The profound and rapid changes in modern life challenge leaders to constantly change and be creative in responding to the complexities of life. Leaders often find that followers’ unwillingness to change or the fact that they have a different value system can be stressful.
If leaders are tempted to set unrealistic goals for themselves or develop a perfectionist tendency stress results.
Leadership challenges are often intensified by constant need to meet deadlines, by lack of financial resources, and by changes that demand new skills from the leader. And this can cause major stress!
From Stress to Distress
When the stresses of life become so great that a leader can no longer cope with them, they lead to distress. When the stresses result from pressures of interaction with people, they can lead to the possible development of burnout.
This phenomenon does not necessarily result from overwork.
In fact, the workaholic is not a candidate for burnout, since he or she uses work as an escape from people. It is when people in certain professions, like spiritual leaders, find themselves immersed in people-problems that burnout begins.
3 Stages of Burnout
Burnout develops in three stages.
Leaders become dissatisfied at work, feel a lack of appreciation from others, and begin to isolate themselves.
This stage does not affect the quality of work and leadership, and others often do not even notice it, since the symptoms are no different than other temporary stressful situations.
A time of self-questioning leads to feelings of helplessness and frustration. This can become so great that job performance and leadership begin to suffer.
Terminal burnout is present when leaders begin to mechanically perform their tasks without any real interest or quality involvement. At this stage, leaders feel intense loneliness, can become sour on life, and often manifest an open rebellion that completely disrupts their leadership.
This last stage ends with individuals hating the very situation that they believe causes the stress, their own vocation in leadership.
Symptoms of Burnout
The symptoms of burnout are similar to those of general stress:
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pains
- Lack of energy
A leader with burnout loses desire to go to his or her place of work or to associate with followers.
Such a potential burnout victim becomes constantly discouraged, angry, and overly sensitive to other people’s remarks.
At first, the natural tendency is to increase one’s commitment at work to prove to oneself and others that there is really no problem. Once the burnout cycle begins it is very difficult to stop it, so prevention is critical, so that quality leaders do not suffer in this way.
Develop Strategies Against Excessive Stress
Among the practices that a leader can develop to insure a lifestyle that avoids burnout are the following. Leaders should admit the seriousness of stress in leadership, then give adequate time to reflection, friendship, leisure, and broad interests outside of one’s working environment.
A leader should provide himself or herself with suitable educational opportunities to keep one’s mind alert and appreciate the depths and limits of leadership as a call to be, more than to do.
Also, make sure you have a support system that constantly gives you encouragement and feedback.
Improve the quality of your working environment. Redefine success in leadership so as to benefit from job satisfaction. Maintain deep relationships that provide intimacy and love.
Also extremely important is to take care of yourself physically with proper nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep.
Visioneering: Seeing The Road Ahead
It is important that leaders take care to prevent burnout.
After all, burnout only affects the very best.
Burnout is not associated with workaholics whose work is an escapism from people. Burnout results only in those people who give themselves in service to others and take others’ burdens upon themselves.
It is often found in those who spend their lives in the helping professions. Since spiritual leaders give themselves in service to others they can readily become candidates for burnout. It is a hazard of spiritual leaders and they must be prudent enough to take steps to prevent it.
So, do you or someone you know show signs of burnout? What are the symptoms you are seeing? How can you take steps to yourself or another move beyond their present stressful circumstances and on to a better, healthier path toward the future? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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