By Scott Mann, Special to Spartan LIFE
"I can’t do this."
I was recently contacted by a C-suite financial executive of a large bank, who had been tasked with overseeing a department that had been set up practically overnight to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I could hear the strain in each syllable, and his voice cracked when he said, "I can’t do this."
Everything "normal" had been upended. He was inundated with the doom and gloom of the 24-hour news cycle, he’d been watching his 401 (k) plummet, and his retirement was dwindling away to practically nothing. He’d been working all hours of the day and night, putting out fire after fire. Each day brought more stress. Without seeing his face, I knew he was burnt out.
More From Scott Mann: 7 Tips to Lead Through Chaos, As Told By a Former Green Beret and Mission Commander
I gave him some steps that he could put into immediate action to help him quickly overcome this burnout and get back in the game — the same tools, in fact, that I used for decades as a Green Beret, when I was dealing with my own burnout.
What Leads to Burnout? Lack of Purpose
I have found that burnout stems from a lack of purpose. Humans are meaning-seeking creatures and without purpose, personally and organizationally, it's difficult for us to take action. Add to that our high operational tempo. We are moving so fast that we stay in a constant fight-flight-freeze mode that far exceeds the capacity of our nervous system. We are running ourselves at a breakneck pace with little to no self-care. We spend inordinate amounts of resources training leaders to do a myriad of complex tasks, yet we spend almost no time or resources training leaders on how to conduct self-care. In other words, we don't teach our leaders to look out for their own wellbeing so they can stay in the race. Instead, we continuously drive them in that high-operational tempo environment until they collapse.
During this pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of my time crisis-coaching C-Suite executives, Fortune 500 business leaders, special operators, and high-performing athletes, and I’ve seen a tremendous increase in burnout across all industries and levels of leadership. We need to pay attention to this.
Why Burnout Is a Bigger Problem Right Now
What makes burnout during this pandemic different? A specific lack of purpose inside the crisis. There is so much complexity and chaos swirling around our leaders right now, and they are failing to anchor themselves against a strong reason for leading. This is dangerous. In nearly every scenario, this exacerbates already skyrocketing anxiety levels over the persistent threat of the virus. This leads to a tremendous amount of uncertainty. We don't know when the curfews will be lifted, when social distancing will stop, or what’s going to happen to our businesses.
This makes for a nasty cocktail of heightened burnout in crisis. But, there are things we can do, even in the darkest times, to ensure that we don't burn out and stay at the top of our game. I was taught these lessons while serving as a Green Beret, and they are more relevant in the civilian world now than ever before.
4 Green Beret-Approved Tips to Combat Burnout
Tip #1: Get Clarity of Purpose
Sit down for three minutes and write out specifically what your purpose is in this chaos. Everything flows from this. Once you define that, you’ll find yourself sprinting into the chaos, ready and determined.
Tip #2: Self-Sabotage Will Trip You Up
Bestselling author Steven Pressfield calls this "resistance" in his book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Be brutally honest. What will derail you from your goals on this particular path? Write it down and put it where you can see it every day as part of your battle rhythm. This is the enemy. Know your enemy.
Tip #3: Establish a Battle Rhythm
This is simply a regimen of sacred rituals that you do every day — regardless of what's happening in the chaotic world around you — that allows you to align mind, body, and spirit. If you don't practice this kind of self-care in a dedicated regimen, you will fall prey to chaos and ultimately burn out.
Tip #4: Do Something That SCARES You
I believe that all of us, especially in this pandemic, should do something that scares us. I'm talking about responsible, pragmatic actions that allow you to push the envelope on a goal that you've always had for yourself. Do something that makes you better, something that makes you more relevant, something that scares you. Nothing defeats burnout quicker than pushing yourself to limits that you thought you couldn't achieve.
Make the decision right now to use this pandemic to make yourself more relevant, and make burnout a thing of the past.
Scott Mann is a master at building relationships in high-stakes, competitive environments. As a Green Beret in the United States Army, he forged bonds and solved problems using values that moved people around the world to stand up for themselves. His secret? He was able to restore trust and create human connections in places where that didn’t seem possible. A speaker, trainer, and author, Mann is currently the CEO of Rooftop Leadership.