Paula Davis JD, MAPP, is the Founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm that partners with organizations to help them reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. As part of her post-graduate training, Paula was selected to be part of the University of Pennsylvania faculty teaching and training resilience skills to soldiers as part of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program. The Penn team trained resilience skills to more than 40,000 soldiers and their family members. In addition to her work with the military, she has worked with thousands of professionals, leaders, and teams in many industries, including many of the world’s largest law firms. Her expertise has been featured in and on The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, and in many other publications. Paula is also a contributor to Forbes, Fast Company and Psychology Today. Paula is a two-time recipient of the distinguished teaching award from the Medical College of Wisconsin.

You can learn more about her work and get additional burnout prevention and resilience resources by visiting her website here.

Transcript: 

CHRIS NEWBOLD:

Hello friends and wellbeing advocates. Welcome to The Path to Wellbeing In Law Podcast, an initiative of the Institute for Wellbeing in Law. I’m your cohost, Chris Newbold, executive vice president of ALPS Malpractice Insurance. And most of our listeners know that our goal here is fairly simple. We want to introduce you to thought leaders doing meaningful work in the space of wellbeing within the legal profession, and in the process, build and nurture a national network of wellbeing advocates intent on creating a culture shift within the professions. I’m thrilled today to be joined by my cohost, Bree Buchanan. Bree, how are you today?

BREE BUCHANAN:

I’m doing great, Chris.

CHRIS:

Good. Good, good. Well, today we’re really excited. We have I think a really engaging conversation on tap with one of the nation’s foremost experts in reducing burnout and building resiliency. Paula Davis is the founder and CEO of The Stress and Resilience Institute. And her appearance here on the pod is really nicely choreographed with the upcoming release of her new book, Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Wellbeing and Resilience. Bree, would you be so kind as to introduce Paula to our listeners?

BREE:

I’d be delighted. So Paula Davis, as Chris said, is the founder and CEO of The Stress and Resilience Institute, which is a training and consulting firm that partners with organizations to help them reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Can’t wait to hear more about that. And as part of her postgraduate training, Paula was selected to be part of the U Penn’s faculty, teaching and training resilience skills to 40,000 soldiers and their families as part of the Army’s comprehensive soldier and family fitness program, which sounds fascinating to me. She truly is an expert in this arena. She’s been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and is a two time recipient of the distinguished Teaching Award from the Medical College of Wisconsin. So Paula, welcome, welcome. We’re so glad that you’re here.

PAULA DAVIS:

Oh, thank you so much, Bree and Chris. I’m so looking forward to this discussion today.

BREE:

And we’re going to start you off with a question that we ask all of our guests, and I think it’s really fascinating to hear a little bit of a backstory of what brings you to the wellbeing movement. As we’ve interviewed wonderful people over the past several months, we’ve definitely found that folks have something that has a story there that drives their passion for the work, and we’d love to hear about yours.

PAULA:

Yes. So the simple answer is that I burned out during what became the last year of my law practice. I practiced in total for seven years, and really going into the sixth year of my practice, was just noticing that I wasn’t kind of in love with my practice the way that I had been. I was disengaging in certain ways. I just wasn’t as connected to things as I had been. And I just didn’t feel like I was managing my stress in the same way. I didn’t know what burnout was. If you had told me there was a word called burnout, I may have cobbled together some sort of definition of it, but I certainly didn’t have an appreciation for the nuances of what that was.

And really, over the span of about a year’s time, kind of started on one end of the spectrum of burnout, where I’d show up to work just 10 minutes later. And it’s like, “Monday, I don’t want to go in.” And so everything became a little bit more effortful. And as that progressed, it became really very much a feeling of exhaustion that I couldn’t shake, feeling very cynical, especially toward my clients, so outwardly very professional, but a lot of inward eye rolling going on with: Do we have to have this conversation? Can you figure this out yourself? You’re not going to listen to my advice anyway, so why are we having this conversation, kind of mentality, to really at the worst part of it, experiencing panic attacks on a very regular basis, and then being in the emergency room twice because of the stress. I had stomach aches that were so bad that I couldn’t physically move, and so I had to go to the hospital for that.

