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Executive Coaching | Are You a Zombie Professional?

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

claymation of a Zombie professional post-covid
Image by Julien Tromeur on Unsplash

As we come out of the other side of the COVID-10 pandemic, quite a bit of attention has been focused on physical assets such as office buildings that are nowhere near capacity as employees and businesses adopt hybrid work or work from anywhere policies.

Similarly in recent months, many of the leaders that I have met with are also showing up performing nowhere near capacity. Much like these empty buildings, they show up as just a shadow of their former professional selves. Some are in middle management positions in organizations that have done significant layoffs (see our thoughts on the “Layoff Olympics”) and they have been asked to do more with less. They have inherited large teams, been assigned aggressive milestones which change frequently, and are no longer able to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Recently, Boston Consulting Group released its report addressing the growing trend of zombie buildings in major urban centers across the United States. The study suggested possible ways to address this trend for non-sustainable building utilization by using a “5-Rs” framework: Remain, Renovate, Repurpose, Redevelop, or Relinquish. I found that these words (not the actions) also resonate for individuals experiencing a parallel crisis in professional expectations and happiness.

We often begin with a conversation and explore a “What if” scenario around each of the five Rs looking for an evidence-based or intuitive-based reframe of both the problem and the possibilities. A professional who feels as if they are underperforming or languishing based on external controls and uncertain circumstances can identify with the “zombie” nomenclature (especially if they’ve watched the series The Walking Dead). By taking the time to build “what if” scenarios they can often rekindle what is within their control and rediscover their calling. Using a motivational interviewing approach, we begin with the question:

What would it take to go from zombie to zealous? What does that look like if you. . .


What would have to happen for you to remain in your current position with your current employer? Why were you chosen to stay/remain? What competencies do you bring? What if the pressure was temporary? What would relief look like? How can you use this time to better position yourself for your career goals? What skills do you feel like you would need to move towards zealous? What amenities or benefits can you leverage? What would make it tolerable? What would make it fantastic?


What can you change in your position to be more effective? What trends can you take advantage of or leverage? What doesn’t need fixed? What is the highest priority for renovation to begin? Who could be your subcontractors or architects? What systems could you flex to get more done with less? What is a reasonable timeline for renovation? What skills do you feel you need to update? How can you ask for resources for your personal or team renovation?


What is your purpose (how do you live your core values)? What items in your purpose aren’t being met? What would need to happen to be living your purpose? What if your purpose needed an overhaul? When you have felt loss of control or dwindling satisfaction in the past, how did reclaim it? Of those past reclamations, what could you repurpose to this situation? What would have to change for you to reconnect to your purpose? If you took your skillsets, where else could you apply them to move from zombie to zealous (often this means different positions within the same organization, or the same skillsets at a different organization)?


What areas under your leadership need additional resources (employees, equipment, expertise)? What incentives or support would be necessary to leverage those resources? What if you were in charge, what would you redevelop? Who could help you? What would be the benefits of redeveloping yourself and/or your team? What would a significant transformation require? What is the realistic timeline for redevelopment vs. renovation? Imagine you were granted the resources you lack, would that move you from zombie to zealous, or is it something else?


What if you did something else or moved on? What are you willing to give up or relinquish? What do you think you would gain? What does letting go look like to you? What are you afraid of? What if “zealous” looked like relief? How could relief be incorporated into a daily habit? How will you know that this is the best choice? What if this position required you to relinquish your doubts? What would that look like?

Reprogram & Rehabilitate the Zombie Professional via the Head and Heart.

Truth be told, the only sure-fire way to eliminate a zombie, is to get to the head. How we think, frame, and use our brains to combat that empty feeling requires both an understanding of how thoughts work as well as the necessary actions that will help reprogram our thought patterns. But to permanently put the zombie into remission, it also requires the heart. Knowing our passions and aligning those passions into actionable thoughts is the balance we need to start living a happier and more zealous life.

Break the Tape Leadership helps leaders unleash creativity and potential in themselves and the organizations they lead to generate meaningful momentum. (And we help zombie professionals reprogram and rehabilitate to lead a more zealous life.)


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