Professionally dressed woman asleep on couch exhausted with book in hand, asleep face down.

This is a continuing series. Today’s post is An Introduction to Burnout (Part 2). In this series, we are examining leadership burnout and the steps you need to implement as a leader to avoid (and recover from) burnout.

An Introduction to Burnout (Part 2)

In his book Ministry Burnout: A Special Problem, John Sanders writes about the elements leading to burnout. While he is specifically addressing leadership in the church, the reality holds for every position of leadership. Initially, John’s list contained nine elements. I’ve adapted and combined some as it relates specifically to general leadership health.

As a result, in a follow-up to my last post, we need to examine these six stressors that can lead to leadership burnout. In this article, we will examine the first three causes, and a follow-up article will examine the last three.

While none of these by themselves lead directly to burnout, a combination of these six events can. Be wise and pay attention to what is going on in your soul and get professional help if you need it.

1.) The leader’s job is never finished.

I remember sitting on my bed, gasping for air. I was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. The weight on my chest would lift and I found myself unable to breathe. My wife, in her best attempt to reassure me, held my head as I half-gasped-for-air-half-cried.

The mounting pressure from weeks of over-commitment was getting to me. I was building my coaching business, often investing thirty hours a week into my then part-time venture. I was still on staff at a church, working sixty hours a week during the Christmas season. I was also in the midst of doctoral school and we had just had our third child. Weeks of poor sleep, nutrition, and exercise left my body debilitated.

As I created a list of all I still had yet to do, it all became too much. As I sat on our bed, wondering whether to call an ambulance, I eventually fell. Honestly, I’m still not sure if it was falling asleep from exhaustion or passing out from lack of oxygen. Either way, I took a four nap, whether I wanted to or not. 

I’ve learned a lot from that moment. Though the leader’sTired man with arms over his head exhausted at his computer facing burnout job is never finished, I now find that a much more welcoming prospect. I now give myself the freedom to admit that since the job won’t be finished, I might as well take some time off and enjoy what’s going on around me.

If you find yourself mounting with fear and overwhelm at the prospect of all you have to do, this can be one indicator on the road to burnout.

2.) A lack of clear results.

There are few things a leader can find more frustrating than this. Investing countless hours into a project, spilling blood, sweat, and tears, only to be given ambiguous results. How disheartening!

When I first started coaching, I agreed to give someone free coaching. I thought it would be a win-win. They’d get some (hopefully) great coaching and I’d get to practice and implement some of the theories I’d been working on.

Instead, it was a lose-lose. With no monetary investment, he never had need to change. He said he wanted coaching and really wanted to grow but never put in the effort. On the outside, he claimed to want a promotion. Internally, his lack of desire and discipline proved why he’d never get it.

I also lost. I invested 60-90 minutes into an individual for almost two years before I humbled myself to call off our arrangement. I got zero usable feedback, unclear results, and a bad taste in my mouth.

If we’re not clear about the results, and if we don’t measure the right things, our frustration can quickly lead to burnout. Unfortunately, working with people can be a prime breeding ground for unclear results. This is why I’ve implemented a wide array of team-oriented goals in coaching.

Now, not only do we measure tangibles like product production, sales, marketing, and bottom-line numbers; we also measure relational and interpersonal goals. We examine personal satisfaction. I help my teams put measures on metrics that are often left undefined. Through team-building leadership assessments, you need to find a way to create positive experiences and measurables that provide motivation and encouragement for your team.

3.) Workplace repetition

As I stood on my college campus lawn thirty minutes after graduation, I wondered what life held next for me. Suddenly, it wasn’t cool to be unemployed. Instead of a college student, I was a college graduate. I was recently married and we found ourselves without income. When my brother asked me what was next, I said, “I dunno. I guess now I just work until I die.” Had I followed my own advice, that probably wouldn’t have been that long of a cycle.