So really, seeing kind of that whole span of not so great stuff, took a few wrong turns, but eventually decided that I wanted to go back and get a master’s degree in applied positive psychology, thinking that learning the science of wellbeing and learning the science of resilience and what have you, would provide me with the ability to teach other busy professionals, other lawyers, how not to end up in the position that I ended up in.

BREE:

Right, right.

CHRIS:

Paula, can you tell us? I’m really curious about again, the notion of you kind of finding yourself, I’ll characterize it as unhappy in the profession. And kind of what then took you to … I hear these great things about this MAPP program at the University of Pennsylvania. Right? Seems like this secret society of awesome people who want to kind of re engineer things in a very positive way, again, a master’s of applied positive psychology. What took you there? And then how did that ultimately lead to your development of the Stress and Resilience Institute?

PAULA:

It took me a long time to find the program. I didn’t just happen to go, “Wow, there’s this thing called positive psychology, and it’s at The University of Pennsylvania.” When I was thinking about re-crafting my career when I was burning out, I actually, I loved to bake, so I thought I was going to be a pastry chef. So I had applied to The French Culinary Institute in New York City and was accepted, and was going to go to pastry school, and had the opportunity before I went to do a little bit of a week long kind of externship at a swanky restaurant in San Francisco near where my brother used to live, and hated every minute of it. And it was at that point where I took a step back and thought, “I need to be a little bit more intentional now about what I really want to do post legal profession career.”

And I ended up hiring a coach who had just finished the positive psychology program that we’re talking about. And I said, “There’s positive psychology, what is that?” Because my undergrad is in psychology, and I’ve been fascinated with that area of science. Sorry. I’m hearing a lot of echo. That hasn’t happened before.

BREE:

Let’s take a break here and figure that out. A wonderful thing is we have the ability to edit, so we could just fix the problem and then pick it up with the question that Chris asked.

PAULA:

Sure.

CHRIS:

Paula, can you tell us about the MAPP program? And obviously, it sounds like you’ve studied psychology in your undergrad, and I had never heard of a master’s of applied positive psychology. It looks to be at the University of Pennsylvania. What led you there? And how did that ultimately kind of transition you into The Stress and Resilience Institute.

PAULA:

I hadn’t heard of it either, and it was absolutely fascinating to me. I was less than intentional in terms of figuring out my next step after my law career, and thought that I was going to go to pastry school because I loved to bake. And so it was again just sort of this random thing that I thought would be a fun thing to do. And I actually went so far as to do a week long internship at a restaurant near where my brother lived in San Francisco and immediately knew it was not the thing that I wanted to do, which was really frustrating because I thought I had figured it all out. I thought I had figured out my escape from law. And it turned out that it was the wrong direction.

So what I ended up doing was hiring a coach to help me sort of be more intentional with the next steps in my career. And she had actually just finished the positive psychology, this MAPP program at Penn. And she was telling me about it, and I said, “There’s a positive psychology program, what is this?” Because as you mentioned, my undergrad is in psychology, and I’ve always loved the science of it. But when I finished my undergrad, there wasn’t this sort of program yet, nor a named science of positive psychology, and I did not want to go and get an advanced degree in any other aspect of psychology, which is what led me to law school.

And so I just started to dig into it, and everything about it just really intrigued me. And because I had wanted to get some sort of formal degree in the science of being able to help busy professionals not burn out, and deal with their stress, and all of that, it just seemed to make the most sense for me, and just really was something that I connected to. And even when I started at the program, I don’t know, there was nothing very specific about positive psychology generally that made me go, “I’m going to Penn to learn about this particular aspect of positive psychology.” It was really just showing up and sort of being open to what the science was and how I could apply it.

And when we got to the components and the sections and the research on resilience, it just really connected with me. It connected with me in a lot of different ways. And I thought it was something, A, that I could’ve used, and B, that I could teach other people. And the professors and the folks at Penn are really world renowned experts in this area of science. And so once I dug into resilience, it’s a passion of mine that has never left. And how this helped to form my institute is that when I finished the program at Penn, the United States Army had actually been putting together a train the trainer resilience program with Penn for their senior non-commissioned officers and officers, just to help them deal with the mental health challenges they were experiencing with all of the deployments and the high op tempo that was going on at the time.

