking as an expert in leadership, and I said, no, I’m a student of leadership, which I am, but I’m also an expert because, at 77, I’ve been there long enough to make all the mistakes. So learning from those, and then sometime after an unfortunate work experience, somebody gave me John Maxwell’s book, Failing Forward. So talk about that and how that’s helpful.

16:50 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins I love the concept of failing forward and what a great setup with Don’s iconic book. You know, what’s so important about that concept, it’s not so much the mistakes that we make, we all make mistakes, that’s part of being human. It’s how do we recover and how are we resilient on the other end? And how do we reframe a failure or a mistake as a learning opportunity, a teachable moment? And the concept of failing forward originated in the tech sector. So it was very famous and still is in Silicon Valley, for example.

17:27 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins And I’ll give you an example about why I cited technology. When an investor is considering investing in a startup organization, they don’t want an organization that’s just been around for a few weeks. They want to know how many times have you failed and how did you recover? How do you navigate through difficult things? And we can learn a lot about that. I think some of my greatest successes happened because I could synthesize my failures and power through them. So relevant to leaders, Hugh, create a culture that empowers failing forward.

18:03 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins It sparks creativity and innovation, and it’s an exciting opportunity to try new things.

18:12 – Hugh Ballou This is a place that would occur to me where leaders are coaches. Now, I see also this over-functioning, it shows up as micromanaging rather than mentoring, which are very different concepts. But coaching is a different concept where you’re empowering people. Mentoring is helping people with the subject matter. Coaching is helping them build their own competence. So we are we’re fundamentally coaches. So learning to listen and learning to empower others. That’s such a key part of leadership, isn’t it?

18:51 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Absolutely. And I’m thrilled that you mentioned that because there’s a new paradigm shift with leaders and coaching leaders are highly desirable, not only because they’re empowering the individual, as you just referenced, but they’re encouraging them with space with silence, with a culture that promotes failing forward to try new things, but they’re also introducing probing questions. So it’s not about me telling someone what to do, but asking questions because I know the idea is already in their head.

19:24 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins So how do I entice them to get it out? And that is, in my belief, true empowerment. It’s not about directive. It’s about listening and giving the space for someone else to come up with that wonderful idea or that solution on their own.

19:42 – Hugh Ballou That’s a great mini-lesson right there, folks. You’ll find the transcript for today’s interview on the website when you go to So we hear people talk about emotional intelligence and we hear people, you and I both represent a different Manner, different style of leadership than the autocratic style. Do what I say. We empower people around a vision and power people to raise the bar on their own functioning. So talk about how people can hone their skills, both with emotional intelligence and embracing a new style of leadership, which is very compatible in today’s culture.

20:25 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Absolutely. Emotional intelligence isn’t new, but it’s certainly a hot topic. And again, one of the core tenets is active listening. And Hugh, I believe you and I are on the same page here. We’ve both been in situations, as I’m sure this audience has as well, where you’re listening with one ear, but maybe you’re multitasking or you’re doing something else. Maybe it’s even a scenario at home. And you’re listening to a partner or spouse or a kid and sure, I got you, but you’re doing something else.

20:54 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins And I believe active listening is all about. Undivided attention and this is a real gift. So, emotional intelligence takes that to a new level. It’s also very important to think about empathy. And empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And an emotionally intelligent leader is going to learn about the holistic person, not only the work colleague. So those are two examples. Something else that I wanted to share, and I’ll honor the initiator of this research, Susan David, who has an extraordinary TED Talk, About emotional agility and a book of the same name.

21:39 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins I’ve learned so much from her because the emotionally intelligent leader. Allows us to express those emotions. We don’t always come to work with our best day. Things happen. The dog gets loose before, you know, before you’re headed out the door and you’ve got to chase it around the block. At least that’s what happens in my house. Or something happened, right? You got bad news from a family member and a phone call right it’s about honoring those emotions and giving space so people can process that and then bring their full selves to work.

22:17 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Because if you try to stifle that, you know that that person is not going to have a productive day and they need a space to be able to honor that emotional agility.

22:29 – Hugh Ballou Whoa. Another good tip. A lot of good, a lot of good tips today. So I hope you’re writing this down folks. Um, and then, We’ve talked, you’ve talked about safety in the workplace, psychological safety. Speak a little bit about that and the importance of that in the workplace.

22:46 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins No, it’s fascinating to you because there’s a lot of attention right now on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And we’re even seeing that acronym change order in the initials. And now inclusion is often the lead word. And that goes back to psychological safety. If I’m in a team meeting or a staff meeting and somebody brings up an idea that I fundamentally disagree with, or I have other colors to add to that beautiful idea, if I don’t feel safe and confident adding my voice and having a point of view, then that beautiful idea stays inside my brain and isn’t shared with anyone.

23:28 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins So a space of psychological safety, excuse me, empowers people to share ideas and it promotes cognitive diversity, which is really important. So it’s the space to be able to disagree and add a different idea or expand on an idea that has been presented. I can’t tell you how many teams that I’ve worked with where you can just see the crossed arms and the closed body language You know people are processing, but they don’t feel comfortable sharing what they’re thinking out loud.

24:05 – Hugh Ballou Whoa, and I’m gonna talk about your website for a second. Now, people on the podcast can’t see your website, but we’ll talk about it, and give them the link. But when people go to No spaces, no dashes,.com, there’s a lot of good-looking stuff here, including a book, Your Career Advantage. So what will people find here?

24:35 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, that’s the mothership where all of my information is shared. I have a blog that I also write on LinkedIn and several other national media outlets. I have a podcast as well called Your Working Life. My newest book is called Your Career Advantage, Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life. And it is like having your executive coach in this book. It’s very tactical, very practical. So, for example, you had a bad day with your boss and communication didn’t happen.

25:12 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins There’s a chapter for that. Or maybe you’re experiencing imposter syndrome and you just don’t feel confident. Well, there’s a chapter for that as well. But I want this audience to also understand it’s not only about overcoming and tackling challenges. It’s about celebrating what’s good and honoring your life and career together and thinking about how you can design and create the work and the life that you want to lead.

25:41 – Hugh Ballou And there’s a contact button on that website so people can contact you as well. So, this has been so helpful so many soundbites, but so many substantial tactics and strategies and empowerment tools that people can put to work. We’ll talk about our community for a minute and then we’ll come back to you and ask you to. Give people a charge, a final thought before they leave. Center Vision Leadership Foundation has created a safe community for leaders to come and work together, peer-to-peer networking, and learning.

26:15 – Hugh Ballou We have lots and lots of experts in the community to share with you. It’s not just one facet of you need this, you need that. It’s a contiguous process of all the steps that you need to be successful. So, go to http://Nonprofit  and find out about our private community for you. It’s self-empowerment, it’s nurture, it’s peer-to-peer support, and it’s coaching. You get time with Hubeloo every week. Nonprofit Community Org, try it out. It’ll be the difference in your future.

26:49 – Hugh Ballou So, and you’ll find lessons like this there. So, Caroline, what do you want to leave people with today?

26:54 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins What an honor to be with you. I’ve learned so much from you and I’m deeply grateful for your work and I thank you for that. So what I’d like to leave this audience with is the notion that you can enjoy your career and love your life simultaneously. It need not be one or the other. And even if you are in the midst of exhaustion and overwhelm, I would encourage you to take some quiet time, enjoy that pause, and reflect on what’s meaningful and what you value so you can design a life and career that you truly want to live.

27:32 – Hugh Ballou Wise words. Thank you so much, Caroline, for being our guest today on the Nonprofit Exchange.

27:39 – Caroline Dowd-Higgins Thank you, Hugh. Thank you.

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