Welcome Back to Burn Out

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It’s another school year!

Time to take all of that energy you saved up over your summer break and focus it in productive ways. Maybe this year you’ll implement those programs you’ve had in the back of your mind. Maybe you’ll organize team bonding events or adopt the new software solution you researched over your vacation. Whatever you decide to do, it’s gonna be the best year ever!!

This is how the new academic year starts for most of us. We’re well-rested, focused, energized, giddy even with anticipation of what we can accomplish on behalf of the students in this brand new shiny year.

Then about six weeks into the school year, we unexpectedly get hit in the face with those old feelings creeping back in… the exhaustion, the frustration, the dreaded burnout. We swore this year it wouldn’t happen. We made sure to get a ton of massages on vacation. We slept in. Heck, some of us even took naps in hammocks!

So how is it that we can, so quickly, find ourselves going through the motions, looking at our calendars and counting down the days until Winter break?

The even bigger questions to ask are how will this burnout show up in your work, work output, and interaction with colleagues and students? Burnout changes how you approach your work. It’s a significant blind spot that affects everyone starting with you, the staff you manage and most of all, the student you serve.

Burnout is like a disease, and as with other diseases, there are signs and symptoms to watch out for.


  • Complete exhaustion. No matter how much sleep you get you are physically and emotional exhausted.
  • You have become a cynic and often negative and defensive.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Loss of enjoyment for the many aspects of your job.
  • Isolation

The Prescription for Burnout Relief

Burnout is caused by a lack of awareness about ourselves. What makes us tick, what motivates us, what do we need to feel excited?

The old saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well I have a new saying, “Asking yourself questions every day keeps the burnout away.”

The questions to consider?

  • How is the burnout affecting your well-being?
  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • What needs to change? What’s in your control?
  • Have you voiced that you are burnt out?
  • Have others noticed?
  • Are you being the higher education professional you want to be?

Tips for Keeping Burnout at Bay

  • Be honest with what you’re feeling – Ignoring your feelings will only make matters worse. You owe it to yourself, your staff, and all of the students counting on you to face the issues.
  • Seek assistance – Processing your feelings can be challenging and confusing. While you are 100% responsible for how you deal with them, you don’t have to go it alone. Get some help from a mentor or counselor who should be able to help you develop a coping plan moving forward.
  • Take action – If your doctor tells you to take a multivitamin and stop smoking in order to become healthier, you’re going to do it. Well, once you realize you have a mental and emotional issue (burnout) and you get a plan together to manage it, PUT THAT PLAN INTO ACTION.

Burnout happens. But you don’t have to let it completely shadow your academic life. Take the necessary steps, keep checking in with yourself, and get the support you need so that you can show up each day offering your best self.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Do You Have OK-Ray Vision?

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Throughout my career, I have had so many iterations and teams and, to be honest, not all have worked well together. Trust me, I wanted them to. I did everything but pull out my own eye teeth to get them to work sometimes, but many of them just… didn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t?

The truth is, even as a leader, I can’t force it to happen. Kind of like how you can’t force yourself to fall in love with someone, even though they look like “the one” on paper. The magic is either there or it isn’t.

While I can’t force teams to work well (or play nice) together, it is my responsibility to pay attention to what is going on and to listen and act appropriately. That, however, doesn’t mean I should believe I have superpowers that can fix people and situations.

I used to believe I had superpowers and could fix just about anything. I really believed if I gave a team my all… if I made sure everyone had proper training and opportunities to grow, I could change negative attitudes and build up deficiencies and skillsets.

Sometimes all of this “fixing” and hoping would work, but more often than not, the whole situation would blow up in my face like a bag of cartoon dynamite.

Here’s a great example:

I had an employee who handed in her resignation and I refused to accept the fact. Why did I refuse to accept reality? Because my ego convinced me that I could fix what was impacting her performance level, low contribution to the team, and what she was able to give to students. I let my ego guide my leadership and the cost was huge. The employee left anyway, other team members resented the effort I had put into her needs and attitude, and overall morale took a hit.

I learned a very important lesson: I have no superpowers, I can simply bring out and enhance what is already there if the employee has the motivation to learn, grow and contribute.

From then on my very human superpower was going to be OK-Ray Vision. You know, instead of super powerful X-Ray vision that can see through solid steel, my OK-Ray vision would allow me to see any cracks starting to form in my team’s foundation so I could address them. My OK-Ray vision would help me identify programs that needed improvement and employees that needed guidance, encouragement and honest feedback.

