By Maureen Metcalf
I have had a number of discussions with clients and colleagues lately that point to the profound risk people are facing of burnout and the cost we experience when this happens. Many of our strongest leaders are saying they cannot maintain the pace and they are looking for other options that will allow them to maintain their health even if it means stepping back in pay and responsibility.
I had three discussions this week with highly successful executives who are seriously considering these options. To paint the picture, these are people who have been the ones who stepped in when others could or would not. They are the heroes; they had the stamina, the competence and the commitment to sacrifice their personal wellbeing for the good of the organization. What happens when they cannot do it anymore? In many cases, they stepped up because others could not or would not so they are filling a gap that they thought was temporary. Things were supposed to get better. This was supposed to be a short term choice and now it has been a few years for some of them.
According to Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum: “In the run-up to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, there is a distinct sense of burnout in the air.”
What is the impact?
According to Wendy Woods, “Basex research found that 50 percent of a knowledge worker’s day is spent “managing information” and that an excess of information results in “a loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.” In fact, research shows that constant information overload sends the brain into the fight-or-flight stress response, originally designed to protect us from man-eating tigers and other threats.”
What do they recommend?
The theme of this year’s annual World Economic Forum is “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models”, precisely because we are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of just more business-as-usual.
According to Klaus Schwab again, “There is an urgent need to act. As well as finding new models to collaboratively address all our global challenges, we also need to form a new model of leadership that is effective in the modern world: leadership that emphasizes both vision and values in order to overcome the current challenges. It is this combination that can provide leaders with a compass to guide their decision-making.” Leadership based on vision and values will go a long way to regaining trust and beating the burnout, but only if leaders themselves can prove through concrete actions that social responsibility and moral obligations are not just empty words.
We completely agree with this assertion. In our recently published book, the first step in developing innovative leadership is to examine and clarify your vision and values. This set of exercises and reflections encourages you to consider the impact you will make on the world and how you will behave in the process. We will be publishing a workbook in the first quarter of 2012 with exercises to help you identify your vision and values. This will be a condensed version of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook. Our current plan is to make this chapter available at no cost on-line to encourage leaders to consider their personal vision and values and provide a set of tools to make this possible. In the absence of this clarity, leaders and organizations are more susceptible to the onslaught of information, changing priorities and fires to be addressed with no “north star” to use for navigation.