CEO Outlook Magazine

Katherine Hosie, M.Sc.

Leadership Coach

Katherine Hosie, M.Sc.

Are You Creating a Culture of Burnout or High Performance?

When you have a team looking to you for guidance and inspiration, there’s something very important you need to keep in mind, and that is that your emotions are contagious. “Fake it ‘til you make it” isn’t going to cut it, and how you genuinely feel on an everyday basis really matters. If you or your team are struggling with mental, emotional, physical, or psychological fatigue (which is so common these days), you’ve got to actually make the shifts needed to survive these times and thrive. I’d like to share some approaches that will help you.

As one of only three coaches in the United States qualified to use evidence-based coaching psychology (from the University of Sydney, which leads the world in this arena), I teach leaders like you how to diagnose and resolve whatever degree of burnout you personally are creating and/or facing so you can access your own highest levels of performance and support your team to do the same.

When you’re not feeling it, your team’s not feeling it either, and so much of the work of leadership is “being,” not just “doing.” Here are some targeted strategies to help ensure that you are creating a culture of high performance — for yourself and your team.

1. Instill a Sense of Hope

One of the things I’m seeing people have a real problem with at the moment is hope. Hope is not only a feeling, but also a mental construct. To instill a sense of genuine hope in yourself and your team follow these three research-based steps:

  • Create achievable goals: When people are feeling low on hope, it’s easy to have either no goal at all or think that you need to have a really big goal to get you motivated. Don’t allow or fall for that myth. What’s really needed in these times is an achievable For example, on a personal level, you might recognize that you can’t control the arc of the pandemic, but you can control your daily self-care rituals.

At the business level, now’s not the time to “go big” and, say, try to double your business. Instead, set an achievable goal like creating a clear path to retaining your staff or current revenue during this time of crisis. Don’t be one of those leaders that makes the goal too hard to reach. If you do need to be super-ambitious, then at least break your monstrous goals into achievable milestones that you let your people hit before moving the goalposts again.

  • Build a sense of agency: Agency is self-belief, self-confidence. Encouraging your team’s sense of agency and integrity — and demonstrating these yourself — will boost their sense of hope. Ask yourself:
  • To what degree do I commit to the actions I need to take, then follow through with them to completion? To what degree do I model this to others?
  • To what degree do I actually believe myself when I make a commitment? To what degree does my team believe in their ability to get the results they commit to?
  • Work on where you need to build either your own or your team’s sense of commitment, follow through, or responsibility so you actually have a genuine sense of belief in yourself and them.
  • Establish multiple pathways: Don’t just have a plan A to achieve your goals. Have a backup plan B, and a plan C as well. Having multiple pathways to success will help ensure that your goals are met, and will build confidence and hopefulness in you and your team along the way.

The critical thing is to be sure to work on one plan at a time, and be super clear if and when you shift to the new plan. Also, you don’t need to over-engineer each plan. Instead, just have a clear sense of the conditions under which you will switch, dates for when that will occur, and what’s called a “good enough plan” in place. Research has shown that these steps will allow you to return your complete focus to Plan A while still having your safety net in place.

2. Understand Burnout: The Causes and Cures

Here are the three primary causes of burnout so you can recognize what created yours and how to start resolving it, ideally putting in place preventative measures to stop it from occurring again in future.
  • Lack of appreciation: When people experience burnout there’s almost invariably a sense of not being appreciated by their leader or manager. The assumption is that appreciation must come from above, but studies show that appreciation from any direction can help prevent burnout. One solution to beat burnout and access high performance — both for yourself and your team — is to build recognition and gratitude into your way of doing business.

Let others know that it feeds you. Create peer recognition processes (which work just as well as manager recognition) into your meetings. Recognize others, both publicly and privately. Actively cultivate gratitude practices, including towards yourself.

There are three things you can do to supercharge appreciation:

  • Use the person’s name before sharing your appreciation. It will land with more impact and they will remember it more.
  • Aim for paragraphs, not platitudes, e.g., “Michelle / Michael, I’ve been watching you for some time and I’ve noticed the way you have been doing…. and what an impact it has made in these ways…. .”
  • Don’t always make it about results. Instead, praise effort, commitment, character, ability to bounce back, courage, grace, and Research shows this will make others more inclined to continue these ways of operating, and you are impacting their identity. This is so much more powerful than just praising results. By directing your appreciation at their character and identity, you can instead change how someone sees themselves, and the results of that can last forever.
  • Rein in over-caring: The second cause of burnout is over-caring, or what I call over-functioning. This is when we give above and beyond what is required for our role, when we lose perspective and become too attached to what we are doing.

Even though a lot of people still prize this idea of being the obsessed workaholic that has no life, it’s not actually useful to operate this way. Workaholism is just a respectable addiction, and normally a response to other things, e.g. unresolved issues at home, residual shame, high anxiety, or avoidance of other issues.

If you find yourself over-caring, take a moment to step back and ask yourself what’s behind it, and what “appropriate caring” would look like for your role. Yes, you have responsibilities. Yes, you need to deliver. How can you do that in a more balanced way?

For example, a lot of leaders I work with start to carve our regular restorative breaks for themselves throughout the year where they can step back and gain perspective. Everything you do as a leader is amplified and assumed to be the norm, so ensuring your teams also get sufficient rest, exercise, etc. will help them work more effectively and be more collaborative and creative.

  • Not working to strengths:The first role of leadership is to know yourself and create your approach around who you truly are, which includes knowing your values and your strengths. If I were to ask you what your strengths are, how clearly would you be able to articulate them to me? If you don’t have clarity around your strengths and how to use them, you’re likely swimming upstream.

If you’re experiencing burnout it’s also likely that the work you’re doing regularly is not working to your strengths, so knowing what these are allows you to recreate your role around what gives you energy. And the same can be said for your team and how well they know themselves and each other and shape their roles accordingly. Knowing you and your teams’ natural strengths will prevent burnout and instead enable flourishing, and isn’t that what we all want?

3. Authenticity is key

The opposite of authenticity is self-presentation — that feeling that you need to show up as something other than what or who you truly are. Interestingly, self-presentation requires huge reserves of willpower and more energy than pretty much anything else you’re doing, which is why authenticity is so important in business. Authenticity helps prevent burnout and also frees up energy that can be used for more important matters, such as making good decisions, having the strength to be ethical (people are ethical only when they are strong), etc.

Avoid burnout by showing up as your authentic self in your leadership. When you show your team greater authenticity and vulnerability, you also encourage them to bring their authentic selves to their roles.

Burnout is very normal. I see it all the time in the clients that first approach me. It’s also a sign that something isn’t working for you or your team, and it is completely able to be remedied and prevented in future.

The first thing I recommend is to have no judgment around how you or your team are feeling, but instead bring acceptance, curiosity, and self-compassion to the situation, asking yourself: “How did I create this burnout? How do I perpetuate this burnout? What can I do now to restore myself, learn from it, and make sure that to the best of my ability it never happens again?”

Katherine Hosie, M.Sc.

Katherine Hosie, M.Sc. (Coaching Psychology) is one of only three coaches in the United States qualified to offer her clients master’s-level evidence-based coaching psychology from the University of Sydney, which leads the world in this arena. Visit

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