4 Leadership Addictions that Fuel Employee Burnout

I bet most of you are familiar with this adult only concept.

Imagine yourself in this scenario…

You’re commuting home after a long workday. Exhausted, you want nothing more than to eat a quick meal and a chance to relax. As you reflect on your day, you think to yourself that you were really busy, but you are not exactly sure what you accomplished that truly mattered. You further realize that this isn’t the first day you’ve felt this way. It’s merely one in a stream of days where you have found yourself returning home worn out and a bit demoralized.

You turn the front door knob, step inside, and are instantly greeted by your two young children. They are excited to see you and full of energy and questions. The youngest takes your briefcase and proudly places it in its usual resting spot. The other gives you a much needed hug and asks, “What did you do today?”

Without hesitation, you respond, “I worked really, really hard today, but I don’t think I got any real work done.” (Probably not what you wanted to tell your kid, but it just kind of came out that way.)

With a confused look on her face, your daughter says, “I didn’t get any work done today either, but at least I didn’t work hard – I just played!”

Why the confused look? She can’t understand what you mean. Working hard, but not getting any work done is an adult only concept.

Of course, there are many reasons that this occurs. Perhaps you are harboring a few addictions that are causing this burned out feeling. Worse yet, if you are a team or organizational leader, you may be playing a major role in sending other people home at the end of the workday who feel equally frustrated, exhausted, and unfulfilled. Here are four common addictions to consider.

1. Addicted to New and Shiny: I’ve come across leaders who simply have never met an idea they didn’t like. Here’s a couple of examples:

  • The leader reads the latest book and suddenly the entire organization is tasting the latest flavor of the month.
  • The leader holds a meeting and a dozen new ideas – that eventually turn into work – are launched.
  • The leader attends a conference and the buzz words presented that day become temporarily infused in his or her daily language.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that leaders shouldn’t learn new things. Of course they should. What I’m saying is that leaders can’t become addicted to chasing the newest and shiniest ideas. Sometimes the organization is ready to turn the page and take on a new approach, other times a new concept is needed to catalyze the group to get something done, but many times a leader becomes infatuated with the new and shiny just because it is new and shiny. A solution is of no value if it doesn’t solve a specific problem. You’re people simply become tired of chasing the latest ‘great idea.’

2. Addicted to Urgency: Some of us love urgency. We love putting out fires. They make us feel useful, needed, and perhaps a bit important. Many leaders are the same way and if they haven’t paid the price to truly determine what is most important, they will spend their day racing from meeting to meeting or issue to issue without really assessing the relative importance of each situation. What’s the result? They are busy, but unproductive. Yes, they’ve filled the day, but they (and their people) feel unfulfilled.

3. Addicted to Routine: My grandfather delivered milk in Chicago. Everyday, he traveled the same route through the city’s streets. I imagine that he was up early every morning following a well worn path. He likely could navigate his route from memory. It was routine – it was comfortable. This works well for milk delivery, but not necessarily for team or organizational growth. Leaders should look at their days to see if they have fallen into the delivery route trap. Unlike #1 above, they may have become so complacent that they’ve created a milk deliveryman culture and creating a culture that feels the same way. Perhaps a new routine, a new goal, a new challenge is needed.

4. Addicted to Activity: Have you ever sat in a meeting where each person reports to the boss what they are working on? These can be really painful sessions. One-by-one, the attendees report on the activities they performing. Each subsequent presenter goes a bit longer to demonstrate how busy he or she is and lists all the things that he or she is doing. The leader seems pleased. The leader’s people are very busy – they’ve got a lot going on. Week after week, they have the same discussions with rarely the “so what?” question being asked. Leaders need to remember that organizations don’t exist to simply do things. They exist to deliver results. Some leaders get these two confused. They aren’t the same things. The game isn’t to create the longest possible ‘to do’ list and check as much stuff off as possible. The game is to win on something that really matters.

The next time you are traveling home and feel completely exhausted. Take a moment to examine why you feel that way. Are you worn out because you have simply been working hard on very important things. Or, are you and your people showing the signs of one of these addictions?


Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

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