August 2, 2013
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
I’ve been meeting this week with a group of academic library leaders. In the course of our discussions, someone mentioned the difficulties of living in a world of constant turmoil in which leaders are expected to engage in non-stop change and change management.
The result – adaptation burnout: the psychological (and physical) exhaustion that comes from the continued challenging of what we know, do, and believe. I knew he was right. We regularly talk about the resistance and human tendency to “hold on” that makes change difficult. Adaptation burnout, however, rarely makes it on the radar screen. It should.
Humans are creatures of habit, and it’s the patterns in our daily lives that enable us to function with an economy of energy and effort. Disrupt that, and the investment required for even simple actions escalates. Keep upping the ante with more and more change, and no surprise: we’re not just tired, but stretched to our human limits to take on anything more, anything new. The resulting burnout manifests itself in disrupted relationships, health concerns, and loss of pleasure in work and play.
As leaders, it’s our duty to manage the rate and pace of change so as not to overload the system or the individuals who work in it. It is also important to support and protect ourselves.
It is tempting for leaders to try to ignore the personal costs of our work. We feel pressures to produce, and the demands of the situation often keep us attending more to others’ needs than our own.
Conceptions of heroic leadership – commonly accepted myths of the solitary superhero whose brilliance and strength save the day – seduce us into stoic acceptance of the added pressures and responsibilities. But leaders, after all, are only human. What can protect and support leaders in their demanding work?
In Chapter 12 of Reframing Academic Leadership, Lee Bolman and I suggest five strategies. How would you rank yourself on each?
1. managing boundaries between self-other, personal-professional, self-work role, and leader-follower.
2. proactively attending to health and stress management
3. seeking life balance in meeting the diverse needs of mind, body, and soul
4. finding respite and sanctuary for perspective and rejuvenation: the beauty and recuperative power of the arts make them obvious choices
5. enhancing resilience skills: recognizing that we grow stronger in the face of challenge enables us to bounce back more quickly in the face of setbacks.