Do You Suffer From Spinning Plate Syndrome?

Written by Dr. Kelly Whelan

Dr. Whelan is the Founder and CEO of Belem LLC. She specializes in partnering, empowering, and positioning executive leaders and teams for success by helping them design strategies that create stakeholder impact.

August 17, 2021

Here’s a simple question: Are you spinning too many plates or know someone who is?

My client was a well-establish CEO. To the on-looker, she had everything she could want. A pristine resume, followers who caught her vision, and a family who adored her. To the naked eye she had it all, except, space to breathe. This leader was up most nights until 1am responding to emails. After 4-5 hours of sleep, her day as head of a global organization began. She was the decision-maker, respected by her team and peers, yet this leader had a difficult time respecting herself and giving herself permission to just…be…still.

Sound familiar?

This leader was suffering from Spinning Plate Syndrome (SPS) and maybe you are too.

Our fast-paced world, where living by our smart phone has become the sign of normalcy, has most people young and old plugged-in to the technology super-highway 24/7. This inability to unplug leaves leaders at the mercy of their work, and at the mercy of anyone else who feels the need to “reach out” and connect at any hour of any given day.

The world as we know it has created an uncanny reality as leaders everywhere struggle balancing multiple commitments and a day that only ends when their thinking slows, bad decisions creep in, or their eyes finally close.


Spinning plates has led to exhaustion, depression, anxiety and for some, a feeling of not measuring up.


Our real-world exhaustion is elevated. Leaders are tired, fatigued, and drained. And, so are their followers and contributors in the workplace.

Interestingly, leaders know how to manage others, they’ve climbed the corporate ladder, but for many leaders, they have a difficult time managing themself. Why? Because they have too many plates they are trying to spin.

If this sounds familiar to you, below are some Stop-Start initiatives that can help.


Stop Being A People Pleaser!

I’ll be honest, I am a recovered People Pleaser. I used to over extend myself to the point of exhaustion. Somehow I thought all my yeses would give me an edge. But, the reality is, those yeses made me less than edgy. My life began to spin out of control with the C word.


For years I never pushed the pause button, at least not long enough to create meaningful spaces for self-reflection and positive personal impact. As a leader and team development strategist, I talk a lot about impact with my clients. The reality is, unless you understand the power of impact, both in and out of the workplace, your impact will be short lived. For me, time with family was cut short, friends become those within the work walls and soon, my world became everything I never wanted it to be.


The balancing act of work and family, or work and peace became harder and harder to achieve.


Being a people pleaser is not a leadership skill that is expected of a healthy leader. STOP the madness and practice saying no.


You have permission to say no.

Saying the word “no” often comes with guilt and shame, creating an unhealthy cycle for leaders. This cycle creates a downward spiral and is never far away for those who do not practice self-care. As a recovered people-pleaser, the word “no” was hard to convey.  In a twisted way, I thought being a people-pleaser and saying “yes” to everything and everyone was being a leader. Until I realized being a leader, a healthy leader, is about creating and implementing boundaries to honor my own self-care. When I realized every “no” to someone or something else was a “yes” to me, saying the word “no” became synonymous with freedom!

I remember the day I finally mustered up the courage to say that two letter word to one of my spinning plates.  And, it felt so…. good… after the guilt wore off! I did feel guilty. I felt like I was letting others down. My life had become more about executing at all costs than managing my own self-care. It took a lot of practice saying [and sticking to] that little two letter word that held the power to set me free…no.

The Bible teaches even Jesus used the word no, found time to retreat, and did so with intention.  He didn’t over-promise and sure didn’t under deliver.  In fact, He was so dedicated to fulfilling His promise that although He lamented, He found peace within the outcome. Are you finding peace within your decisions?


Balance or Burnout? The choice is yours.

No matter what your age, position, or financial tax bracket, leaders must incorporate self-care. Self-care is not just for you, but the people around you.

Self-care can bring you out of what may seem like a ride on the never-ending hamster wheel. How do leaders find time and achieve balance between caring for others and caring for themself? Healthy leaders are intentional about creating margin in their life. This is where balance begins.

Balance is…a balancing act.

Some say balance is unachievable. This author believes it is.

Achieving balance happens in quiet moments where reflection and strategy meet and where intention and permission are found.

The answer lies within YOU not your mobile device (unless you’re reading this article on it ) and has everything to do with determination, moderation, and most importantly, implementation and follow-thru. Without these four practices, you will continue to think you’re moving ahead, when actually, you become your own worst enemy on a slippery slope to disaster which comes in the form of burnout. And, burnout is real.

In a 2020 survey, Teamblind, found:

  • 36% of professionals experienced burnout daily
  • 32% experienced it weekly
  • 14% monthly
  • 13% every few months
  • Only 5% never experienced it at all

If we take note from the good book as our survival guide in our busy, over-achieving, overpromising world, you will find a way to hit the pause button and figure out what is truly needed from you every day. The act of finding spaces to intentionally recharge will help you produce at optimal levels.


6 Easy Steps For Success

Spinning plates have one thing in common. If at anytime you fail to keep the plates spinning, your plates will crash.

Leaders have many plates to spin. Understanding how to manage the plates and their importance to the overall objective must be identified.

Too often leaders are spinning their plates thinking everything has the same importance. If this is you, it’s time for a spinning plate mindset shift to stop the madness around you.

Start with these quick, easy steps:

Step one: Name and rank your plates in order of importance and priority, 1 low importance, 5 high importance and 1 low priority, 5 high priority.

Be honest with yourself. How important are these plates, really? And, how are you categorizing their priority? All your plates cannot and should not be a 5 in importance an priority.

Step two: Ask yourself the following questions to help decipher how many plates you should personally handle before things start spinning out of control.

  • Which plate is the easiest to spin and soonest to come off your cycle of spinning? Check the box and move on!
  • Do you REALLY need to hang on to all your plates?
  • Is there anyone you can delegate one of your spinning plates to who might enjoy a spin?
  • What negative outcome will happen if you continue the spinning cycle?
  • What positive outcome will happen if you continue the spinning cycle?

Step three: Commit to the plates that are the easiest to come off the spinning cycle and those that will create positive impact without creating exhaustion, anxiety, or feeling like you’re not measuring up.

Step four: Set an end date for each spin cycle.

Step five: Ask someone to hold you accountable.

Step six: CELEBRATE your success!

Your car can’t run on fumes for very long and neither can you. Whether you’re the CEO of an organization, lead in a volunteer capacity, leader of your family, or leading yourself, it’s time to get real with the areas you need help with.  There is no shame in asking for help and accountability.

Change can be hard. In the Bible, this is called a pruning process.  Yes, it can be uncomfortable when you’re going through making changes, but like the tree that’s pruned, the tree will flourish and bear new fruit.

Are you ready? Your leadership depends on it!


Be sure to tune in to the BelemLeaders podcast CONVERSATIONS For Leaders & Teams, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform!

Click here to purchase your copy of Leadership Excellence By Design: Strategies For Sustainability & Strength on Amazon! 







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