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Avoid Being An Adrenaline Junkie This Year

School leaders are very busy people. Just ask them! The most common response you’ll hear when you ask a school leader how they are, is, “BUSY!” Being busy has acquired a new status. It is now equated with importance. Many school leaders only know two speeds – flat out and asleep! This is typical of the adrenaline junkie.

Leading a school community is busy and complex. There is always a lot to be done and the workload appears to be increasing exponentially. Leaders often rush from one priority or crisis to another, putting out spot fires as they go. They often feel an inner sense of importance. They are helping people and they feel that people are depending upon them. This gives them a feeling of significance.

We often complain about being overloaded but somewhere inside we need the sense of being indispensable and in-demand. Adrenalin junkies are susceptible to packing their days to the brim. The trap is that being busy can add up to lots and lots of activity that isn’t all that productive in the end.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book “The Advantage”, highlights what he describes as ‘The Adrenaline Bias’. Lencioni observed that “Many leaders suffer from a chronic case of adrenaline addiction, seemingly hooked on the daily rush of activity and firefighting within their organization” (Lencioni 2012). I believe that many school leaders suffer this bias.

The feeling of an adrenalin high is addictive. The natural chemical of speed, adrenaline gives you a ‘rush’. When you’re on adrenaline you think quickly, talk quickly, eat quickly and even finish other people’s sentences. A crammed life is typical of the adrenalin junkie – you try to be ‘on’ 100% of the time. If you have been an adrenaline junkie for some time, you may have lost the ability to relax (Church 2007, page 29).

However, the rush that we get from adrenalin is not sustainable and may not be helping us. This addiction to adrenalin can make us our own worst enemy.

The downside of the adrenalin high is the adrenalin crash! This is the feeling of anti-climax you get when you finish a major project or the restlessness you feel on holidays, the boredom you endure when you get a chance to slow down. When things aren’t happening, you feel vaguely depressed.

When the entire day becomes one big stress event, fueled by adrenaline, this can lead to burnout and exhaustion. This can contribute to serious stress-related illness and premature ageing. It also makes you less fun to be around.

There are two ways to get a natural high – one from adrenalin, which makes you feel switched on for short bursts; the other from serotonin, which makes you feel calm and comfortable for longer periods. The real natural high comes from an appropriate balance of both adrenalin and serotonin. The first step is becoming aware that you may be an adrenalin junkie.

If you do everything in fast forward you need to slow down and make some space in your life. When you learn to switch onto adrenalin only when you need to, and manage the rush in a healthy, balanced way, you can be naturally high more often, rather than using your ‘drug’ to get through everyday life (Church, 2007, page 29).

It’s important to learn to slow down and STOP BEING A MARTYR! Whilst school budgets are always tight, school leaders are often reticent to allocate school resources to support their executive role. Getting the balance right in terms of actual support and the perception of others is important. The balance is somewhere between being a martyr, doing everything yourself and not allocating any support and being perceived as ‘high maintenance’, pampered and removed from reality. It is important that school leaders value their own professionalism and well-being to ensure that we are making the greatest possible difference in our schools.

For example, utilising a couple of hours of administrative support to release you to analyse data or plan for the successful implementation of an important initiative in your school is wise. Having someone make your cup of tea or serve your lunch is too far!

At the APPA conference in Brisbane in September, APPA President Dennis Yarrington launched “Back to Balance: How Policy and Practice Can Make Primary Principals Highly Effective”. The excellent report written by past APPA and QASSP President, Norm Hart was the result of a deep analysis of an extensive survey of Primary Principals from across Australia, including all sectors and states. The report concludes with five recommendations and highlights that, “It is Australia’s primary school leaders who must take ownership of these research findings and use them to make their work, healthy, fulfilling, effective and attractive to aspirants.”


The profession of school leadership must insist and demonstrate it deserves trust and support so that principals can lead teaching and learning for all Australian students and teachers.


Australian primary principal associations must advocate for adequate support aimed at meaningful accountability and compliance reporting.


Australian primary principals must advocate for well-supported policies, procedures and practices that ensure primary school leaders manage staff, students and parents, effectively.


Australian primary principals must utilise school personnel and resources to ensure the school operates highly effectively.


Australian primary principals must actively manage their workload.


Implementing recommendations four and five requires changes by the principals themselves.  To read 15 recommendations for making 2018 your best year ever, click here to read my article.