Leadership - Leading with Margin

Leading With Margin & Why You Should Do It

Learning to live within margin and staying refreshed is vital to your success. In any car there is a needle. That needle is generally located on the dash of your vehicle, which is connected to your gas tank. If you have experience in driving a vehicle you know that when that needle hits “E” you’re out of fuel.
It means that your gas tank is empty and needs to be refilled. Anyone who drives would never consider traveling with their gas tank registering “E.” That would be considered foolish.

Holding a position in leadership such as a CEO, CFO, president, vice president, manager, or supervisor, our emotions, physical health, and mental health can often be related to a vehicle. As a leader, there will be times that your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual gas tank will be in danger of hitting “E.” You will find yourself at risk of running on empty. It seems to be second nature for us to deem it foolish to drive a luxury or sports car on empty, but to consider making sure our health is running on a full tank, is not always first priority. 

Therefore, we created a series about Leadership that I will kick of today with an Introduction to Margin explaining

  • What Margin Is
  • Why It Is Important For You To Succeed
  • What You Can Do Add Margin To Your Life
Applied Leadership in the Mountains

Applied Leadership in the Mountains

The History of Leadership

Before we focus on margin. Let’s take a quick look at leadership, and what it is.

Leadership has its roots all the way back to the beginning of civilization. Consider the Greek heroes, Spartan warriors, Egyptians rulers, monarchs and patriarchs of the Bible. Each one of these cultures has one focus in common…leadership. So much has been written and defined about leadership. What we can say about this life-long journey is that leadership is having the power to influence, motivate, induce change, cast vision, build up others, strengthen what is already in place, and transform the status quo.

Early studies have shown that leadership has been woven throughout the fabric our history and is responsible for positive and negative changes. Through time leaders have evolved from the mentality of masters and slaves, to respectful positions of volunteered submission, to understanding that followers work better when their needs are satisfied from leadership. Over the years as technology has made its advances, the demands of leadership have increased. Our society has slowly infused more demands and expectations for the leaders themselves.

Recognize The Vacuum – Avoid A Burnout

Learning to live within margin and staying refreshed is vital to your success. Day in and day out those positioned in leadership battle the constant seductions of time, production, deadlines, reputation and the rewards of accomplishment. This is why leaders must recognize the vacuum that they are currently facing whether they are the employer or the employee. We can see that there is no need to be worried about a shortage of leadership, but there is an ever-increasing vacuum called “burnout.” Unfortunately this demand is causing many to lead or participate in organizations from an empty tank of emotional, mental, and physical health.

Even with the ever-increasing movement of diets and exercise, our bodies were never designed and created to “go-go-go” twenty-four seven. Yes there are seven days in the week, with one hundred and sixty-eight hours, but that doesn’t mean they are to be intentionally filled. Every leader needs rest and relaxation. Having the motivation for drive and purpose is great. Working hard is good. Rest and relaxation is wonderful, but everything has limits, including our bodies.



Limits. What happens when you are pressed to your limits? Most leaders are determined visionaries who are driven with good intentions, but never consider there emotional, mental, and physical limits. Every leader eventually faces the pressures of time management, deadlines, the public eye, managing personal authority, remaining accountable, lack of privacy, resourcing your followers, and the list goes on and on. Soon before we know it we forget we are human. We mistake ourselves for superheroes instead of admitting that we are fragile.

Often, leaders will not admit their limits to themselves or their followers. This eventually results in the leader emotionally, mentally, and physically running on empty. It’s hard to imagine but when we begin to lead others on empty we are actually running on the fumes of adrenaline. This results in burnout. But how does a leader even end up in this awful place?

No matter what you do, chances are you are focused and driven to accomplish something. In order to make these accomplishments we allow our schedules to determine our daily living while thinking the entire time we’re making great progress. Little do we understand that our schedule has become our master and we have become its slave? Work-life balance is a myth that we buy into. Burnout creates suffering and suffering creates changes within us, but these changes are never good.

The Warning Signs

Every car I have ever driven has always been well equipped with the proper warning signs. If I am running low on gas, it tells me. If my vehicle is about to overheat it will send me a signal. When the tire pressure is low in one of my tires, it sends me a warning sign. These warning signs are there for the safety of the people inside the car and the people around us.

This same concept applies to today’s leaders. The whole purpose of our body giving us warning signs is to tell us to take a break before it’s too late.

Learn From My Mistakes – Notice the Warning Signs

I can speak to this personally. Three years ago, as a leadership coach, professional speaker, and teacher, I was busy accomplishing so much in the arena of leadership. My schedule was expanding and my services among other leaders were in demand.