And so I had a change to be part of the training team, apply and be accepted to be part of the training team for that program. And what I thought was going to be maybe one or two trainings here and there turned into almost, certainly my post graduate work, but almost every month for three and a half years, either going back to Penn, or traveling around the world to different Army bases to help teach this resilience program. And so it’s really where I started to learn how to teach other people these skills and what that meant, and what that looked like. And so certainly, helped to form a very strong foundation for the institute.

BREE:

Wow. So Paula, let’s kind of dig into the subject matter here. Can you tell us about resilience? What is it? And in particular, how do we as lawyers cultivate that?

PAULA:

Yes. So there are a lot of different definitions of resilience floating around, but the two common themes that most definitions have are one, it’s your ability to navigate stress and adversity and challenge and change and failure and setback, so I always punctuate that because that’s the thing that makes resilience different from grit, or mindfulness, or wellbeing generally. And those terms are often conflated. So if we’re talking about resilience, we’re talking very much about our ability to deal with that cluster of things like challenge, change, adversity, setback, failure. But it’s also, and a lot of people come up with the phrase like bouncing back, it’s also very much though about bouncing forward.

So the second big thing with what resilience is, is taking the lessons and the meaning and cultivating that from the challenges and the change and the setback and the failure to apply that to future challenges going forward. So there’s very much a positive adaptation to resilience. So it’s the navigating through, but then it’s also that bouncing forward aspect, so both of those things are important components of resilience. And the important thing to know is that it’s not built in any one specific way. So the person who taught me all of these skills would say resilience is like a stew, so there’s lots of different ingredients that go into it, and my stew is going to look different than your stew and somebody else’s, but that it’s really a cluster of skills that help us develop things like self awareness, that helps us develop things like mental strength, so that we can look at and think about problems in a very flexible and accurate way.

It helps to remind us that connections and other people really matter, and relationships are central. It helps us, and this is really, it can be difficult but really important for lawyers that when you’re going through a challenge, it’s important to be realistic about what you’re seeing with whatever the obstacle is. But it’s also then harnessing a positive aspect to it too. So people who have high levels are resilience are good at harnessing positive emotions and optimism and hope and things like that, so that’s a very important part of the equation. And then also, this whole notion of just building your stress awareness. So it’s hard to be resilient, it’s hard to pivot, it’s hard to adapt when you’re in the middle of a significant challenge if your tank is consistently empty. And so drawing in on … So stress awareness principles become important.

So I have taken kind of all of those muscles or competencies and distilled them down into three really big pathways, which are building mental strength, prioritizing wellbeing, and then fostering strong connections. So there’s a lot of different pieces under each of those components, but those are kind of the three big central pathways that I like to have people focus on when we talk about building it.

CHRIS:

Interesting. Paula, I’m curious. As you reflect on the state of the legal profession, what kind of grade would you give the profession itself when it comes to resilience?

PAULA:

That’s a great question, but a tough one to answer.

CHRIS:

It is.

PAULA:

I will tell you, generally, just looking back at least over 2020, I’ve been surprised at their level of resilience, and I would say at least at the organizational level, that I have seen. I think that a lot of firms kind of did what they had to do, and pivoted and adapted in ways, and more quickly than I would have expected them to. So I think from an organizational level, I was pretty impressed. I still think that there’s more that we can do on an individual level, definitely from a leader and teams perspective, to start to prioritize that skillset kind of a little bit further down the road.

BREE:

Paula, one more question before we take a break. And when I was a director of a lawyer’s assistance program, I spoke to so many callers who were extremely distressed and pretty quickly could get down to the matter that they were not a good fit basically for the legal profession. They were very unhappy, and the things you have to do to be a lawyer wasn’t a good fit for them. And as a result, they were just really suffering in a lot of distress, and burnout was just one of the problems that they have. You got to a difficult time in your profession and decided to make a switch to pursue a new path. What advice do you have for anybody who may be listening, who’s facing that point? And do you have to leave the profession? What if you really don’t want to or can’t leave the profession?

PAULA:

So I would say I’m very much the exception rather than the rule. And so if you’re listening and you’re thinking, “Wow, I think I might be where she was,” I would say a couple of things. I would say, one, say something to somebody. So whether it is a family member, whether it is a partner, associate, or a colleague at work, whether it is a mental health professional, whether it’s your physician. And actually, using the word burned out, and what you feel you need in terms of recovery. Right? Are you looking for a sabbatical? Are you just looking for support in a conversation? But to actually say something about it. I kept it in way too long, and that made my burnout go on a lot longer than it needed to. And then if you feel like you really don’t want to continue on within the profession, just really taking the time, and for me, it was working with a coach.

