Larry Kanarek on burnout

Larry Kanarek is a legendary senior partner in McKinsey’s DC office, and I liked a lot this anecdote that Sheryl Sandberg shares in Lean In:

[Larry] explained that since he was running the office, employees came to him when they wanted to quit. Over time, he noticed that people quit for one reason only: they were burnt out, tired of working long hours and traveling. Larry said he could understand the complaint, but what he could not understand was that all the people who quit – every single one – had unused vacation time. Up until the day they left, they did everything McKinsey asked of them before deciding that is was too much.

Larry implored us to exert more control over our careers. He said McKinsey would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line. We needed to determine how many hours we were willing to work in a day and how many nights we were willing to travel. If later on, the job did not work out, we would know that we had tried on our own terms.

Counterintuitively, long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us.

I think this is particularly difficult above the manager level, since client service is more continuous than discrete engagements, and the more projects you have going, the rarer it is to be between them all. And hardest for associate partners and partners in a promotion window, since every day away feels like a missed opportunity to build your track record of impact. Which is why it’s so important to keep Larry’s wisdom in mind…


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