Why Do Some Leaders Experience Burnout?


Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore, so do our minutes, hasten to the end. – William Shakespeare

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was 9, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no- nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow’s flight, and then young Frank’s tracks meandering all over the field. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.”

Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy in life. “I determined right then,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye, “not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.”

So much is made over the responsibility and demands of leadership that we fail to learn the lesson that Frank Lloyd Wright points out. It is part of the delicate big picture of leadership that if not addressed can have lasting negative consequences.

This is evidenced by a recent report by ExecuNet (http://bit.ly/12vbxaD) that revealed  more than half (57%) of the executive recruiters they surveyed rated workloads as very high, and an additional 25 percent saying they are the highest they have ever seen. The survey also found that 53 percent believe executives’ current workloads are unsustainable and that employers will feel significant repercussions because they have stretched management leaders far too thin. So what are some of the warning signs of burnout in leaders? Here are three for your consideration.

Placing your policies above your people. When leaders place a higher value on policy than they do on people it will eventually lead to burnout. A disconnect between policy and people puts the leader in isolation with demands that only the leader wants or cares about. This approach reinforces busyness over productivity, conformity over creativity, and rules over relationships.

While policy is necessary it must not interfere with the leader’ first priority and that is the relationship he has to his people. Don’t allow policy burn you out; allow your people to be your source of inspiration and energy.

Placing your position above your principles. If all a leader cares about is his position then all he is going to be concerned about is protecting it. This attitude reveals both the weakness of the leader and his motives. It most certainly will lead to burnout.

Being a leader of principle is where the joy of leadership is found. If you are driven by your principles then you will not have to worry about your position. Fighting for a position will drain you of your energy, your effectiveness, and your longevity. Discover the joy of serving others and living by your principles. It will give greater satisfaction and reward than a title ever could.

Placing your popularity before your perspective. When the energy of the leader is bent towards popularity over perspective it is a sure pathway to burnout. It is the age old pitfall and trap that leaders must be on guard against. The temptation to embrace popularity over substance has been many a leaders’ downfall.

Being popular is not what makes you a strong leader. Perspective is what allows you to learn from the past, see into the future, make the hard decisions, and to lead with courage. The burden of choosing popularity over perspective is that the direction you travel is not of your choosing. Perspective causes you to lead with a steady hand.

Burnout has claimed many a leader. But you don’t have to be a casualty. Care about your people, lead with your principles, and keep your perspective. Save your energy for what truly matters and never forget to enjoy the journey.


© 2013 Doug Dickerson

Visit Doug’s website at www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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One Response to Why Do Some Leaders Experience Burnout?

  1. shredhr says:

    this is a great post. With regards to the first point of policies over people, I couldn’t agree more. I have seen plenty of leaders who put the number in front of the employee. This has a two-fold effect for me. The first is staff feel disconnected or disengaged about their contribution. The second is they fail to take any more responsibility of those goals or policies that have been put in front of them. In the service sector, you can tell your staff they need to smile to every customer who enters. They may smile, but without their own reason to smile for those customers, it’s not just the manager who will be burned out.

    Thanks for posting


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