And so I oftentimes do this work, especially after workshops with lawyers, who we have this kind of conversation. And so it’s about exploring all options. It’s making sure they understand kind of what goes into that process. It’s being very intentional about: What do you want your next step to be? Because we might feel like it’s not law, but then we’re like, “I don’t know what I want to do.” And so that’s not the time to actually leave and do something different, so it’s really starting to kind of crystallize and be very intentional about what you think that next thing is, so those would be the two big pieces that I would say.

BREE:

Sure, thanks. And Paula, we’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. And then when we come back, we want to delve into listening to you talk about some of the strategies that people can take on to boost the resilience, to deal with burnout, and to talk about your new book.

PAULA:

Yay. Thanks.

BREE:

Sure.

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CHRIS:

All right. We’re excited to welcome Paula to the podcast. Paula, obviously, we want to spend some time talking about your upcoming book release. March 16th is the big day, very exciting, as we look forward. It’s called Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Wellbeing and Resilience. One of the things I wanted to ask is just describe for us the target audience for the book. Is it directed at individuals? Is it directed at employees? And certainly, you’re kind of looking at it through I think a different lens that I think is going to kind of add to the science and perspective in this area around burnout.

PAULA:

Yes. I am looking at it through a different lens. And I think it’s a really important lens. So in the book, individuals will absolutely find strategies that they can use to alleviate burnout. But the point of the book and the conversation that I really want to spark with it is that, that’s a good starting point. So many programs in this space are focused on individuals and giving individual strategies to help deal with a problem that is actually a very complex systems based issue. And so I also hope, and a big target audience for me would be leaders and anybody who works in a team, so especially leaders of teams, and even organizations themselves, who want to actually take a step back and look at this issue in a bit of a different way because the research is very clear. Both the empirical research and my own research, and anecdotal and coaching and teaching and training, that the individual pieces help, and they’re only going to get you so far though, until we start to really draw in the rest of the system to deal with the issue.

BREE:

So Paula, let’s talk a little bit about just sort of definition-ally, the, if that’s a word, burnout. How does it affect people? How do they recognize it? And then so that’s sort of looking at it from an individual perspective. And then how does burnout affect the employers?

PAULA:

Yes. So I define burnout as the manifestation of chronic workplace stress, and trying to be very intentional with that. And so the word chronic is important, so we all have bad days, busy weeks, we feel exhausted, especially these days. That doesn’t necessarily mean burnout. So the word chronic is important. We usually don’t just wake up on day and say, “Oh, I’m burned out.” It’s something that’s been happening over a period of time. And the workplace word is very important also, in that we’ve become really loose and imprecise with how we use burnout. So we might just have a bad day, and we are like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m so burned out,” or you’re just tired after a really long week, and you say, “Oh, man. I’m so burned out.”

And so we’ve lost kind of the nuance of what that word means. And so we know that stress exists on a spectrum and burnout exists on a spectrum. And you know you’re getting closer to burnout when you start to see this combination of chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, so this lost impact, like, “Why bother? Who cares? What am I doing at work? I’m not connected to it. I feel disengaged.” So the closer you get to being able to say, “Yeah, I’m experiencing those three things over time, and it’s pretty consistent,” then you know you’ve probably traveled over into something that looks a little bit more like burnout.

But what’s really important is that’s oftentimes where the conversation stops. We stop at sort of that symptom level, and then we don’t go deeper into actually examining what the causes of burnout are. And that’s when we start to get into some of the leader, teams, system based aspects of the issue.

CHRIS:

Are they typical common themes when it comes to the causes that you’ve seen in your research? And obviously, you … I think the book does a really interesting … You definitely use real world stories to be able to kind of illustrate your points, whether it’s working with the Mayo Clinic, or the US Army, or Trivago. Right? I’m just kind of curious on what your real life examples, how that plays into kind of the causes that allow teams, cultures, organizations, to ultimately thrive.

