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Are You A Leader Who's Secretly Burnt Out?

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Leadership isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation, as you’ll know if it’s your role. At its best, there is little more rewarding. You get to inspire your people to create something worthwhile, whether it’s a product or service, a community or a team. In those moments when your vision is realised all the challenges, lost sleep, frustration and heart ache are worth it.

But what happens when things aren’t going well? There are many times when the buck stops with you and many times when the people around you might genuinely want to be supportive but can’t relate to the responsibility that you carry. Leadership can be a stressful, lonely place and the pandemic of the last two years has brought that acutely into focus.

According to Gallup in its Global Workplace report of 2022, 40% of employees admit to experiencing stress and anxiety on a daily basis - the highest statistics ever recorded. CEO of Gallup, Jon Clifton, states that better management is the answer to fixing the problem, but the report doesn’t acknowledge leaders’ increased stress levels or suggest how to support them.

Not only have you had to deal with the anxiety and overwhelm experienced by your teams and family members, you’ve had to work through your own fears and challenges, too. Unless you have effective tools for maintaining your resilience, pushing ahead for the last two years, with just grit and determination, will probably have left you feeling burnt out and wondering when you’ll be back to normal.

It’s generally understood that building resilience must incorporate both mindset and physical health but an area that is largely neglected is the emotional realm. People are still living under the outdated premise, “Don’t bring your emotions to work,” which has led to business cultures where many leaders don’t have effective strategies or tools to deal with their, or their employees, emotional challenges.

This is the cause of much of the anxiety in the workplace. The emotional realm is the area that we experience the biggest depletion due to stress, and it impacts every other realm.

The graph shows research findings on how stress affects performance over time. The red Line shows how performance initially increases if we positively embrace the challenge, but then decreases over time. The blue line shows that although stress may affect us, the more serious stages of depletion can be avoided with appropriate stress and energy management.

As the illustration above demonstrates, you can learn to build a greater capacity for resilience, so not only can you bounce back from challenges but be better prepared and more adaptable in the face of difficult circumstances.

The research above was originally collated by the American armed forces. Their initial deduction from these findings was that the troops’ resilience was depleted because they were physically fatigued. Their response was to break their tour of duty with leave of absence but discovered that, on its own, this did little to improve the troops performance in the field.

The military sought the expertise of the HeartMath, a research Institute that has developed effective tools to enable individuals to rebuild and increase their emotional, physical and psychological capacity for resilience. Using tools and technologies developed from their research of over twenty-five years, HeartMath’s interventions were so effective, demonstrating a significant increase in performance in stressful environments, that the military has continued to work with them for over a decade. HeartMath also works closely with emergency medical technicians and first responders, worldwide.

HeartMath tools are very accessible and only take 2-5 minutes to implement. Of course, like anything, you’ll have to commit to practicing these new skills, to increase your resilience capacity. You wouldn’t expect to build a physical muscle without doing reps.

The HeartMath Institute has some excellent free resources their website which are well worth taking a look at and implementing.

While you probably haven’t had to physically go to war, life over the last two years has been harder than many people have ever endured before. The levels of stress experienced on a daily basis have been unprecedented, which Gallup’s statistics reflect.

As a leader, it’s imperative that you take stock of your own wellbeing and do what is necessary to rebuild your resilience. If you are burnt out and jaded, you’re not going to effectively inspire and motivate your teams. Worse than that, you’re setting yourself up long term health issues. To borrow an analogy from the airline industry, in an emergency, you must put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others. You don’t want your plane to crash.

It's a privilege for me to work with leaders, especially in supporting them to get back to full capacity after burnout. If you would be interested in having a discreet conversation about the support I can offer, please get in touch. I would be happy to help.

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