In the workplace, leaders often face a similar dilemma. Think of your own workday. I’m guessing there are a number of tasks you can count on occurring on a regular basis. Jane is 15 minutes late, Bill shows up at your desk around 10:30 to unnecessarily distract you for thirty minutes, your boss needs a last-minute report that should’ve been done weeks ago, and you get stuck in traffic by missing the elevator and having to wait another five minutes.

On top of that, you seem to make the same thirty copies every day. It’s boring. It’s dull. It takes little if any brainpower.

It’s unfulfilling.

That, ultimately, is the real danger, but the repetition can be a sign of impending burnout. Showing up every day, repeating the same tasks, feeling the same soul-crushing boredom, leads to discontentment. Discontedness leads to apathy. Apathy gives birth to burnout. You know you were created for more and aren’t living to your full potential, so you slowly start to die inside.

Engaging in the same tasks, especially the unfilling ones, can lead to burnout. Find ways to stimulate your brain, engage your body, challenge your senses, and enhance your prospects by breaking through the routine and trying something new.

4.) Stagnant Relationships

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. This unattributable proverb gives us great insight into the impending doom of burnout.

The unhealthy pervasive “Alpha” mentality in today’s leadership style has ingrained the idea that exceptional leaders must go it alone. This is never the case. Instead, great leaders have always had others close to them. They use these relationships as feedback, guidance, additional wisdom, course correction, diversity, strategy, and companionship.

David Heenan wrote about great Co-leaders in the late ’90s. He highlighted men duos like Jobs and Cook, Gates and Ballmer, and Hellen Keller with her teacher Anne Sullivan.

If you ever listen to a talk I give, we’re probably going to talk about the pairing of Lincoln and Grant. As a fan of history in general, these two men in particular have inspired me. Here, it is their unwavering commitment to each other that matters most. Their letters, starting out formal, by the end conveys a sense of warmth and deep friendship. If Lincoln had had his way, Grant would’ve been in the audience with him the night of his assassination.

In all of these, the point is the same: your level of success, and your ability to resist burnout, is directly related to the amount of deep and meaningful relationships you have.

When we have stagnant relationships, we begin to rely solely on our own power. We convince ourselves of the false belief that others don’t matter. We begin to distance ourselves from those that love us most, we simultaneously isolate our hearts from the thing it needs most: human interaction.

If you examine your life and notice that it is either void of significant relationships or that they have become stagnant, be forewarned: burnout is soon to follow.

5.) The Pressure of a Public Image

Leading others is somehow both a tremendous joy and an unbearable burden. It brings us unimaginable happiness and gives manifestation to our deepest insecurities.

That pressure can get to you. When you as a leader constantly feel the need to maintain your public image, burnout can happen.

While there are many causes and reasons for this, in my work with executives I’ve noticed one factor more than others. The number one cause I’ve seen is that the person becomes defined by the position. The belief that you alone can lead, you alone are called, you alone are capable, you alone are good enough presents an unbearable burden on your soul. Unable to maintain that image for long, you further isolate yourself from those around you. Professionally dressed woman asleep on couch exhausted with book in hand, asleep face down.

Pair that self-imposed isolation with other items on this list, and burnout will quickly follow.

6.) Failure

This final item, much like the preceding one, becomes an issue when it becomes wrapped up in identity. When you start to see the subtle shift in your psyche between, “I experienced failure” and “I am a failure,” trouble is on the horizon.

Failure is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Many times, it should actually be encouraged more than it is. We learn more from failures than we do successes. I recently gave my oldest son his first pocket knife. After walking through safe handling techniques, how to open and close it, how to hold it, store it, and use it to cut effectively, I handed him the knife. I concluded the lesson by saying, “But I also know that the only way to learn sometimes is the hard way. So you’ll probably cut yourself and we’ll put a band-aid on it. You’ll learn not to do it again.”

I handed him the knife. Within fifteen seconds he had cut his thumb open. The next day, cut open a different finger.

Since then, he hasn’t cut himself. He learned. The hard way. Through failure.

It was a painful but effective lesson.