One early morning I had a routine doctor’s visit. At the end of that morning visit, she scheduled me for routine blood work to make sure I was healthy and heading in the right direction. That early afternoon I received a personal phone call from my physician. She demanded to see me immediately at her office. First, I thought it was a joke, but she was very serious.

I arrived at her office shortly after the phone call. The secretary notified my doctor that I was present. It was the shortest wait for her I ever had. Within two minutes the nurse called me back to a corner room in the facility. My doctor came in with her laptop and my lab results. She started off the conversation by telling me how surprised she was that I wasn’t actually in the hospital.

Out of concern I looked with confusion and asked why she would say that. My doctor then proceeded to tell me the following: “Mr. Hotchkiss you, son, are a serious disaster. Your blood sugar is through the roof. Your kidney results state that you’re functioning like a seventy year old man. Your thyroid is operating like a slow-moving turtle, and you’re are about to crash and it’s going to be severe. We need to take action before it’s too late.”

The next six months of my life was focused on re-calculating my physical, emotional, and mental health as a leader. It wasn’t easy, but I soon realized that if I was unhealthy as a leader then that meant I was making unhealthy decisions for those I oversaw daily. My burnout would eventually affect everyone else.

Before I could create margin in my life I had to identify the signs of burnout.

Vincent van Gogh suffered from depression

Vincent van Gogh suffered from depression

Seeing the Signs

1. Depression

Over time it seems as though depression is increasing not just in the lives of leaders, but everyone else in society.Depression is a silent killer for everyone, but especially someone in a leadership role. Once depression sets into the mind of that individual their personal and corporate vision will start to suffer. Eventually it begins to tell us that we would actually choose death over enduring in our current circumstances.

Stress And Still Working

Stress And Still Working

2. Feeling Overwhelmed

The second sign of burnout is finding your self overwhelmed.

  • Leaders will pride themselves in having a great vision to lead their company or group towards, but if they are overwhelmed, then their vision will be overtaken.
  • Do you find that you have a short temper with your coworkers?
  • Maybe when others talk to you, you’ve checked out of the conversation and are waiting for it to end.
  • Or you find that making quick and big decisions engulf you.
  • If these sound familiar, then you’re overwhelmed.
What Inner Death Feels Like - The Face of War by Salvador Dali

What Inner Death Feels Like – The Face of War by Salvador Dali

3. The Inner Death

The third sign of burnout is what I call inner death. As morbid as that sounds, it’s exactly what happens. The harder you are pressed because of outside forces the inner turmoil found in your emotions and mind will slowly eat away at you. The longer you battle it, the greater the explosion will occur when face with pressure. Even the smallest decisions that you are required to make will first paralyze you and then defeat will set in.

The final sign is breakdown.

Once depression has set in and you find yourself overwhelmed, and inner death has paralyzed you, it will only be a matter of time before you breakdown completely. Breakdowns can range from continuous crying, dealing with failure, loss of vision, the need to run or get away physically, or detrimental decisions such as divorce or suicide.

Say No!

There is hope. I tell you this from experience. The truth is you have to know when to stop or say no. There will come a time that you have to be willing to end the thrills of I call the three “A’s” which are authority, achievement, and acknowledgements. Any leader who has seen the signs must give themselves permission to heal and recover.

Leading with Margin – What It Is

To this day I have never met a great leader who didn’t want to make a positive impact in the lives of those around them. The only way this will happen is when we are leading from a full tank instead of an empty one. Effective leaders must be serious enough to set margin in their lives so they can heal, become refreshed, and finish their vision with resilience. We must keep in mind that even though you may have identified the signs and admitted you’re leading from a place of burnout, that doesn’t mean you have rectified the issue. Leading from a place of margin is where this process begins.

Margin can simply be defined as the opposite of overload. We can say that it is the safety gap between our rest and our exhaustion. Every leader needs that gap. As we discussed earlier an individual will have problems when their emotional, mental, and physical load is grander than their own power. Each leader needs to monitor with wisdom their margin or gap so they do not enter into a place of overload.

When our own power and control is grander than the emotional, mental, and physical load before us, then we can say that we have margin. Creating margin in a leader’s life will actually increase their work, mental, and emotional production. We now understand that we have not been engineered to have jam-packed schedules on a daily basis. As a leader you are expected to be available for others. How can you have that availability if you’re gap isn’t in place?