How to Develop Your Own OK-Ray Vision

So, it’s now mid-June, and the focus for this week 3 of summer vacation is to begin to develop your own OK-Ray vision. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the quickest and most effective way to develop OK-Ray Vision is to honestly answer a few questions:

  • What’s working and what’s been holding your team back?
  • What are the internal things that have been festering and causing decay to your foundation? These could be things like ineffective processes or bad communication.
  • What were the signals (that something not-so-great was going on) that you chose to ignore?
  • What signals were kept from you, by whom and why?
  • In what ways can you motivate and inspire your team to repair these cracks for themselves moving forward?

Developing your OK-Ray Vision is an important first step to addressing any lingering issues before the start of the new semester. Of course, you’ll absolutely need to follow through and have those tough conversations and make some tough decisions because it will be better for individual employees, the team as a whole, and most importantly, the students.

Having OK-Ray Vision will help you identify and assess cracks in your foundation, and that is critical to your ability to lead effectively.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Summer 2018 Week 2 – Where do you start?

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Do you ever wonder what goes on during the NFL summer training camps? From what I’ve read, the days are long and grueling. After fitness testing and a couple of practice sessions, those that make the cut get to spend the next three weeks working their a**es off in typically scorching heat, all to get ready for the upcoming season.

The good news for you and your team is, you can prepare for the next school year without running laps in 90-degree heat wearing 20 pounds of gear.

Getting Your Team Ready

“On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”

— Bill Belichick, Head Coach New England Patriots (2000-Present), New York Jets (1999), Cleveland Browns (1991-95)

What do some of the greatest sports teams all have in common?

  1. Trust in each other.
  2. They enjoy playing the game.
  3. They all play a role and know and respect the individual roles everyone else is playing.
  4. When they lose a game, they strive to get better together.
  5. They trust and respect their coach.
  6. The coach works hard to empower players and tap into their motivation.

As your team’s coach, you need to take stock of how your team played last year. How did your foundation hold up? What were the staff issues? How much time did you put aside every week or month to meet everyone’s needs? How much time did you set aside to feed their professional tank and challenge them to grow?

Looking back, did you have a plan for the year? Where did you excel? Where did you fall short? What promises did you break?

Often times the staff development, team meeting, motivation/empowerment methods, practicing, building trust, and financial and time investments to get better are the first things to be sacrificed during busy times and/or crises. How did the sacrifices you made last year impact the team and the foundation? What did you learn as the leader and how did the choices you made impact individuals attitudes, overall work performances and their ability to work together at the high level you want them to?

Pro sports teams can’t accomplish championships without the players and coaches working together toward an understood common goal. As your team’s coach, you play an important role; one that needs to be consistent.

How do you consistently inspire, motivate, and empower your team every day? By creating and sticking to a playbook. And that’s exactly what you’re going to start doing this week 2 of your summer vacation. With only 9 weeks left, it’s time to get going!

The Playbook – The Foundation

This week, spend a little time determining what position everyone will play next year. It’s a good idea to have individual meetings with everyone. If you can’t meet in person, set up a Skype call and conduct an interview. Consider asking your individual team members the following questions:

  • Are they clear on their role? How it contributes to the student success? A quarterback’s role is to call the plays. A running back’s role is to get that ball as far down the field as they can before they are pummeled.
  • Do they know your (the coach’s) expectations?
  • Do they know they are valued?
  • Can they identify what they need to work on to improve this year?
  • Can they identify how they need to be motivated and how they respond to that strategy?
  • How would they rate their relationship with you?
  • Are there any conflicts?
  • What did they need this year to be successful that they didn’t receive from the team or you?
  • What could they have done better but didn’t and what was the WHY?
  • What is the WHY for them wanting to be part of this team?
  • How can they contribute to the team at a higher level? What will it take?
  • What is the conditioning (aka training, development, and support) that they will need?

If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them day in and day out.”

— Chuck Noll, Head Coach Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-91)

Make next year the winningest year you’ve ever had. Lead your team! A team cannot lead itself – it needs your leadership and dedication and it needs it consistently.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

I (Probably) Know What You Did Last Summer

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If you’re like most college administration staff, on the last day of the academic year, you’ve got one foot out the door, ready to begin your vacation. And it’s totally natural, after a long year, to want to get away to rest, recuperate, and recharge.

But you’ve got to treat summer vacation like a bag of potato chips. You know how you’re not supposed to eat the entire bag mindlessly because you’ll end up regretting it? It’s better to eat a just a few chips and save room for healthier foods.

By this I mean, go ahead and take a short rest, but don’t use your entire summer vacation as an excuse to be lazy and unproductive, or you might regret it.

Instead, use the summer to START the transformative changes to enhance your programs, departments, or services.

You might wonder why I bolded the word START.  Well, it’s because change happens over time, and the summer is a great time to reflect, assess, brainstorm ideas, develop a plan and begin acting on your transformational action plan.

