A letter: I’m worried you might suffer from a burnout soon.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Hello, my friend,

It was a pleasure to meet with you again last month, and as always, I had a fantastic time, and I’ve learnt some much from you. I can’t wait to see you again early next year. I’m looking forward to visiting the tea house you were talking about. It sounds like an unusual place, and you know how much I love tea.

But, I’m not writing to you just to talk about the hot beverage…

During our last meeting, we talked about burnout, leading by example and how our actions as leaders affect people who work closely with us. You said a few things that were a little bit concerning, but I couldn’t precisely identify why. A bit of time passed, and that was enough for me to articulate why your words “do as I say, not as I do” stuck in my head. I will try to give you a different perspective on that. I already foresee the hours we will spend discussing this during our next meeting.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is not a “lead by example” and it suggests to your team members that there are different standards for you and for them. You expect them to not work overtime. You want them to take lunch at a reasonable time, not at 6PM. They should spend their weekends doing what they love. And most importantly, you want them to enjoy working in the team and never have to deal with things like burnout or lack of motivation. If these are expectations from your team, why aren’t you following them yourself? Shouldn’t a leader lead by example and show how it’s done? Actions, not words?

I’ve been in a similar situation in the past myself. I also saw people around me suffering because their boss was not following rules he preached — his words did not match his actions. The whole team felt guilty when they saw him working late, and there was nothing they could do or say to change it. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon to see people working longer, only because their boss stayed on weekends or evening, dealing with unexpected problems or some challenges on behalf of the team. Even if these tasks were only late meetings with other teams or stakeholders.

I’m sure their boss did it all in good faith or maybe protecting the team from unnecessary disruptions. Or perhaps he just had too much work? In the end, it damaged teams’ morale, and quite quickly it started eroding trust. It created uncertainty, doubts and unhealthy environment for everyone. His actions had a massive impact, and leading by example was the best way to show what is expected from everybody, even himself.

It might be a weird comparison, but…

When we are growing up in a family, we learn how to live from other family members — mostly how they behave, not that much from what they say. Our future lives and core values are shaped within the very first five years. We learn patterns, we learn interactions with other humans, we learn how to live based on what we see around, even the untold schemas. I feel that the same happens at work, especially when you consider junior members. It might be their first serious job, and you probably don’t want them to learn how to work by being a part of “dysfunctional family”. I know I don’t.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is not leading by example and shouldn’t be even used in the form of a joke. All the great rules you came up with are for the good of the team, but why do you think they do not apply to you? You are only a human, and burnout is going to be a question of “when” not “if”. Once it affects it, you will start becoming less and less helpful to your team. Undoubtedly, your wellbeing is as important as the wellbeing of the team you work for.

The more I think about it, the more I want to write, but I don’t want to end up with a book (at least not yet), so let’s finish here. I will only wrap it up with a short summary: It’s time for the “Do as I do” approach, so you better “do” good.

A side note… Whilst I was writing this letter to you, I realised that occasionally I don’t lead by example myself. I think I do, but I make an occasional exception and always find some good excuse why. I guess I’ve got something to work on too.

I can’t wait to explore this topic a bit more when we meet next time.

Best wishes to you and say hello to your lovely wife from me.
— Andrew

Healing software engineering teams for a decade. People focused guy, trying to change the world one little step at a time. Automotive photographer after hours.