How to keep your “bus” off Burn-Out Boulevard

Jim Collins evokes a much-discussed metaphor in Good to Great when he suggests that business leaders get the wrong people off their (presumably built-to-last) “bus” and get the right people on it.  He also expects the leaders to chart a proper itinerary and keep the “bus” headed in the right direction.

Because I share Collins’ fondness for metaphors, I now offer another: Burn-Out Boulevard. It is suggested by what Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel have to say about avoiding or escaping from the corrosion trap in which organizational burn-out is certain to occur:

“Clearly, corrosive energy represents the most destructive way of using [abusing] a company’s potential. Yet it can be deceptive, since this trap manifests itself in an energetic way: an organization with corrosive energy will APPEAR highly emotionally involved, creative, and active – but for all the wrong reasons and with a misguided focus, because these forces are invested largely in interpersonal aggression, infighting, and internal rivalries. You will need to act quickly when faced with short-term, corrosive energy.”

Here are the early warning signs of the corrosion trap in which an organization drifts father off course:

1. Polished communication rather than real dialog

2. Denial of rather than dealing with corrosive tendencies

3. Lack of alignment of personal goals with organizational objectives

4. Lack of mutual trust

5. Weak organizational identify

“To keep corrosive forces from eating away at the organizational fabric of trust, mutual support, and identify, [business leaders] need to have a clear picture of the company situation and its corrosive energy…Executive either overlook and neglect, or even consciously deny, the negative forces at work. What to do?

“First, as a leader you might not realize that people feel disconnected from the company or top management…To prevent such perception gaps, you should foster cultures that encourage feedback and other forms of extensive communication.

“Second, executives sometimes deny evidence of corrosive energy and do not want to see destructive dynamics, either because they aren’t sure that their past proven leadership can fox the problem or because they fear that acknowledging negative forces in the company will reflect badly on themselves, as a sign of personal weakness…That’s why [they] need to actively work to avoid sweeping negative energy under the carpet…Rather, actively seek for and confront this energy head-on.”

To read Heike Bruch and Bernd Vogel‘s brilliant analysis of all this, please check out Fully Charged: How Great Leaders Boost Their Organization’s Energy and Ignite High Performance.


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