Go ahead and take a short rest this summer. But then get started on finding ways to make improvements to better serve the students.

Here are some things to consider while reflecting on improvements that can be made:

What Didn’t Work Last Year?

Think back to what you’ve tried in the past that didn’t work. For instance, often times we know the gaps that need to be fixed, but we try to fix them in one shot.

I’ve been guilty of this.  I’ve hired multiple consultants with the hopes they would magically fix our problems instantly. And for a couple of days, the consultants were present, everyone seemed invested and we appeared to be making headway. Then the consultants would leave and slowly everyone returns back to their old, ineffective patterns.

It’s like being overweight and out of shape and hoping one week at the gym will get you ripped or able to pull off a string bikini. Ain’t gonna happen. Real change requires a longer commitment.

If you haven’t been able to make lasting changes in your department, consider trying something different in the coming year and hire a long-term consultant.

Yes, this will cost more, but consider hiring a consultant to lead you through long-term planning and implementation.

As you probably heard it takes at least 3 months for habits to be formed. Why do we continue to invest money and time in one-shot programs and trainings without having a long-term plan to implement the changes to make them stick?

Conduct an Audit

Do you assess all of your processes, services, and procedures at least twice a year? Are they working? What is the student feedback? How is the data informing the changes needed? How do you involve the staff in this process?

What are the Needs of Your Team?

How well did the staff work together this year? Were there issues that you didn’t address? How did these issues affect the foundation? What are the staff needs? How can you meet these needs to strengthen the entire team?  What have you done before? Did it work? Did it last?

Create a Playbook

Transformation requires a playbook. What is your long-term plan to make changes? What tools will you use? Will you assign a book or an article, have your staff watch a webinar, go on a retreat? Without a playbook, many strategic plans end up on the proverbial shelf. Good intentions don’t create lasting change. But having a solid plan and committing to that plan does.

Students’ needs are constantly changing. To improve our services, we’ve got to understand their needs and how we can meet them. As they change, we must change.

Summer goes by fast. Don’t let it get away from you this year. Go ahead and get some rest, but then get to work to figure out how you and your staff can transform into the team that can best support your students in the coming year.

If you decide you’d like to hire a long-term consultant, please get in touch with me. I love growing teams and helping to create lasting change.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University 

Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer


Show Appreciation Every Day

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Do you value what your employees do? Do they feel valued?

An employee told me years ago that they needed more feedback when they did something good. I remember being taken off guard by this because I led from the perspective that saying “good job” was enough and if I didn’t say anything negative, that signaled to the employee that they were doing great work.

This comment or request actually change my mind because I suddenly realized, it wasn’t about me, it was about what the employee needed to feel valued.

Clients tell me on an almost-daily basis that they just don’t feel valued by their boss. The feelings that are associated with this are anger, disappointment, sadness, and discontent.

Not being valued directly impacts an employee’s work performance, sense of belonging, loyalty to the team and leadership. Their morale and motivation take a huge hit. And while they may want to leave, making a career move can be overwhelming and many employees end up staying put and becoming jaded.  They are then looked upon as ‘negative’ or ‘difficult’ employees, but we had a hand in creating that persona.

I know, leaders are pulled in 100 different directions. Between meetings and other exhausting demands, there is very little time left in the day to show employees you value them. I get it.

But you have to make an effort. You can’t just wait for token days like the end of the semester or completion of a big project to show you appreciate all of the hard work and dedication of your team.

But here’s some good news!

It takes very little effort on your part to make employees feel appreciated and valued.

Ask yourself the following questions:

·       Do I take time in the morning to say hi and do a quick check-in, or do I wait

        for them to come to me?

·       Do I say thank you and mean it whenever possible?

·       Do I advocate for the employee when they need it?

·       Do I ever send thank you cards just because?

·       Do I share critical information with them in a timely manner?

·       Do I provide opportunities for growth and advancement to all employees or just a


·       Do they have access to management?

Before you point the finger at ‘negative’ or ‘difficult’ employees, ask yourself “What am doing to devaluing this person?

“Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated”

~ H. Jackson Brown

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University| Trainer Facilitator | Strategist | Key Note Speaker | Coach

Use the Performance Review as a Tool

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Picture this:

You’re watching TV when, all of a sudden, one of the pictures on your wall falls. No, you don’t have a ghost, the nail has simply come loose and fallen out.

You pause your show, walk into your kitchen, get a raw egg from the fridge, and proceed to pound the nail back in with it. You now have egg on your face, as well as your floor, wall, and cockapoo.

This is what happens when you use an item in a way it was not intended to be used.

Why do I mention this?

