In my latest book, Leading from Your Core, I recount a story shared with me by a senior leader (referred to as Leader X) in a global business about the sobering impact of burnout on leaders.
Here’s the story…
“The situation began as a breakdown in negotiations with a supplier. The negotiation process stalled on a Thursday, and on Friday there was a meeting with the supplier’s executive team to try and resolve the issues. Later that evening, one of the key leaders involved, a member of Leader X’s team, committed suicide by jumping out of a window. Everyone was shocked. Some felt the business had pushed him to this dark outcome. A few weeks later, more of the story came out. He was having problems at home and was no longer living with his family. He was also having problems at work. He was under a lot of pressure and was struggling to fulfil his responsibilities. Very sadly, it seemed that several factors added to his burnout and overall despair.”
What’s even more sobering to me is that there are more stories like this all over the world. Thankfully, though, not every leader opts for such extreme measures. That said, many leaders don’t have healthy release values to address the pressures they face. Many leaders don’t know how to surface and address the inner conflicts they are experiencing before they reach burnout. They turn to alcohol, drugs, workaholism and other temporary fixes to address the stress and anxiety they feel.
The result is poor marriages, dysfunctional family relations, emotionally neglected children, high levels of personal stress, poor mental health, dysfunctional work relationships, disengaged employees, depression, and the list goes on.
In The Burnout Society, the Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han ends with a haunting observation of most people in the Western world: “They are too alive to die, and too dead to live.”
“They are too alive to die, and too dead to live.” – Byung-Chul Hal
And, it’s for this reason, that I believe more leaders need to get in touch with what is happening on the inside before they reach a point of no return.
Let me ask you a question: How alive are you?
You might be tempted to respond by saying, “Well, I’m crazy busy that’s for sure.” Or “I’m not as fit as I need to be, but there’s still blood pumping through these veins.” [Ok. Maybe that’s a cheesy response, but you get the picture.]
I’m not talking about being alive in a purely biological or physiological sense. I mean at the level of your heart and soul, and that’s because addressing burnout and everything that leads up to it begins by reconnecting with your heart.
Shortly after we got married in 2002, my wife, Peju, gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. That book spoke to me at the level of my heart and not just my mind. Quoting the late philosopher and theologian, Howard Thurman, John Eldredge wrote this: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
I’ve come to believe that deeply.
From a leadership perspective, what our world needs, what our organisations need, what our countries need is leaders who are truly alive. Leaders who know what they stand for. Leaders who have overcome imposter syndrome. Leaders with a clear and compelling leadership philosophy. Leaders who are committed to service over self-interest. Leaders who are willing and committed to doing the hard work of leading from the inside out.
It’s that level of personal mastery as a leader that leads to transformed lives and a better world.
So, I leave you with this question: As a leader, how alive are you?