It's inevitable that light bulb moments around career and personal life will occur after someone gets to understand their derailers in more detail.
Derailers are behaviours that we exhibit when we’re under stress and pressure that decrease our leadership and professional effectiveness. This is because we only have a finite amount of energy and when we’re under pressure, we tend to revert back to what comes naturally and normally for us. We do what comes easiest because it requires less energy and we can then use that excess energy to focus on other important tasks.
Problem is, we tend to rely on these strengths too heavily when we're stressed and we take them to the extreme. Research tells us that most leaders have one or two derailers, so it’s actually quite common.
Some derailers that have a particularly strong link with burnout are being meticulous and being highly accommodating. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
An eye for detail
For most people who have very strong attention to detail, it’s seen as their superpower - the capacity to hone in on the minutia of a process or task and make sure that every last piece is true and accurate. Folks with very strong attention to detail tend to gravitate toward professions and roles that require this superpower because attention to detail is most often a trait that is present from a very young age. When people with this superpower are under stress and pressure, what you’ll find is that they’ll hold onto what feels natural and normal for them and take it to the extreme. This can mean that highly meticulous people become micromanagers, get completely lost in the detail and lose sight of the broader purpose of their work. They push themselves toward unrealistic standards because every last detail has to be correct. If this approach is sustained, burnout is fairly inevitable.
Of course I can
The second derailer that can be troublesome when it comes to burnout is being highly accommodating. In their normal day-to-day work, these folks will be the glue that holds a team together. They will support and guide others, help out where necessary and may even take on the role of being the resident referee ensuring that the team gets along. When people with this natural superpower are placed under stress or pressure, what tends to happen is that they’ll take on more and more. And then some more. Just for good measure. They’ll say “yes” when they shouldn’t, either because saying “no” is likely to cause issues in their eyes, or because they have a genuine sense of confidence in their ability to get s*&t done. So, even though saying “no” might not be the core issue, they will bite off more than they can chew and then work themselves into the ground and burnout trying to deliver on their promises.
If you know of individuals, or even teams in your workforce that are close to burnout, odds are you’ll see one or both of these derailers in them.
What is HR's role here?
HR leaders can support their leaders and high potential talent by facilitating the process of insight and supporting them to implement new strategies (so therefore, taking action). Even though self-identifying derailers is a great step toward insight, there are some measurement tools that we use to take an objective approach to assessing and reporting on derailers. This is always done as part of a broader coaching process of identifying strengths to be leveraged as well. After helping individuals to develop awareness of their derailers, the key is helping them to build up strategies to work with the risks that are identified. Then their task is embedding those strategies. The reason we say this is because a strategy is great, but without practice and strengthening of the neural pathways in the brain that will support its demonstration, it will stay as a strategy, not an action. A behavioural strategy needs to be practiced to the point where is starts to be displayed when they’re under stress or pressure. Once that happens, you know it’s really stuck.
If you'd like to chat about leadership derailers and burnout, please get in touch here.