As an executive coach, I get to work with tremendous people. These leaders work in everything from multinational companies to private equity groups, and not-for-profit organizations. And in times B.C. (before covid) to present – I’m seeing the impact of burnout showing up at levels I’ve not seen before.
I’ve seen leader fatigue in the past resulting from long travel, unending meetings, and unending change. The 2021 reality for many is that organizations are under-resourced, have heavier workloads, and leaders at all levels are working while caring for kids, loved ones, dealing with illness, loss, and more. This type of unending work and stress has impacted people on a mental, emotional, and physical level to the point that a larger proportion of the workforce than seen before is in burnout mode. The negative impact on leaders and organizations is tangible.
Stemming the surge of burnout starts with the leader – and their commitment together to exemplify – or normalize the importance of self-care and the qualities of servant leadership. Servant leadership and self-care are not new concepts. As a coach, I verify they work.
Burnout and Mental Stress
Recent research is confirming that burnout is more widespread than before. Forbes has recently identified burnout and mental stress as one of the greatest workplace challenges of 2021. These findings, coupled with the long road to economic recovery and digital transformation are expected to continue driving the pace of change and resulting demands on people to new levels.
At the helm are leaders – most with high personal aspirations, high professional standards, and are dedicated to growing the organization. Many are asking:
What happens when I run out of steam?
How can I ask others to do more when I can see they’re hitting a wall?
Being aware of the signs of burnout in ourselves and others, and what we can do about it, are important topics for a leader’s radar at this time. Gallup’s recent work on stemming burnout finds that great leaders must be even more intentional about noticing and addressing professional overwhelm and burnout by practicing and supporting the importance of wellbeing.
A generalized short list of signs of burnout includes patterns of the following:
- Irritability and impatience
- Poor concentration; memory
- Inability to make swift decisions; get work done
- Task focus – on administrivia/ routine vs. strategic initiatives (auto-pilot thinking)
- Avoiding personal risk or taking initiative
- Emotionally flat
- Poor sleep /diet/ fitness
I believe that most companies are filled with good people. And some are willing and able to reinvent themselves. They’ve learned not to look long at failure, or too longingly for recognition or appreciation. Often they’re driven by a purpose beyond progressive titles, paychecks, and perks. They want to create something bigger than themselves that’s good for others. A good manager, with the energy and willingness to do so, can tap into this.
STOP – Tips for Rebuilding from Burnout An Important Place to Start is to STOP
The writings of Rev. Tony Jarvis in With Love and Prayers says more about this to those in and aspiring to lead:
“The more successful we are in life, the higher we climb on the ladder of achievement – the more problems we discover, the more enemies we collect, the more people there are to criticize the decisions we make. The more we invest our lives in service to others, we discover to our surprise, the world provides us with no standing ovations.
“The foolish among you will say, “because I don’t see it, it isn’t there. The wise among you will realize that to see and hear, you have to shut up. You have to wait. Then you will see and hear.”
In other words – Leaders – take daily time to STOP. LOOK. LISTEN.
To help turn the tide of burnout, the path of servant leadership is a lifesaver. It requires leaders to stop and care for themselves so that they can better lead others. What’s more, Forbes’s research on self-compassion and leadership found the importance of leaders setting the example significantly impacted others doing what was needed to address burnout.
More specifically, Mckinsey’s 2020 research advises four leadership practices that are crucial for rebuilding a healthier, happier leader and employee experience for helping rebound from burnout:
Four practices for addressing burnout:
- Empathy, Compassion, and Vulnerability
- Awareness and Self Care
The self-care and the more empathetic qualities of leadership may sound simple but they’re rare to find. I believe we may have a new, more compassionate leadership approach evolving. This would create a ripple effect for the impact is contagious. Imagine being the manager that shows empathy, acts compassionately, and is vulnerable, positive, and grateful on a regular basis? Along with business credibility and employee benefits that support self-care – it will go a long way.
Yes, there will be naysayers to all this ‘soft stuff’ and most leaders know that shifting company culture takes time. I’ve heard it said that empathic leadership is overrated and the defense given is from Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Those that oppose the value of empathetic leadership advocate ‘challenging directly’ as the modus operandi. Sadly, this view misses a crucial point. To challenge directly says Scott, means FIRST caring personally – not the other way around. Caring personally is a trait of servant leaders.
Scott writes “This (radical candor) requires leaders to first build sincere, transparent and compassionate relationships, which allows for them to speak the truth- directly”.When we put the person and relationship first, we can be candid. The other way around can be toxic.
A Starting Place: You
- Are you burned out?
- Is your team showing signs of burnout? What example are you setting?
- Where will you start that makes the most difference?
- How will you support yourself – since today you feel there’s ‘no time’?
- What happens when you neglect yourself?
If you find yourself at a tipping point and want to get to a turning point, STOP.
Start leading yourself so that you’ll be a lifeline to others.
I close with a quote from Rumi, and invite you to care greatly: “Be a lamp, a lifeboat, or ladder.”
Kim has over 25 years working with leaders to move them towards their goals. Clients come to Kim to coach in these areas and more. Let’s connect and explore what matters most to you.