PAULA:

Yeah. So the basic thing for people to think about if you want sort of a formula about what causes burnout, it’s an imbalance between your job demands and your job resources, so it’s having too many of the demands, which are things that take consistent effort and energy about your work, and too few of the resources, which are the motivational and energy giving aspects of your work. And everybody’s formula is going to look different. So just because you have more job demands than resources doesn’t necessarily mean that you will burn out. You might have some really great resources that are really important, like team and leader support, or you have a lot of autonomy in your work. And that’s really fortifying and protecting you from burning out.

But the research really points to kind of six, there’s more than this, but six especially important kind of core job demands that organizations need to be paying attention to because these are big ones. If we aren’t getting enough dose of these, this can be problematic. And so it is lack of autonomy, so not feeling like we have a choice, or a say, in how our day unfolds, our projects that we can take on. Do we have decision making discretion, especially when it impacts our work? High workload, this is a real tough one because in my own research, this is probably the number one driver that I see, the number one demand that’s pushing a lot of people toward the path of burnout, but it’s not easily solved, and so this is a hard one. But it’s an important one to pay attention to, so high work load, lack of support from your leadership or colleagues, unfairness.

So if you are in an environment where there’s a lack of transparency, there’s arbitrary decision making, favoritism happening, that’s a big one, values disconnect. So I know that I need certain things from work, and my work environment is either giving it to me or not giving it to me, so that’s what that means. And then a lack of recognition. And I would say in my own research, this oftentimes tends to be the number two driver for a lot of people. And it’s not just they don’t hear thank you enough, which is part of it. But a lot of people will tell me that it is, I feel like I’m doing work at a certain level, but I don’t have a title that matches that.

I hear that from a lot of lawyers in corporate legal departments, where they expected a VP title, or some extension of that, and they don’t have it. And so that’s a frustration. And then that is wearing, and they’re not pulled into meetings and decisions that they know they would be capable of being part of. And so I would say that’s probably, like I said, a number two problem that I see. But those are really the ones that leaders and teams and organizations need to be paying attention to.

CHRIS:

And we hear a lot about kind of the qualities of highly effective leaders. I would guess that you would advance the theory that identifying those imbalances between demands and resources is probably oftentimes an overlooked element. That’s a precursor to then really preventing and realizing the efficiency and the output of teams and organizations, and a lack of that either reflects the lack of empathy of lack of understanding about how burnout ultimately occurs.

PAULA:

100%. And one thing I like to tell leaders too is that there’s a fantastic assessment tool, you can measure those six. So you can actually, and this is how I know, when I tell you number one is probably workload and number two is lack of recognition from my own work, because I’ve given that assessment. It’s the Areas of Work Life Survey, which is a fantastic tool to help leaders. And then I can have a very specific conversation with them and say, “Look, you have a lack of recognition problem.” And if I’m able to do some coaching with the team on the backend of, or after a workshop, I can start to distill that into very specific themes that I can, in a broad way, send back to the leader and say, “Look, here’s kind of what I’m seeing in terms of what’s going on with the team.” And now we can have a very targeted conversation about how to address that and how to move forward.

So it helps that there’s a way to kind of formally dig into this a little bit because then you can have a much, much different conversation because it makes no sense for me to be talking about unfairness, or lack of autonomy. Those things aren’t problems or issues for your team.

CHRIS:

And for our listeners, is there a sponsoring entities of that Areas of Work Life Survey for them too?

PAULA:

It’s a proprietary instrument, but you can buy licenses for it at mindgarden, M-I-N-D, garden.com.

CHRIS:

Okay.

BREE:

And so Paula, we can’t ignore the context in which we find ourselves right now. We’re recording this in March of 2021. How has the pandemic increased burnout among workers and lawyers?

PAULA:

So I think from a purely anecdotal standpoint, I would say it has definitely increased for many people. And a lot of the … I take a little bit of a measured approach when I see the headlines about burnout is rampant right now and things like that because a lot of where that’s coming from are not empirically based studies, but simply informal survey measures and tools of people, which are completely fine. But when I start to see reports that there’s 80% of people feel burned out in this particular profession or organization, I tend to take that with a little bit of a grain of salt because what is probably being measured is maybe something a little bit more like stress, or stress focus, than actual burnout.

But I would certainly say from what I have heard from folks that the rates are elevated and people are certainly feeling this, especially folks who are parents and who are trying to manage those homeschooling and the working and trying to get work done. And all of a sudden, our days are now extended, and we don’t have boundaries and things like that. So I mean, it’d be hard to say that things are or have stayed the same. I think they’re absolutely, the rates are higher.

