Mary Collins | The Complicated Business Of Leading In 2021

Leaders and employees need to focus on self-care to avoid pandemic-related burnout. Staying healthy, and personally balanced is crucial as we continue to face an uncertain future. Here are some ways to work toward that goal.

It should come as no surprise that essential workers are not the only ones suffering pandemic-related burnout and other mental health issues. Last fall, Dana Wilke prepared an article for SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) in which she wrote: “Overall, mental health and well-being has dropped a staggering 33% since the pandemic began, according to a survey conducted in August by Hibob, an HR services company based in New York City.”

At about the same time, University of California’s Robyn Schelenz penned a piece called, “Job burnout is a billion-dollar problem. Can we fix it, despite COVID-19?” In it, she says that burnout-related healthcare costs companies “roughly $190 billion per year.” Additionally, she reports that the Harvard Business Review estimates the annual U.S. economic cost of employee stress at more than $500B annually.

Media companies are making efforts to support their teams and to reduce employee stress. Two examples that reached me are Tegna’s meal gift cards for employees and Hearst’s package of premium socks with a note saying, “You knock our socks off.” I’m sure there are many more examples.

Leaders and employees need to focus on self-care. Staying healthy, and personally balanced is crucial as we continue to face an uncertain future.

The January/February issue of MFM’s member magazine, The Financial Manager, includes a special report we are calling “Playing it Forward.” Our focus is on the positives we can take from the past 12 months. One of the pieces in that report is an article by The Siegfried Group’s Lori Brooks, “Reach for the Best Version of You.”

Brooks points out that, for many, 2020 was a wasted year. It was a year in which it was easy to fall back on the “except for COVID” excuse. We were so focused on getting through the day and checking off priorities that we had little time to focus on personal goals. I know of one young media finance professional who put off taking the CPA exam and someone else who put MBA dreams on hold.


Not only is this self-defeating, Brooks point out that it can damage a person’s ability to lead their team. “If you have clarity about your priorities, your goals, your aim, then you can lead others toward a common objective.”

Focus On Mindset

The place to start is with “ideas and attitudes you have when approaching a situation.” This is your mindset, which affects choices, tone and enthusiasm when approaching a situation. Brooks says that while a lot has been written on this topic; she likes to focus on four that she sees as following “along a continuum from fixed to growth.” These are

  • Failure where the person is not willing to change.
  • Frustration where drivers are scarcity and anxiety.
  • Conventional success where things remain status quo.
  • Transformation during which learning and growth occur.

Mindsets, she writes, are important because they “ooze into what we do and how we do it.” Having an awareness of thought patterns influences not only individual progress but also the progress of the teams influenced by the leader. Because mindsets are not fixed and can change frequently depending on the person’s focus — work, health, other areas of life, Brooks suggests that readers examine their mindset often and narrow their focus to “what is holding you back or why you feel and act a certain way.”

Moving Forward

Mindset alone is not enough. As Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, wrote: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Brooks simplifies Carroll’s message and says: “Write. It. Down.” She points out that the reason “to do” lists work is they hold us accountable. And there’s that satisfaction of being able to cross something off once it’s completed.

She recommends focusing on the parts of life that we want to change and grow. As she says, “When we physically write down goals and objectives they are no longer just floating around in our head. It is real and legit, and we better do something about it!”

Tailor Those Goals

If our life is to be in balance, our goals should be in balance. Brooks suggests categorizing them into personal and professional, making sure both sides are represented. Focusing only on the business side can lead to career burnout; neglecting career for personal goals will hurt the organization and chances for advancement.

Can you explain why each goal is a priority, the “why”? Brooks advises, “If there is not a why that evokes passion for you, the goal will not be a top priority, and it will likely go unmet.”

It is also important to set deadlines for accomplishing goals. Short-term goals should have what Brooks calls “a little time nugget that is attainable.” Medium and long-term goals will require more time to accomplish. Moreover, it’s crucial that they aren’t in conflict. “Are your short- and mid-term goals aligned with your long-term goals?”

The Path Forward

Sometimes it’s not enough to know where you are going. You also need to figure out how to get there. Brooks recommends seeking advice from others you respect and searching out inspiring content available from free or subscription sources such as LinkedIn Learning, Ted Talks and Harvard ManageMentor. Staying focused, she says, will allow you to realize the goals you desire.

Celebrate Success

Goals cannot be reached without working toward them every day. Understanding what it takes to achieve them requires due diligence, an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and research to shore up your knowledge where needed. When you reach a milestone, large or small, celebrate that success!

Employees are our most valuable asset. It is up to us to both model successful behaviors and to help them achieve their goals.

Brook’s article, “Reach for the Best Version of You” — which includes a special sidebar, “Think. Yes Just Think!” — is available in the January/February 2021 issue of TFM, which may be found on the MFM website for a couple more weeks. After that, it will only be available in our Members Only area.

Upcoming MFM Programs — Get Inspiration From Peers

One of the things we did learn in 2020 is how important it is to maintain connections with others in similar positions across the county. In the next four weeks, we have three upcoming programs all created to help media finance and accounting professionals become more knowledgeable and valuable today and to develop the next generation of global media leaders. First, on March 2-3 (register by Feb. 19) is our Media Tax Summit: Tackling Tax Trends. The following week, March 11-12, is MFM’s 2021 CFO Summit (limited to senior finance professionals in media, register by February 26). March 23 is a free Transformation Roundtable – 2021: How to Pivot from Survive-mode to Thrive-mode (registration limited). Then, beginning May 11 and running through July 29, MFM’s annual conference, Media Finance Focus 2021 – Together Toward Tomorrow, will be a virtual event featuring 44 sessions and at least a dozen roundtables. Information about these and other programs is available on the MFM website —

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.

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