But when we begin to tie up our identity into our failure, we create a vicious cycle, much like we saw above. We experience failure, feel like we alone must fix it, isolate others, fail again, and our leadership trends downward.

Very few, if any, of these six causes to burnout happen in isolation. Most often, they are paired with others on the list. The relentless nature of leadership lends itself to moments of frustration, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Healthy leaders will fight against that. In future editions of this series, we’re going to examine ways to stay healthy and fight these temptations.

 


The Wrap Up

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

 Want the entire series as a Kindle book? Go here.

Episode 32 Podcast Cover Workplace Culture and Finance

In this episode of the Bakersfield Business Mastermind, we talk about the changing landscape of workplace culture and finances.

Join Dr.’s Juanita Webb, Scott Thor, and Justin Hiebert as we discuss how workplace culture and finances impact important things like employee satisfaction, the bottom line of your business, and what you can do to improve morale. Episode 32 Podcast Cover Workplace Culture and Finance

 

Dr. Scott Thor

Dr. Scott Thor has over 20 years of experience helping leaders get more from their organizations, and individuals eliminate crippling debt from their lives.  Scott’s clients have implemented 1,000+ improvements that have led to $150M+ in savings and eliminated over 500,000 hours of unnecessary work. Scott is a Dave Ramsey Preferred Financial coach, certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and has a Doctorate of Management degree from George Fox University. 

Questions?

Do you know your biggest workplace culture and finance issues? If you don’t reach out to Scott Thor or Justin Hiebert to talk about what steps you can implement for sustained growth.

Connect with Justin and the #NextSteps Community

Please be sure to like, share, leave a comment, and turn on notifications to keep aware of upcoming events, live streams, and new video releases.

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LeaderQuest Podcast Season 4 Introduction

Today I’m excited to launch the inaugural episode of the LeaderQuest Podcast Season 4!

It’s crazy to think that just over a year ago, this project started. Since then, we’ve talked about leadership health (Season One), the Building With Purpose Conference (Season 2), and spoken with thriving business owners in the midst of COVID (Season 3).

Now, it’s time to help you with real, practical steps to start (and grow) your business.

LeaderQuest Podcast Season 4 is designed to help you, wherever you are at, start and grow your business. LeaderQuest Podcast Season 4 Introduction

I’ll have interviews with experts in the fields of HR, human performance, finance, and operations.

We’ll also talk shop on what you can do to

  • Start a business
  • Manage Employees
  • Create a viable product
  • Find mentors
  • Establish your niche
  • And much, much more

Introductory Episode

This introductory episode of the LeaderQuest Podcast Season 4 lays it all out and tells you in detail where we’re going, what’s next, and some advice and guidance if you’re facing burnout. (Because who isn’t tired and frustrated right now).

Give it a listen. Subscribe. Then leave a review.

 

 


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Blog Post Cover: Car Robbery with overlay text "deal with it"

Recently, my wife and I were enjoying some coffee in the morning when we noticed headlights pull into our driveway. This isn’t too unusual or a call for alarm as we live three blocks from her parent’s house. They will sometimes stop by in the morning to see the kids before school.

However, three minutes after noticing the lights, they hadn’t come to the door. Then, we heard the sharp screel of an angle grinder, followed immediately by our car alarm going off. 

As I ran outside, there were three individuals attempting to steal our catalytic converter and turn it in for recycling money. I found out from the cops that it’s a popular crime, and one hard to track. Most of the time, car alarms don’t go off. We were able to escape any major injury or damage to the car as we called the cops and they sped off.

However, one phrase has been a recurring phrase for us in the house following the event is: “Deal with it.”

Deal With It.

While they didn’t get anything of value, it was a huge invasion of privacy. Worse than that, there were two individuals I could plainly see, one providing lookout in the car and the other cutting away beneath our vehicle. What I couldn’t see, was the third individual lurking around the corner who charged me when I stepped out my front door to see what was going on. Narrowly escaping, I pushed my wife and kids back inside to the safety of our home and called the cops once we were alerted to the danger.

