Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

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November 2005
Overcoming Burnout

I just returned from Pittsburgh , PA where I had the honor to present the keynote talk at the Annual Conference of the Leadership Development Institute of the Oncology Nursing Society. It was a privilege to discuss Visionary Leadership with this group of dedicated leaders who are committed to advancing quality cancer care in their communities across the United States . I know I learned as much from them as they did from me. A warm welcome to all of you who have signed up to receive this Newsletter.

On the flight back from Pittsburgh I was sitting next to a woman who was complaining to me that she was totally burnt out from her work. She said she was on automatic and there was no joy in her or in the work that she did. She had worked hard to get where she was (head of Human Resources for a small manufacturing organization) so she hated to give it up, but she was definitely unhappy. I thought about her dilemma as I started to write this Newsletter, as I am sure all of us have experienced this at one time or another in our lives. We have worked very hard to get where we are, and now that we are here, as Peggy Lee used to sing: "Is That All There Is"???

I did some research on burnout, and came across the following definition that hit home for me:

A BURNOUT is someone in a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward. Whenever the expectation level is dramatically opposed to reality, and the person persists in trying to reach that expectation, trouble is on the way.

This is so true in leadership today. Many of us have high ideals as leaders, i.e., what we will accomplish in our positions, how appreciated we will be for all our efforts, how we will be rewarded for those efforts, and how much of an impact we will make on the whole scheme of things. Since a lot of these ideals have human interaction attached to them, we are very often disappointed and frustrated at what we ultimately do accomplish. Our leadership skills are evaluated and judged by the accomplishments of the people we lead ... there is the rub!

You may be the best leader your organization has ever had, but you cannot compensate for the limitations of the people you lead. I have worked with leaders who have taken all the blame for the failures of their staff. "If only I could have"; "If only I would have"; etc. In order to avoid burnout as a leader, we have to step back and look at reality. We can motivate, coach, and lead, but people are responsible for their own actions. You cannot make anybody do anything ... you can inspire people to action, but the people themselves are responsible for taking that action.

I am aware of this when I present my Visionary Leadership programs. I give the participants strategies they can implement immediately to help them become visionary leaders. Some of the participants start implementing my strategies the minute they leave the conference, others never do. They say "good program" and move on to something else. I have done what I have done. I have given everyone the same motivation ... some take it, some never will. I cannot blame myself or make myself responsible for those who walk out and don't give my presentation another thought. Believe me, this did not come easy, but I have learned I cannot please everyone, and as long as I know in my heart that I did my best and what I present has value, I will have to let that be good enough.

If you are suffering from burnout, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I have an expectation level of the organization I work for that is higher than what is happening?
  2. Does this organization go against moral or ethical principles I have about the way organizations should function?
  3. Does it feel like I am "banging my head against the wall" when I talk to my staff or my superiors?
  4. Am I getting feedback that suggests I am expecting too much from my staff or my superiors?
  5. Do I no longer feel a sense of joy and purpose in my work?

If you are willing to take some time to reflect on these questions and answer them honestly, you will get good insights into what is causing your burnout. If your answers to 1 and 2 are YES, you have some soul-searching to do. If you have an expectation level of what an organization should stand for and what its values are, it is difficult to respect a workplace that does not exemplify those values. If the corporate culture of your organization goes against what you believe is just or fair, you would probably be much better served in another organization that shares your beliefs.

If your answers to 3 and 4 are YES, you might want to step back and ask yourself if you are expecting too much from people. I shared with you in a previous Newsletter how my expectation of my assistant to be "perfect" and my inability to appreciate anything less in her caused her to leave. That was a good lesson for me to learn. My expectations of her were based on my very high expectations of myself and they were completely unrealistic for who she was and what she was hired to do. It also taught me to be gentler with myself, as my treatment of her was only a reflection of how I treat myself.

If your answer to 5 is YES, you may want to ask yourself how you can approach your job differently. What challenges can you create in your work for you to keep it interesting? Can you approach the work you do from a completely new perspective to give you new ideas to reach your goals? If you have honestly tried everything to breathe life into the patient, and it is still dead, you may be suffering from the "been there...done that" syndrome and it may very well be time for a change. You may find something interesting in another department within your organization. You can take a lateral transfer now to put you in place for a promotion down the line. Explore all your options where you are before you decide to leave. It is always better to look within your own organization first where you are a known quantity and you don't have to prove yourself all over again.

Most importantly, take some time for yourself. If you can run away for a day or two, do so. Take a journal with you and write in your journal, away from all the stress that is making you burn out. If you can't physically run away, run away in your own home. Go into a quiet room for some non-negotiable quiet time. Think about your life, your personal and professional goals. What have you already achieved, where would you like to go from here. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back for doing all those things that got you where you are now. If you are "stuck" be willing to stay stuck for awhile until you start to discover what the next steps should be. This is not the time to beat yourself up for being stuck. It is the time to appreciate all you have done and to reflect on what is yet to be done. This time for self-reflection is so important... don't cheat yourself by hurrying it up. It is a wonderful gift that only you can give to yourself. Relish the gift and the giver.

We have had a lot to think about in this Newsletter. If you have any insights, feedback or experiences that might help someone else dealing with burnout, please e-mail me at I would love to hear from you, and if I have your permission to share your feedback, I would be happy to do so. If you wish to remain anonymous, it will be honored. If a colleague would like to receive this Newsletter, e-mail me with the address and I will put it on my database.

NOTE:  For the holiday season, if you would like to show your staff your appreciation for the work they do, and you are looking for an inexpensive way to do that, please consider an autographed copy of my book "Thriving in the Midst of Change" and a t-shirt "I am not pushed by my problems ... I'm led by my dreams!"  For November and December we are offering these gifts at the Special Conference pricing ($25 for a t-shirt and book; $15 for one book, $25 for two; $12 for one t-shirt, $30 for three). E-mail me with your request and I would be happy to help you.

On a personal note, as we enter the Thanksgiving season, please accept my heartfelt thanks for your interest in my programs and this Newsletter. You remind me that what I do has validity and value, and I am grateful to you for that reminder. Have a wonderful holiday.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and health care. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables at the same meeting... a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

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