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Navigating Burnout: Reigniting Resiliency in a Leadership Team

January 15, 2021

Steve is a CEO in a 300-bed healthcare system and has four senior executives that report directly to him. With the stresses and demands of the COVID pandemic, he has noticed a palpable shift in their morale. They are much more emotionally reactive, make poor decisions, and become easily rattled in dealing with emerging issues. Worse yet, their inability to sustain a calm demeanor in the face the second COVID surge seems to be triggering panic among their direct reports. 

The functioning of the senior leadership team in any organization plays a critical role in shaping culture and influencing organizational success. The ability of the executive team to resiliently navigate tough challenges can shape the collective resilience of an organization. What can you do to help your team reignite their sense of resiliency in the face of setback and adversity so common during COVID?

1. Be Aware of the Symptoms of Burnout

Pay attention to the behavior and language used among your leadership team, taking note of self-defeating language and fight-flight-freeze behavior that can spread like a wildfire from one executive to another. Other symptoms of burnout among your team members could include: 

  • Frequent absenteeism 
  • Mistakes 
  • Reduced motivation or increased resistance in taking on new projects 
  • Emotional outbursts 
  • Frequent silence in leadership team meetings 
  • Lack of collaboration 
  • Unproductive conflict 

2. Identify and Explore the Causes of Burnout

It’s difficult to address the issue of burnout if you are not aware of what’s causing it. There are a number of potential causes: 

  • Inadequate resources to achieve organizational priorities 
  • Role overload of team members 
  • Role ambiguity and confusion 
  • Fire-fighting mentality 
  • Lack of focus on anticipating future challenges 
  • Little or no recognition for team achievements 
  • Inefficient processes 
  • Lack of alignment among the senior leadership team on key priorities 

Be aware that as the team leader, you may be one of the contributing factors to the burnout of your team. In one client organization I worked with, the team leader was so afraid of conflict that he did not advocate for his team when it came to requesting financial resources and managing boundaries with other teams. This resulted in team members feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at the lack of support from above.

3. Adopt an Appreciative View of Successes and Progress

Most leadership teams look ahead to the next challenge and often forget to celebrate progress. This is particularly relevant during the COVID pandemic given the uncertainty of how long it will last.  Many of the leadership teams I have consulted with often claim they don’t need acknowledgment of their successes and yet, recognition is such an integral ingredient to sustaining ones’ resiliency. Make an effort, as a team, to identify progress. Instead of asking the question “where did we fail?” consider asking questions like “where did we succeed?” or “what did we learn?” One senior leadership team I worked with recently committed to quarterly sessions to reevaluate progress toward priorities and acknowledge challenges they overcame together. 

4. Recommit to Your Collective Values, Mission, and Vision

One surefire way to reignite the spark of a team is to revisit your core values, your mission as a team, and the vision you are trying to unfold. This kind of activity allows a team to revisit with its larger purpose by disengaging from the tactical details and day-to-day frustrations and explore essential questions. Good questions to explore as a group include: 

  • How are we living our core values in our work? 
  • How have we made manifest our vision? 
  • What is the impact of our mission on our community and world? 

Senior leadership teams play a critical role in shaping the culture of an organization. When executive teams periodically reinvest in their resilience individually and collectively, they are better able to sustain their performance and convey a sense of optimism to their followers – particularly critical during the COVID pandemic. 

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Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience developing transformational change leaders in healthcare and other sectors. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2020 Kevin Nourse

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