Maverick worn out not burnout. Maverick leadership can leave us “worn out.” Other times, we become “burned out.” How can we tell the difference, and what do we do about it?
Let’s start with an illustration to help you tell the difference between “burn out” and “worn out.” Think of burnout as what happens when you run a car engine without any oil. The oil allows the various parts of the engine to move powerfully without doing any damage to the engine. When you run out of oil, you run out of what keeps the engine from damaging itself. The problem here is that the engine can keep running for a while without oil – all the time doing more and more damage to itself until it finally damages itself beyond repair.
This is different from running out of the car’s gasoline (or “petrol” for my British friends). When the car runs out of gas, it simply stops working without necessarily damaging itself. To get going again, it simply needs to refuel.
Burnout happens when we keep running without the resources we need, and we end up hurting ourselves. When we are “worn out,” we simply need rest – because our bodies were made to go through cycles of exertion and rest. When we are burned out, we need more than rest alone.
Maverick worn out not burnout …
Why? Because true burnout consists of three dimensions, as pointed out by research in the 1980s that led to creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. All of us experience varying amounts of these three dimensions in our daily life. When all three of these are present in a high degree, you have burnout.
(1) Emotional Exhaustion. Have you ever been so tired at the end of the day that you felt “numb” or experienced “brain fog”? These can be signs of emotional exhaustion. We want to pay attention to this because it is usually the first symptom to arise when we are on a path toward burnout. If we don’t address this, other issues appear as well. Consider emotional exhaustion as chronic fatigue caused by chronic stress.
(2) Depersonalisation. This can show up as disconnecting from the world around us or a creeping sense of cynicism. It makes sense to think that once we are really tired, we begin to withdraw or disconnect from the world – including relationships at work and home. For mavericks, this can be especially problematic because positive relationships and trust are what help us stay effective in our positions of leadership. Since we inevitably have to make decisions that are unpopular, we need to keep investing in “social capital” with our teams so that we don’t run out of those positive relationships.
The same thing is true for our home lives. When we find ourselves withdrawing both at work and at home, we are setting ourselves up for burnout, and it impacts the people we care about – not just ourselves.
Because staying connected with our core values is an important part of being a maverick leader, watch out for this and the next dimension (a lack of personal effectiveness) whenever you feel like your work increasingly does not reflect your core values.
(3) Lack of personal effectiveness. This can show up as a sense of powerlessness or helplessness. If you’ve ever felt like a hamster in a wheel where you are endlessly running but going nowhere, then you have experienced a sense of ineffectiveness. This strikes us when the choices we make seem to have no real impact. It can happen when we lack the skills to do the work in front of us or when we feel poorly managed by those we report to. By the way, this creeping sense of ineffectiveness can also show up when we feel micromanaged. That makes sense, as Judith Germain has defined mavericks as “wilfully independent people.” So guard against micromanaging others and you can minimise at least one source of possible burnout for those in your organisation – especially for the mavericks!
The first place to start when you feel yourself slipping into burnout is to take intentional action that moves you toward better energy, healthier relationships, and a greater sense of personal effectiveness. Find the things that energise you, help you connect with people and purpose, and help you feel effective both at work and home.
A friend of mine who is a therapist gives this advice to his clients struggling with anxiety/depression, and I think it holds true here as well: “Each day, do something necessary, something meaningful, and something fun.” When you do something necessary, you push back against ineffectiveness. When you do something meaningful, you are reconnecting with your sense of purpose. And when you do something fun, you re-energise yourself.
Maverick worn out not burnout …
The world needs you to show up fully and take action on your core values. When burnout begins to creep up on maverick leaders, it both steals the joy from their work and it robs the world of their contribution. Please, take action to proactively beat burnout before it beats you.