Finding the energy to lead

Jo Shortland shares ten easy-to-apply practices to boost your energy for work, life, as well as work and leadership and life.

Had it up to there? Running on empty?

Leadership, often romanticised as the pinnacle of professional success, comes with a unique set of challenges and burdens. I was recently talking with an executive leader, we’ll call him Greg (not his real name) who for years had been sacrificing a little family time here, a little self-care there, an evening here, a weekend there, to meet the needs of his busy role.

He found himself backed into a corner with mounting demands and nothing left in reserve.

Greg is an intelligent, self-aware, empathetic leader who simply didn’t see the erosion of all of the small waves lapping at the shore, until his foundations were teetering.

His story is a familiar one.

In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, burnout has become an all-too-familiar foe. A recent Deloitte survey revealed that almost 70 percent of executives are considering leaving their jobs for workplaces that care more for their well-being. 

Burnout is a pervasive issue that can have severe consequences for both individuals and organisations. Defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion often caused by prolonged periods of stress, burnout is an issue that plagues employees and employers alike. Being able to recognise the signs of burnout approaching and implement preventive measures is essential for leaders. It was starting to manifest in Greg as:

  • Fatigue, that wasn’t rectified by sleep.
  • Weakened immune system – he was picking up bugs and healing slowly.
  • Irritability and mood swings.
  • Brain fog and trouble concentrating and prioritising.
  • Getting stuck on minor details and missing the big picture.
  • Losing his spark.
  • Wanting to isolate more and more.
  • Tense neck and shoulders causing pain and sometimes headaches.


Enter oxytocin

Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” plays a significant role in social bonding, trust, and emotional regulation. While it’s not a direct stress hormone like cortisol, it can help lower stress levels in several ways by:

  • Reducing cortisol levels.
  • Promoting relaxation.
  • Reducing pain.
  • Improving emotional regulation.
  • Enhancing trust.
  • Contributing to stress resilience.


Greg and I discussed some simple, proven practices he could build into his day to start turning the tide:

  1. Start the day by sending a short email or having a conversation with someone telling them how much you appreciate them and why. 
  2. Start your team meetings with the wins of the week which involves each person sharing a win or two from the past week. A win is something they are happy about or proud of, and doesn’t need to be the completion of something or a big milestone. In fact, some of our smaller daily or weekly wins can have the most impact. I encourage the sharing of both personal and work wins.  
  3. Finish your team meetings by sharing what each person is grateful for.
  4. Book some of your in-person meetings as walking meetings. 
  5. Lay with your legs up the wall for five minutes at the start or end of your day. This impacts the vagas nerve, which can dampen down our stress response. 
  6. Invest in 2-5 minutes of breathwork, mindfulness or meditation. To extend this into work, at your next team meeting ask if anyone has a favourite app, or thing they have tried or do in this space. 
  7. Watch the sunrise or sunset and focus on remaining present, not on your phone, taking photos or thinking about your to-do list.
  8. Do some nature bathing. Spend some time in nature, this might be your garden, the river, beach, bush etc. 
  9. Have a warm bath, sauna or spa. Throw in some Epsom Salts for extra benefit!
  10. Hug a loved one, this includes our furry loved ones (pets) too.


It’s important to note that the effects of oxytocin on stress reduction can vary from person to person and may be influenced by individual differences and context. While oxytocin can have positive effects on stress, it is not a standalone solution for managing chronic or severe stress. Effective stress management typically involves a combination of strategies which may include seeking professional help when needed.

Our teams deserve great leadership, but our leaders also deserve to feel fulfilled and energised by their work. Don’t wait for external forces to put a spring in your step, take action now to boost your energy levels and watch your performance follow suit. 

If you’re feeling under the pump, try picking just two or three of the above activities and practice them regularly and stick with them before adding a new one.


Jo Shortland is a high performance executive and neuroleadership coach who works with local government leaders and teams. For more tips on leadership, high performance and boosting health and wellbeing go to 



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