Control, Anti-Burnout Behavior and Leadership
Neil Young once sang, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” And we consider it our job at Mach10 Career & Leadership Coaching to help people and organizations avoid either of these outcomes. But the truth is, “burnout” is a very real (and very destructive) phenomenon that afflicts companies of all sizes. Why? Because far too many of their managers (most without knowing how to avoid it or even being aware of it) are leading their teams—and themselves—into a state of burnout from chronic workplace stress. As a result, their health and their team’s is at risk as is their organization’s performance. Evidence of this phenomenon is indisputable at all levels of the hierarchy and the severity of this many-decade trend has been worsened by two years of a pandemic. People are suffering and so, eventually, will their organization’s long-term viability.
While it’s true that some managers appear indifferent, most feel burnout in themselves and see it in their people—yet, they simply don’t know what to do about it. These well intentioned managers don’t know what behavioral adjustments to make and many don’t grasp that anti-burnout leadership starts by giving themselves and their team more control over their work environment. Why? Because this significantly reduces levels of stress and creates more meaning from work. Once leaders understand this, they can begin making changes to their leadership behaviors, giving their employees (and themselves) a stronger sense of power and predictability in their work life—all factors that lower stress and mitigate the risk of burnout.
What We Mean by Leadership
When executives come to me for leadership coaching, one of the first questions I ask them is “what does leadership mean to you?” The answers always vary. Many mention the importance of vision and strategy while others focus on self-awareness and judicious delegation. And all of these are qualities of effective leadership.
I never, however, hear anything close to what is the consensus definition of a leadership competency:
The ability to align and integrate human efforts
and interests with business goals.
That’s right: leadership is the ability to harness and integrate people’s energy and motivations to achieve business goals. And if you scan the literature over the years seeking what truly demonstrates leadership competency, you’ll discover five core behaviors.
An effective people leader:
- Shapes, influences and articulates vision & strategy;
- Creates an environment that encourages participation and openness;
- Builds and facilitates platforms to showcase other’s success;
- Removes obstacles;
- Acts as a trusted advisor and confidant.
With the exception of the first, showing up with these behaviors in the workplace will lead to anti-burnout outcomes: less stress, stronger motivation, better health and the creation of greater business value.
Showing Up With Anti-burnout Behaviors
A starting point for developing anti-burnout behavior is building an awareness of your behavior today. Here are eight questions to ask yourself as you consider how you mobilize for positive change:
- How much space do you give your team on how they organize their work and complete their tasks? Giving your team members the space to control how they execute their tasks lowers stress and augments the meaning they gain from the experience.
- How much choice do you give your team on deciding what they work on? When you know what tasks bring out the positive energy in your people (and less stress) and you assign tasks accordingly, you’re taking another step toward an anti-burnout leadership.
- When decisions are made that affect your team, do you solicit and consider their impact first? A feeling of trust and safety creates more certainty about the future. When people are excluded from decisions that affect them, they lose trust, feel less safe, and become more stressed about their inclusion in the future.
- When you assign tasks to your people, do you consider the alignment with their skills? According to research conducted years ago, growth is maximized when our tasks are at 104% of our capacity. If too many tasks are easy, we become bored. If too many tasks are too difficult, we become frustrated.
- When you define the outcomes of the task you assign, do you take input and negotiate mutually-acceptable objectives and standards? Working toward an objective that your team members perceive as unachievable is sure to demotivate. That’s why a conversation around the objective is so important: it will allow you both to coalesce around a mutually acceptable outcome.
- When you check in with your people, do you encourage them to share obstacles impeding their progress and support their removal as best you can? Removing obstacles is a major responsibility of a people leader. To fulfill this, a team’s members need to feel safe mentioning what’s impeding their success, and not feel vulnerability or ultimately shame.
- Do you hold regular “participatory” team meetings where individuals can contribute new ideas and decision making input? Many leaders walk into their weekly team meeting with a rigid agenda. Leaving a lot of space for open participation goes a long way to making people feel more in control and included.
- When you make decisions, do you explain the reasoning behind the decision and openly discuss why you did not choose other options others may have supported? Ultimately, you will make many decisions others on your team disagree with. Explaining the reasoning behind your decision and why you did not choose other options will go a long way to letting people know you listened to and carefully considered your team’s input.
The path to positive change starts with your awareness and acceptance of how you are leading today. Because we all have blind spots and may resist the behavioral changes we really need to make, working with a leadership coach may substantially increase and accelerate your leadership effectiveness and in turn, your personal growth and health.