Margin will not only benefit you as a leader, but it will increase your employees’ work ethic and they will excel well above their personal limitations. I personally know one employer of a large financial service who ends work every Friday at 12pm. He sends everyone home as well as himself. He believes that if he allows this type of margin in his life and within his employees’ lives, they will personally benefit, their families will benefit, and the company itself will benefit.

You cannot be responsible for everything

You cannot be responsible for everything

Five Surefire Ways To Lead With Margin

Let’s look at some ways anyone can implement margin into their life. The following steps and suggestions are practical ways to apply margin in your personal life and corporate life as a leader. Each one of the steps listed and described below actually do work if you choose to apply them.

1. Learn the Difference Between Concern Vs. Responsibility

Definition: First let’s start with understanding the difference between “concern” and “responsibility.” When we find ourselves concerned about a particular thing, we are worried or anxious about it. When we have a responsibility that means we have an actual duty and obligation to do something for someone or something.

When a leader is faced with the pressures of the organization, the demands of others or even in their personal life, they must first realize that yes, it might be a legitimate concern for the company or the employees, but it is not your responsibility as a leader.

For example a concern you may have is the employee next to your cubical at work, tends to keep a cluttered desk. Your co-worker shows up late to work on a daily basis, but you don’t oversee him or her. You find that your neighbor’s house is a mess. All of these are concerns, but not your responsibility. A concern is generally something that we spend our time and energy on that we don’t have the power or authority to transform.

Takeaway: Learning the difference between a concern and a responsibility won’t be easy at first but once you enforce it, you just might save your life, your sanity, your family, your relationships, and the company.



2. Solitude

In my opinion, one of the most neglected emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual practices is solitude.

Definition: This wonderful practice is described as choosing to separate from the busyness of life to refine your mind, body, and spirit. If we return to the analogy of a luxury car for a moment we will get a clearer picture of solitude and its importance. Every vehicle requires certain maintenance check-ups after so many thousands of miles of wear and tear. A good owner and caretaker of that luxury car will make sure that their car is serviced properly. If they choose to neglect that needed maintenance after so many thousands of miles, the car will begin to suffer and eventually break down. In the long run, the lack of proper care will cost more for the owner, than if they would have managed it properly on a monthly basis. Solitude works the same way for the human body. Consider it be your monthly tune-up.

Every month I take an hour in the morning and I review and plan out my calendar. People who associate with me will tell you that I am constantly busy. If you know me personally, you know that I am not busy, but intentional with my time. Every leader needs to be intentional with their time. During that hour of calendar review, I am simply look over the coming weeks making sure I have room to breathe each day. The second half is placing margin within my calendar and then setting up meetings and speaking engagements around that margin.

How To Do It: When I am intentionally putting that margin into my calendar, I make sure I set aside time for solitude once a month. That may sound excessive, but it works and it’s needed. When you plan your time of solitude, it’s important to set aside no less than two hours. Plan out where you will go and where no one will bother you and get away from the office or the house. Spend those two hours in silence and journaling. Work hard to keep your phone silent and unplug from texting, emails, social media, and Internet suffering. Your mind and emotions need to rest.

3. Cultivate Social Support

What It Is: We are never meant to walk through life alone. The journey of leadership can be a lonely road or trail to blaze. One of the worst practices one can do when burned out is to isolate yourself. A good leader who wants to lead with margin will cultivate a social support around themselves.

How to Achieve It: Set aside time for friends and family. This is your opportunity to learn how to laugh again and really enjoy life. It’s a great time to embrace crying and having the ability to be vulnerable with your closest friends. Give yourself permission to take time off from work and go on a family vacation or take a trip with friends.

4. Create Appropriate Boundaries

Definition: The purpose of a boundary is to keep things in that belong there or keep things out that don’t. In the same manner if you want to lead with margin in your life then create appropriate boundaries. These will help save your character, relationships, and reputation.

Real Life Example: In the realm of finances it means that you will never handle the company’s money alone. Maybe you used to work late at the office, but now one of your boundaries is you won’t work past 5pm. Your creativity is limitless, but it starts with you creating those boundaries.

Eat Well

Eat Well

5. Change Your Habits

Timeline: Studies tell us it takes about thirty days to form or break a habit. Based on my experience, I would argue it can actually takes about 70 days to form or break a habit.