CHRIS:

And Paula, I’m curious, you said something about kind of the interconnectedness of stress and burnout, actually probably being two separate and independent things. One may lead to the other. But can you provide some greater context to that?

PAULA:

Yeah. So I always tell people to kind of think about all burnout is stress, but not all stress is burnout. So we deal with stressful things on a very regular basis. We deal with big stressors, we deal with our daily episodic, just traffic hassles and kid stuff, and just general type of stressful events. But stress exists on a spectrum, and most of us handle stressful events just fine, and we have our tools that we use and things that we do, and everything is fine. And it’s sort of like I had mentioned before, like when you start to leave kind of like, “I can figure this out, and I’m doing good,” and to into more of that, “Gosh, I’m chronically exhausted. People are really bugging me. And I’m starting to kind of unplug or disengage from what I’m doing that you’ve kind of gone into more of a burnout realm.”

CHRIS:

All right. And if you characterized yourself in a position where you feel like you’re approaching burnout, what can you do about it? Right? And what advice do you have for law firm partners who kind of think about productivity issues? And I’m just kind of curious on: What’s a pathway for folks when they kind of reach that realization? What can they do about it?

PAULA:

So again, so I there’s kind of two aspects to that question. In part, it’s kind of the right question, but also, the better question is: How does the system need to react in order to make sure that positive cultures are developed so that people are less likely to burn out? So that’s really the question that we should be looking at. But I don’t want to ignore that there certainly are things that we can do. They’re probably not what people intuitively think though, so it’s not about wellness apps and yoga and things like that, which are completely wonderful stress management tools. But if you’re burning out, it’s deeper than that. It’s about needing to take a step back, and I call it understanding your wiring.

So a lot of lawyers, a lot of high need for achievement professionals, we say yes to everything, we’re not good at asking for help. We have very narrow definitions of success, and we make comparisons based on that. And we tend to over rely on achievement to feel worthy. And so I talk about in the book: What can individuals do to prevent burnout if they’re feeling like that, or kind of going in that direction? And it’s a lot of that deeper wiring examining stuff. Right? It’s understanding counterproductive thinking. Am I catastrophizing a lot? Because it’s a very wearing style of thinking. Am I overthinking a lot? And do I need to deal with that?

One of the pieces that I talk about in the book is understanding your icebergs or your rules, which are your core values and beliefs about how you think the world should operate. So a lot of lawyers carry with them very powerful beliefs about clients come first in all circumstances. If I can’t do something myself, if I can’t do it right myself, then I shouldn’t do it at all. I have to be perfect, or there’s no other standard. And so we have to understand how rigid those beliefs and values are and how they are causing us to maybe not deal with stress in the right way. They impact our leadership abilities. They impact our ability to kind of form good relationships. And so it’s that deeper level kind of conversation that needs to be had for individuals to really start to kind of turn the tide when it comes to burnout, but that’s of course in the context of the system stuff that we’ve talked about.

BREE:

Right. I’m really curious about, in your book, you talk about the value of teams, about building wellbeing and resilience. Can you talk about why that is so particularly potent in dealing with these issues?

PAULA:

Yeah. No, I love, I’ve just become so excited about kind of this teams intersection over the last handful of years for a whole host of reasons, in part because I think in the legal profession, we do a lot of work in teams, but we don’t think that way. We don’t talk in terms of teams’ language. And so there’s a lot of things that we can leverage about the value of teams that I think we aren’t doing right now. But where I initially kind of came up with that idea is I was thinking to myself after reading all of this research, it’s like, wow, if the individual approach isn’t the answer, but I can’t walk into a firm and say, “You have to change your organizational culture,” because that’s never going to happen either. It was sort of like: What is the doable kind of middle ground? What is the entry point into the system where I can really affect change at the team level collectively, with leaders, and with individual contributors?

And so the teams models made the most sense to me for a lot of reasons, and teams are really individual little mini systems. They’re little mini cultures. And so every leader has the opportunity, and every person who’s part of a team has the opportunity to influence their little culture in some way. And so for me, it was if I can get these little mini systems and little mini cultures kind of using some of these small strategies and techniques, that will help the team, which will have a ripple effect kind of throughout the organization is my hope. So most people do their work in teams, teamwork is the way of work these days. And so there was just a lot of benefit to that entry point for me.

