Anne was feeling burned out and on the edge of leaving her company. She saw no way out. In a last attempt to figure things out, she turned to me for help.

Anne is a Senior Director of a national financial institute, leading a team of twenty while balancing her role as a mother of two young children and working from home. For the past two years, she’d asked her boss for help as there had been an exodus of employees resigning from the firm, mostly staff.  He shared that he was doing his best. It was challenging finding good people. Besides, his hands were tied with a limited budget. After two years of hearing the same story, his reasons now seemed like excuses which left her feeling unsupported and overlooked.

She was fortunate to have a great team of loyal individuals. Her caring ways and strong efforts to offer appreciation and support made them feel valued. It engaged and motivated them to face and deal with the challenges that this pandemic presented. However, without the needed number of staff, she was so busy doing her work and helping her team complete projects that she had no time to be a Sr. Director and leader that she knew she could be. This weighed heavily on her. After all these years, she felt stuck and burned out.

Limeade, a company passionate about delivering healthy employee experiences, released a study that found the number one reason “Great Resigners” quit their jobs was “burnout.” Instead, they look to join organizations that care for their well-being and provide improved flexibility.

On the employer side of the equation, an article in the Wall Street Journal reports that they’re finding companies now are looking for executives with the soft skills that weren’t always valued before. Being empathetic, understanding of others, valuing diverse viewpoints and feelings, and creating a culture of well-being are all critical qualities they are looking for in leaders. Companies are realizing that to maintain a workforce in this environment takes a sensitivity to others and the ability to bring a divergent group of people together. Today the role of a leader has expanded beyond running just a profitable business.

Now more than ever, leaders need to care for and value their people. They need to be in tune so they can anticipate how to help before their people ask. Apologies like “my hands are tied” do little to stop the bleeding of their company’s best talent. Today leaders need to untie their hands, fight for their people and be resourceful. This means finding innovative ways to address symptoms like burnout by discovering and working on the root cause. Creating cultures where people feel valued and cared for cultivates belonging and loyalty. The alternative is turnover where the best talent leaves or is recruited by competitors, offering what the current company doesn’t.

So, what’s an innovative solution to retain your top talent in the Great American Burnout? How can you help your people with the stress and pressure they face so they won’t burn out and leave? How can you buy yourself time in order to replace the ones who have left?  

According to LinkedIn 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. In their 2020 Report, leadership skills top the list of their learning goals.

IMPACT Group’s study on leadership development programs found that 48% of HR leaders plan to expand the use of coaches to develop individuals or teams – especially those working virtually.
The best companies are realizing that coaching is one important way to retain their employees, especially external coaching. This is key as it provides a safe place to share with someone outside the company.

The stress and pressure will always be there. However, good coaches can help leaders and their employees transform into a new way of being that develops their capacity to thrive in a complex and uncertain world. And the most forward-thinking companies have established respectable budgets their people can tap into when seeking help.

Below explains how coaching (especially executive coaching) can be the most effective solution in retaining your top talent. For Anne, it made the difference, solved her burnout issues and allowed her to stay in her position. She was able to find more work-life balance, resulting in becoming a leader with the capacity to thrive in a post-COVID world.

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Creates an environment where a person feels safe to open up.

In my first few sessions with Anne, she was surprised to find herself mentioning things she’d never told her internal performance coach. As a leader, she didn’t want to appear vulnerable. Her internal coach was there to help her achieve her goals, not listen to her personal fears. But it’s these fears that we don’t want to face, along with certain blind spots that trip us up.  Dealing with the resultant unwanted patterns that we are unaware of is at the core of helping a person transform. The byproduct is that leaders reach their goals in ways that support themselves and others.

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Opens an awareness to see their situation from new perspectives.

Anne attributed her burnout to all the work she had to do because they were short staffed. Noticing the hours spent, I could understand. However, bringing new distinctions opened her eyes to other areas, she was unaware of.  Among the issues that we uncovered:

  • Worried constantly about fulfilling her role as Senior Director who was seen as a leader and promotable.
  • Stressed because promotion meant bringing in new business (BD). Being short staffed, there was no time.
  • Feeling pressured to network with strangers and get them to buy her services.
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Allows a person to see beyond symptoms and get to the root causes.

Burnout is a symptom. Discovering the root cause takes looking more closely at areas that give and deplete energy.

Anne was happy to discover that her leadership qualities were valued today. Her gifts of giving,  empathy, compassion and sensitivity to others and their viewpoints, built a divergent and solid team of good and loyal employees who had the capacity to achieve the results needed even without her help and with limited staff.

Realizing this, she saw she had time to do BD, to focus on areas where she’d be valued and seen as a promotable Senior Director. Helping her people grow into leaders and build a culture where they felt a sense of belonging, energized, and inspired her. Here she was comfortable. But BD drained her. She began questioning if she was even good enough to be in a more senior role? 

Here was the root cause of her burnout. She gained insight that she was doing things to be good enough in eyes of others. It was a never-ending cycle of pleasing people that was burning her out. However, if she truly discovered who she was – gifts, blind spots, patterns and acted from that place, she would stop trying to “act” the role of a leader and instead, “be” one.

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Opens a person to embody new practices that cultivate new habits and develops new competencies.

Anne saw that she “was” a leader when she worked with her people. Building a solid team was one side of her leadership capabilities that she excelled in; BD was the side that challenged her. Yet, she recalled the most rewarding times in her career were when she was overcoming challenges. In doing so, what was uncomfortable became comfortable.

To work on her root cause, I started with her gifts. One of her core gifts is “generosity”. Anne gave endlessly to her family, friends and team. She learned that a gift becomes a weakness when we overuse it. We see no other choices. Wanting to please others was a result of overusing generosity. It blinded her to learn to receive, whether it be help, words, ideas, solutions, compliments. She realized that giving made her feel good enough. However, it didn’t empower her people to be more creative in solving their own issues. Instead, they sought the answers from her  

She learned practices that allowed her to embody what it feels like to let go and receive. It was challenging but she enjoyed receiving her team’s help and empowering them to find creative solutions to solve issue on their own. This gained her more time.

Anne discovered that she could use her gifts that created an amazing team into building connected relationships inside and outside of the firm. She felt good to give her expertise to executives and their prospects to help them close new business. In return, they referred her business.

We worked on many areas and Anne steadily developed the leadership capabilities that made her highly valued in her company. She found the work-life balance that helped her thrive in a very stressful world. Recently, she was invited to become a part of an executive committee, the next step in being promoted. However, that didn’t excite her as much as the belief and confidence she now feels. “I’m finally becoming the leader I always knew I could be not to prove I’m good enough but to just be me.”


Susan Inouye

* Sawubona: A Zulu greeting meaning “I see you.”