Because I was recently asked for advice by a colleague regarding signing her annual performance review. Her manager had given her her annual performance review but failed to give her a chance to discuss the comments in the review that she did not agree with and was pressuring her to sign off on it.

This is NOT how performance reviews are intended to be used. Like a hammer, they are a tool that can drive home important lessons for both employers and employees. You’d be better off using a raw egg to evaluate someone’s yearly performance than use a performance review the wrong way.

Things Need to Change

The performance review brings up incredible anxiety for so many employees, mostly because they fear hearing nothing but negative comments about themselves. This annual ritual typically occurs at the end of a long year of effort, care for students, sacrifice, compromise, and dedication. Annual reviews, when not used correctly, can derail positive attitudes and motivation.

We owe it to our employees to do better and use the performance review as a tool to motivate and enrich the entire team and department, rather than as a tactic to only deliver highlights of the year and areas that need improvement.

We also owe it to our employees to ensure the review is a dialogue, not a one-way discussion, as in the case of my colleague friend, who was forced to sign off on an opinion she did not feel as fair or accurate. Allow your employees to ask questions, in fact, ask for questions, ask for input. You are not a dictator, you are a leader – a leader whose responsibility is to encourage, motivate, and help your team to grow.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when giving reviews:

Motivation through feedback is effective when it is given on a weekly basis.

Improvement needed is best heard when in the moment, when you notice that correction will improve performance. Outlining a plan, training and support can empower your employee.

Redefining the Goal and Impact of the Performance Role

Moving forward, begin to ask yourself “What is my intent when I give performance reviews. Does my intent match the impact?” This understanding will help take the fear out of the entire process for your employees.

Ask how you could better support the employee overall and then specifically where the employee needs improvement. This takes some of the responsibility off of the employee. It’s a partnership, but if you put all the responsibility on the employee, the partnership feels more like a witch hunt.

Let’s all commit to using the right tool for the job and for using the right tool correctly. Continuing to use employee reviews as a one-sided mandate will ultimately leave egg on your face.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University| Trainer Facilitator | Strategist | Key Note Speaker | Coach

Leaders: Be a Bridge for Employees

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The famous Roman poet Virgil once said, “Fortune favors the bold.” Richard Branson, famous English business magnate behind Virgin Airlines has said something similar, and that is “Opportunity favors the bold.” According to Branson, this concept is what helped shape the Virgin Brand story.

But what does it mean to be bold?

I think it means a few different things. To be bold means:

  • To be the best version of yourself, no matter what …
  • To take chances and do what is right…
  • Having the willingness to act outside of your comfort zone…

But how many of us act bold in our careers? If we’re honest, many of us settle for positions that simply do not fit our skills or passions. Why is this?

Because we’re scared of burning bridges. We’re scared to make a move forward without having that safety net behind us should things not work out the way we planned.

And so we stay on in our unfulfilled positions, hoping things will get better or a new opportunity will reveal itself.

But does waiting work? What does waiting do really? Do things get better? Is holding onto that precious bridge worth it?

Fear of the Unknown – Public Enemy Number 1!

I get it, believe me. Taking chances and making changes… that’s scary stuff. Any rational human being will want to stay safe. I mean since we are kids we are taught to be careful, be safe… then suddenly we have careers and NOW we’re supposed to NOT play it safe?!

I was recently talking to a colleague of mine who is miserable in her current position but is too scared to leave because of the fear of “burning a bridge”. She has a fear of the unknown and believes that she can wait it out and just be “happy” collecting those paychecks every month.

Leaps of faith are scary, that’s why they’re called leaps of faith and not leaps of absolute certainty. And that’s also why team leaders need to help team members be bold and take action to advance their career.

As a leader, you want your team members to be happy and fulfilled. Disgruntled, bored, or frustrated personalities can wreak havoc on productivity and bring your entire department down.

I have coached many leaders who have found themselves at a loss when they have employees experiencing unhappiness in their positions. Leaders, you’ve got to be a bridge for your employees. Help them be bold and make decisions that are good for everyone.

Here are some tips I would like to share with you.

  1. Be aware when employees are not feeling fulfilled in their role. Explore the root of the unhappiness and be open to feedback.
  2. Assist employees when they are ready to move on. Encourage the employee to job search and provide guidance and support with their process.
  3. Don’t take it personal. You have a responsibility to support your employees as you would your students. A burnt bridge is not something that employees should be scared of; they should feel that you are assisting them across the bridge to their next opportunity or clearing what is in the way from them feeling fulfilled currently.

“Education is all a matter of building bridges.”

~ Ralph Ellison

In higher education, it is important that we support the students and each other. Leaders, support your employees by building a bridge to their greatest selves and achievements.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University| Trainer Facilitator | Strategist | Key Note Speaker | Coach