When your people are burned out, try this leadership style

Here's one good resolution for 2024, says Mark Murphy: try coaching your managers to be more like 'diplomat' leaders

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Dec 20, 2023

As we head into 2024, and all want to try to do things better than we have done, then here’s something for you to consider: if you’re not measuring employee burnout on your annual engagement surveys, take note: Recent data shows that as much as two-thirds of your workforce could be experiencing some degree of burnout.

To me this makes pretty serious reading, and so if you want to catch burnout before it escalates into employee resignations or operational breakdowns, you’ll need to start measuring exactly where and how severely it’s occurring.

This is important, because if you do find that a chunk of your workforce is at risk of (or already experiencing) burnout, it could be vey likely that you’ll need to teach your managers a different style of leadership.

For instance, we know from the test What’s Your Leadership Style? that how a leader manages employees’ workloads is an important determinant of their style.

Results from people who have taken the test show that about half of leaders lighten or increase the workload depending on the needs (financial, operational, etc.) of their department or organization.

The rest adjust the workload depending on the needs (emotional, interest, fatigue, etc.) of their employees.

Now, all things being equal, one approach isn’t better than the other.

But when people are burned out, adjusting workloads based on the emotional needs of your team is typically a better approach.

Leadership styles are important

The catch, of course, is that you’ve got to know the emotional needs, burnout risk, fatigue, etc., of your people.

And that’s where leadership styles come into play.

The Diplomat is the leader who cares deeply about the personal needs of employees, wants to create an environment in which employees genuinely like one another, and is especially concerned that employees find their work personally fulfilling.

They tend to be kind and giving and enjoy building deep personal bonds with their team.

A hallmark of leaders with this style is the frequent and empathic conversations they have with their team. They typically don’t let more than a day or two pass before checking in with their employees. Moreover, when they do touch base, they’re more interested in listening than talking.

An example of this is Ken Hicks, president, chairman & CEO of Academy Sports and Outdoors, Inc.

Even though the company has 268 stores and roughly $6 billion in sales, Hicks doesn’t let a day pass without checking-in with someone.

In a recent conversation, he shared with me that when he leaves at the end of the day, he doesn’t just say ”goodbye” to people.

Instead, he asks employees questions like, “What’d you do today?” or “What’d you accomplish? or “Do you feel good about it?”

 In other words, Hicks’ questions prompt reflection.

“They think about it,” he tells me.

“When they tell me that they processed a difficult account or whatever they did, I have the opportunity to let them know that I appreciate what they accomplished and why it’s important.”

What Hicks does is not a complicated endeavor, and it’s well within the skillset of almost all leaders.

The problem is really one of prioritization.

How many leaders do you know who’ve blown off or rescheduled one-on-one meetings with employees?

How many leaders rush out the door at the end of the day without having a quick chat, a’la Ken Hicks?

Practicing the Diplomat leadership style doesn’t require years of training, but it does take a willingness to put your people first.

It’s not always easy to postpone writing that report or decline that external meeting request, but if you can dedicate even a little extra time to your team, you’re likely to see their engagement and motivation increase dramatically.

That’s got to be a good resolution for 2024.