Tired Leaders

Figure 1: Reasons for Leaders being Tired

Figure 1: Reasons for Leaders being Tired

This week I attended a series of workshops with human resource leaders and had the wonderful opportunity to learn from those that do “the incredible” every day.  Repeatedly, I heard attendees talk about how tough it is for HR leaders in their organization right now as the economy comes back, yet resources remain fairly limited.  As the discussion moved around the room in one session, a woman matter-of-factly said, “I am just tired.”  The whole room went silent before gradually everyone started to agree. 

We all know what it is like to try to drive when we are tired.  How many times have you driven down the interstate and caught yourself nodding off?  It takes a lot more concentration to stay on the road and alertness is usually sacrificed for the sake of continuation.  If we use that as an analogy, when we grow tired or “burned out” we are not at our best.  We forget things, miss details, and operate at a lot less than our capability.  We can do it, but only for so long.

As things improve, most would agree that the biggest challenges in the workplace relate to improving employee engagement and rewarding those that survived the cuts and reassignments.  Both are big jobs when you consider the length of the economic downturn and the impact it had.  I assumed that the extra work for dealing with both of those issues were source of the tiredness.  To my surprise, the attendees told me it was the same old “energy drainer” from before the downturn: people issues.   Most agreed that dealing with all of the issues that go along with managing direct reports as well as your boss cause the most exhaustion not matter what else is going on at the same time.

When comparing this small self-selected sample to some more large-scale studies, the results are almost identical.  A 2013 HCS survey of manager morale in 150 organizations found that most managers are “tired” from managing employees (see Figure 1).  Of the more than 1,000 managers, more than 25 percent selected dealing with people issues as the most common source of exhaustion.   Specifically, they cited the never-ending need to deal with people related issues like attendance, personal interactions, conflict resolution, and performance.  A close second place response pertained to dealing with your boss.  Almost 25 percent of respondents selected “boss managing” as the biggest cause of being “tired.”  Problem employees occupy first place for approximately 15 percent of participants and rules, customers, resources, and alignment all hold about 15 percent each.

What does remind us of as leaders? It reminds us of several very simple, yet hard to live-by points:

  • We have to take care of ourselves to be effective;
  • We should allocate our energy to those things that matter and conserve it otherwise;
  • We must be diligent about having the right people in our organization; and
  • We should not sacrifice the team for a single individual.


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