That night, I noticed that I had a lot of anxiety. Worried they would come back and attempt to finish their theft, or worse, left me unable to sleep. The next several days were all stressful as we tried to process not just the attempted theft, but the invasion of privacy and safety as well.

As we process the event and deal with the consequences and trauma of the event, I realize how many times in life we don’t “deal with it” when problems arise.

At Work

Work situations are ripe with circumstances and experiences that haven’t been dealt with.

  • A coworker makes an inappropriate joke or demeaning remark and is never called out for it. Instead, he assumes everyone agrees with him since nothing was said.
  • A manager ridicules an employee unfairly and abusively. The “leadership style is defended because “that’s just the way he is.”
  • A brewing team conflict is allowed to simmer because of the false belief that product launch and marketing execution is more important than team health.

At Home

  • A series of pet-peeves builds mounting frustration towards a full-blown argument where harsh words are used.
  • The pressure of increased sales at work diminishes the quality of life at home, leading to personal withdrawal and isolation.
  • The busyness of life limits personal connection time and family bonding, leading to a fractured family unit and unspoken angst.

You get the point. You’ve also likely been there. Perhaps you even are there now. But high performers know that you can only be as strong as your weakest area of life. If you’re struggling to deal with any aspect of conflict, drama, or trauma, your success will falter and your breakthroughs will be limited.

Instead, based on the experience of the recent attempted robbery, here are three ways to help you process conflict in your life so you can deal with it appropriately.

1.) Give your emotions space.

The first step towards healing for Elise and I was to give our emotions space. We first had to acknowledge what we were feeling: sadness, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, panic, and worry were quick to come out. Blog Post Cover: Car Robbery with overlay text "deal with it"

Give yourself the emotional range to deal with difficult problems and learn how to overcome them.

Strong leaders know they need to raise their emotional intelligence. Through consistent and deliberate practice, they engage their emotions and learn to master and express them appropriately.

2.) Share in deep conversation

You can’t deal with problems if you don’t talk about them. Once we acknowledged our emotions, we shared a conversation based around healing. What did it mean for us to deal with this situation effectively? How could we overcome those negative emotions and find hope? What did the other person need? How could we support them?

Elise and I intentionally set aside time to listen, reflect, and engage each other at a deep level.

3.) Create a better tomorrow.

The good news is that we are all okay. The better news is that we can work for a better tomorrow. This experience provided us with the opportunity to look at our house in a new light and discover what made it a good target. Poor outside lighting contributed to the criminals picking our house. So too, did several other factors. We were able to see those, remedy them, and create a safer environment for our family.

In life and work, we can do the same. Interpersonal conflict doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, it shouldn’t be. In his book Thrive By Design, Don Rheem tells us that we are wired to perform better in teams. Those around us should make us better. If they aren’t, we have issues to address. By addressing them, we make the team better. When we make the team better, we get better. When you get better, you can attain peak performance. By reaching peak performance, you can skyrocket your success.

It is inevitable that conflict, disagreement, and discord will arise in life. However, we don’t have to live in it constantly. Instead, we can rise above it by giving our emotions space, engaging in deep conversation, and working towards a better future.

Episode 13 Podcast Cover

LeaderQuest Podcast Season 2

Welcome to the Leaderquest Podcast. I’m thrilled to get season two underway. This season will consist of interviews conducted for the Building With Purpose Conference I held back in May.

If you failed to register for the full course, stay tuned! I’ve got interviews coming up with each of the authors. You’ll be able to glean wisdom from them and apply it in ways to grow yourself and your business. Episode 13 Podcast Cover

LeaderQuest Podcast Episode – 13

In today’s episode, I’m having a conversation with Anastasia Button, a workplace consultant with specializations in workplace culture, Millennials, and integrating healthy work systems.

Be sure to subscribe, leave a comment, and share with someone who could benefit.

What’s one takeaway you have from the interview?

 

Want more leadership tips? Be sure to check out the blog or #NextSteps Coaching on YouTube.