CHRIS:

It’s also interesting I think on the teams side of things that again, when you’re part of a group of individuals that have identified and committed to a core set of values, then you can … Then cultural acceleration can occur. Right?

PAULA:

Yeah.

CHRIS:

And then accountability kind of comes into the picture a little bit more deliberately as opposed to kind of everybody being on their own, either departmental, or the practice area, specific type cultures that kind of allows you to again, rally around something that can be more universal. And I think you’re a big proponent of I think a holistic approach rather than a more siloed approach.

PAULA:

Yes, 100%. And one of the things that most people say when I was doing in person workshops, I had a chance for people to really, for lawyers to really sit down and talk about their job demands and their job resources, almost universally, one of the most potent job resources that lawyers would cite in terms of what’s keeping me here, what I love about my work, is other people on their team, their colleagues. Many of them would say if it wasn’t for this particular person, or these three people, I would have a really hard time in this environment, or I would’ve left five years ago. So recognizing that and becoming better I think at relying on other people within the team, in a whole host of ways, I think can be very fortifying for people.

CHRIS:

And so much, it feels like so much of our quest on the wellbeing front is … We had Steve Wall from Morgan Lewis on the last podcast. And he spoke so eloquently about the way that just a common set of individuals as part of a team can engineer a culture shift on wellbeing, and it certainly feels like our ability to more effectively work through the team structure, whether it’s an executive committee, partnership, group, or whatever it is, certainly seems like maybe a potential catalyst for us when we think about wellbeing success.

PAULA:

Oh, huge, it’s 100%. And I mean, really, over the last couple of years in earnest especially, I’ve really … I mean, that’s been part of how my work has shifted. And it’s been very interesting to see the wellbeing movement, how it looked in 2010 when I finished my master’s in positive psychology to what it’s doing today has just been phenomenal. And where I’ve tried to start to steer the conversation at least in my own little sphere with my work, is toward this teams and leaders and sort of system based, kind of I call it 2.0 conversation. Whether you’re talking about resilience and needing to apply resilience frameworks at a team level or a leader level, in addition to all of the individual piece. But from a burnout standpoint too, the burnout conversation I think is going to necessitate a 2.0 conversation because we just know so specifically that it can’t be cured with just the individual approach alone. So I’m excited about that.

BREE:

That’s so important. And Paula, as we round out our time together, tell us. Where can we get your book?

PAULA:

Yes. So I will send folks to beatburnoutnow.com. So that will take you to my book page on my website, where you will be able to find the Amazon link and a whole host of other spots to pre order or buy my book, so beatburnoutnow.com.

CHRIS:

And fair to say, Paula, that you also work actively with organizations around the country, around the world, as they look to build more effective teams and reduce burnout and build resiliency.

PAULA:

Yes. This is a lot, this is most of what I’m doing these days. And this is where I want to continue the direction and the focus. So nothing gets me more excited than getting in and working with a team and talking to a team, and starting to figure out some of these pieces about what’s working well. And what are areas that we can improve?

CHRIS:

Well, good. Paula, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. I know that your work has broader applicability than just solely the legal professional, but certainly with your career pivot in the middle, I think the theories and the systemic approach certainly apply just as effectively to law firms and any entity within the legal space. We’re talking more organizational shifts, right? And it doesn’t necessarily, again, it applies I think across the board to the legal profession. So congratulations, first of all, on your book. We’re excited to be able to get it and promote it to our wellbeing community. And we thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.

PAULA:

Thank you so much, Chris and Bree. I really enjoyed this conversation.

BREE:

Thanks, Paula.

CHRIS:

Awesome. And we’ll be back in a couple weeks with another guest from within the wellbeing movement. And one of the things I love about the podcast is again, the ability to bring on just different types of people. And Paula’s one of the first that not necessarily focusing right now on the legal space, but again, the principles of what she’s advocating for apply on a more holistic, whatever organization you’re at. So we’ll continue to look to bring a diversity of perspective to our podcast guests. Thanks again, Paula, for joining us. And we’ll see you in a couple weeks.

PAULA:

Thanks.

CHRIS:

Thanks for listening.

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