“Lighten up on yourself. No one is perfect. Gently accept your humanness.” –Deborah Day
The Servant Leader's Dilemma
It is no secret that as servant leaders we carry a massive weight on our shoulders. We are responsible for running a successful organization, managing the time of our staff (in addition to our own), implementing programs, caring for our staff's needs and development, working with customers, and on top of that trying to live a quality life outside of work. All too often we have been drained of our emotions while we focus on the needs of others. Since we are inclined to tuck away our individual needs in our desk drawers to collect cobwebs, we rarely get the incentive to pull them back out and examine them. The servant leader's dilemma is the guilt of putting the care of ourselves over the care of our employees. As a leader, it is difficult to focus on oneself as we are relied on to be available at all times. However, a leader will soon realize through their personal performance that they are only failing their employees when they fail to care for themselves. Absence of care for oneself, decreased motivation, and lack of empathy for others around us are some indicators of being burned out (Maslach & Schaufeli, 1992, p. 274). Moreover, the company as a whole suffers in productivity and profitability- why? Because we are unable to do our jobs effectively- leaders are similar to an expensive machine that requires periodic maintenance, if they rust and stop working, the product stops being produced.
How often as leaders do we get the chance to slow down and practice renewal tactics on ourselves to revitalize and reenergize after work? If your answer is never (which I'm assuming it is) you’re not alone and this article will provide you with renewal methods to help you reduce overall stress and improve your work-life balance. It is easy to forget, but we ARE humans just like our employees, and although it is an honor for them to see us as unstoppable superheroes- we can't always be. We need to just as much as our staff to unwind, step away, detach, and take moments for clarity and perspective.
What we know about Burnout
The phenomenon of burnout was initially studied in the early 1970's by a psychiatrist named Freudenberger. As an employee of a substitute health care organization, he perceived that many of the volunteers working with him were experiencing ongoing emotional fatigue and a loss of drive and commitment (Maslach & Schaufeli, 1992, p. 2). "Burnout is defined as a psychological syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, which is experienced in response to chronic job stressors" – a depletion of energy (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001, p. 398).
Burnout not only affects those exposed to an emotionally charged work environment but every employee and leader that is unable to handle their stress effectively. "Burnout advances across three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced accomplishment" (Chandler, 2008, p. 273).
Why We Need Renewal Practices
Has anyone ever felt the honeymoon phase in a new job or project? In the beginning, you are motivated and excited about new opportunities and responsibilities until one day it all becomes mundane, stressful, and unfulfilling- FYI, that's when most people start job searching. They want to feel the honeymoon phase every day and when they don’t feel that they assume their current job or position isn't right for them. However, it may not always be the job causing you to burnout; it may be the lack of personal renewal practices. Not knowing how to balance work-life properly leads to a leader's demise and they will carry failure and burnout with them to whatever new career or job they move on to. Rice, Frone, & McFarlin (1992) conducted a study on the work-nonwork conflict and its effects on quality of life. Their results suggest that quality of life variables such as global life satisfaction and nonwork satisfaction are influenced by work considerations. Global life satisfactions are defined by a broad range of positive personal, psychological, and social outcomes both in the present and future (Marcionetti &Rossier, 2016, p. 135). Additionally, they found that traditional work variables such as job satisfaction are affected by nonwork considerations (pp. 161-167).
How to Renew your Energies?
Chandler (2008), researched burnout in Pastors (servant leaders) and stated that there are four chief energies that get drained from a stressful work environment- physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual and there are two central practices to help remedy them- rest-taking practices, and support system practices (p. 275).
- Physical Energy
The most important energy that tends to get depleted is our overall health. It is common knowledge that stress causes illness. Therefore, caring for the physical body helps reduce stress responses in our bodies thus decreasing cortisol and even reduces unwanted body fat. Make sure to get enough sleep at night, eat healthy nutritious food, exercise to increase endorphins (which cause a positive brain stimulus), and recognize that it's okay for leaders to take breaks at work (Anderson, 2016).
- Emotional Energy
The second most important energy to try and renew is our nervous energy. It is a good indication that we are burning out when we let our emotions get the best of us at work and home. We could potentially over react, blow up and say things we don't always mean and regret it later. To help with an emotional recharge is first to be careful to keep our self-talk positive and motivating. Burnout causes us to surround ourselves with negative people, say negative comments, and have negative thoughts until our minds become a vicious cycle that gets harder and harder to recover from. So, practice renewal by surrounding yourself with positive people, situations, and feedback (Anderson, 2016, p. 1). Renew by spending time with your friends and family; they are your greatest support system (Chandler, 2008, p. 283). They are the people who know and respect you best. They not only lift you up, but they genuinely LOVE you! There is no greater feeling than being loved. Finally, take time to mediate and clear your mind- there is nothing quite like gained perspective and a fresh start.
- Mental Energy
From personal experience, mental energy can be one of the hardest strengths to refocus notably being a servant leader. Let's face it- we are all hard workers and over achievers, but the way to handle mental energy is not through working harder, but through working smarter. Delegate tasks to your trusted team and prioritize your workload to make your day at work is less stressful. Let go. YES, let go! You are capable of releasing some control and asking for help! A leader will never achieve a healthy work-life balance if they have control over everything. Letting go not only reduces the amount of stress we take home with us, but it helps us leave behind unforgiving anxiety. Finally, reduce your interruptions- when you are home, you are home, and your family, friends, or animals deserve your time, and you deserve their time (Anderson, 2016).
You as a leader set the expectations- don't create workaholics. If you answer your emails after work hours so will your staff, and they will begin to expect you to answer them all the time. There will always be emergencies, but time doesn't pause until you're ready to catch up- so don't miss out on life and keep work at work.
- Spiritual Energy
Spiritual energy defines who we are as servant leaders. Our spirit indicates the strength of our core values- whether we dare to live by them and our sense of purpose (Chandler, 2008, p. 282). One tactic is to see a therapist or a life coach- an unbiased human being like ourselves who can listen without judgment or opinion. Although your family loves you, they may not be the right people to give you clarity. Family and friends can be great self- esteem boosters, but they don't always give us the reality check we need.
The Take Away
As leaders, it is vital that we take time for ourselves and have renewal practices that work for us. Being servant leaders, we must lead by example. Our ultimate goals are to care for our staff, but if we want our team to gain a healthy work-life balance than they need to see that we are willing to work on our own health and happiness too.
“It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” - Epictetus
Anderson, M. (2016, February 2). The Key to Leadership Vitality. Retrieved July 28, 2018, from http://www.margotandersen.com/the-key-to-leadership-vitality-2/
Chandler, D. J. (2008). Pastoral Burnout and the Impact of Personal Spiritual Renewal, Rest-taking, and Support System Practices. Pastoral Psychology,58(3), 273-287. doi:10.1007/s11089-008-0184-4
Maslach, C. (1998). A multidimensional theory of burnout. In: C. L. Cooper (Ed.), Theories of Organizational Stress (pp. 68–85). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marcionetti, J., & Rossier, J. (2016). Global Life Satisfaction in Adolescence. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(3), 135-144. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000198
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annu. Rev. Psychol,52, 397-422.
Rice, R. W., Frone, M. R., & McFarlin, D. B. (1992). Work-nonwork conflict and perceived quality of life. Journal of Organizational Behavior,13(2), 155-168.