How To Do It: If you want to change your life for the positive you will need to change your habits as a leader. Some simple but effective ideas are:

  • Nap. Incorporating fifteen to twenty minute naps on a daily basis – this allows your mind and body to relax and regain focus for the remainder of the day.
  • Exercise. Start small with three times a week and eventually graduate to five times a week. You will not only look better, but you will feel wonderful.
  • Eat Well. Managing your margin involves eating well for the betterment of your health.
  • Learn to Say No. Because leaders are so driven it is easy to say, “yes” to everyone’s good ideas. The problem with everyone else’s good idea is that it costs everyone else time, energy, and resources. In cases like this, wisdom is a slow process. Take advantage of time and allow yourself to process and when needed simply say “no.” If the good idea of a suggested project will deplete your energy, time, and resources more than what you have, it’s time to say “no.” This may involve trimming the activities in your personal life and corporate life.
  • Do Not Overproduce. It’s hard to imagine sometimes that the work we can’t finish today will actually be waiting for us tomorrow. Become a master of stewarding your energy in everything that you do. Invest your energy with intentionality. Don’t allow others to waste it. Time and energy are expensive, so spend them wisely. Learn to rest well as a leader. I am a firm believer in scheduling “rest periods” before my calendar fills up. Finally don’t be afraid to take a “tech Sabbath.” Pick one day a week and power down your phone, stay away from all social media, emails, and phone calls. I guarantee you they’ll be there in the morning.
  • Deliberate Living. We have already discussed weekly scheduling, but it’s important to make sure you’re taking days off. First, be sure to schedule day off weekly. Yes there are seven days in a week, but remember, one is used for resting. Next, schedule in a personal retreat once every two months. A personal retreat should include you taking two to three consecutive days away. Learn to enjoy the holidays as well by abstaining from work. Finally every seven years you should schedule a sabbatical for yourself. Take sixty days and leave your place of residence by yourself or with your family. Set some strict boundaries in place such as no work and enter a place of rest. I know that sounds like a lot, but your mind, emotions, and physical body will thank you.


The world is always in need of amazing leaders. Their skills and knowledge are constantly in demand, but a leader will only be as good as the margin in the leader’s personal life.

You can attain the ability to lead with margin. It will take sacrifice and intentional living, but it’s worth it for you personally, your loved ones, and those you work with.

For more thought and ideas on this subject I recommend the following 3 Books.

Play it Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety by Charlie Hoehn I love this book because it gave me the needed steps to properly heal from burnout and anxiety.  Play It Away is filled with stories from Charlie’s own life experience and then he walks you through a step-by-step process to a more healthy way of living.  You can purchase this book on Amazon.com for $12.78

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg If you desire to break a bad habit or create a good one this book is a must read.  I recommend The Power of Habit for anyone regardless if they are a leader or not.  Charles not only walks you through a series of scientific understanding, but he provides the reader with practical exercises to break bad habits and establish good ones.  You can purchase this book on Amazon.com for $9.96

Derailed by Tim Irwin, PH.D. A fantastic writing for anyone, but a must-read of anyone who is in leadership or considering a position of leadership.  Dr. Irwin describes the consequences of derailment and seeing the signs of derailment, but follows up with wisdom that anyone can apply to avoid becoming derailed.  You can purchase this book on Amazon.com for $13.15.

Article Name
Leading With Margin & Why You Should Do It
Learning to live within margin and staying refreshed is vital to your success. Start your journey to healing and recovery from burnout.
4 replies
  1. Joe says:

    As a lead for my team, I find myself running on fumes quite often. Since I am at the mercy of a Manager and his Director, I don’t have the luxury of sitting down and deciding what days each month I’m going to take off for solitude or reflection. But I do have a flexible enough schedule to set aside time during at least some days to nap, recharge and refresh. I can also set some boundaries on time spent on projects per day and can at least plan some vacations at regular intervals. I think the key is to figure out what margins are possible for you to pre-plan and take an opportunistic approach to the rest, rather than just thinking it can’t be done and giving up.

    Thanks for another good article.

    • Jason Hotchkiss says:

      Thank you for your thoughts Joe. I understand where you are coming from. I’ve been there. I believe you’re taking the right steps to get there.

  2. Kurt Morey says:

    Mr Hotchkiss, an excellent article, thank you. As leaders everything you mention is or should be known to us. However, as is often the case it is excellent to just sit, read and remind ourselves of everything you discuss. To reflect on what it is we do and why. Just as a small side note, I have above my desk in my office a plaque with big bold letters which reads… “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing”. It makes me smile.

  3. Jason Hotchkiss says:

    Mr. Morey thank you so much. Yes I agree with you and your comment. There is power in just sitting and reflecting for anyone in leadership. Continue to smile and lead well.

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