a row of matches with one burnt

Leadership, Empathy, and Burnout

A twitter thread on management, empathy, and burnout
First, a thread on management, empathy, and burnout. You should read this before (or instead of?) this post

I first ran across this thread in early 2021 a couple of months into the COVID pandemic response (and all the stress that came along with that), and I doubt a week has gone in the year since that I haven’t thought about it. It lives in the top of my consciousness, and I highly suggest you give it a read before (or instead of) this post.

The question that kicked it off is an astute one: is burnout for management inevitable for people who actually care about the wellbeing of other people? I have thoughts.

I can only speak from my experience, but, I have struggled (largely unsuccessfully) for years to avoid the burnout that lives at the intersection of leading sustainably and pursuing the expectations of the executive leadership team. It was always a lot, but the last two years have definitely escalated the burn considerably. The weight of trying to create an atmosphere of psychological safety is formidable at the best of times, but doing it amidst a worldwide pandemic, political unrest, economic uncertainty, and while our industry is in remarkable turmoil has really dialed that challenge up to 11. It’s disconcerting to see that some of my most successful years in my career have come while I’ve felt the least successful; these last few years have been simultaneously rewarding and draining. Simply put: I’m well into burnout. Well, well into burnout, if I’m being honest.

At the same time, I’ve missed having a chance to be more directly involved in technology and technical decision-making. When I was working to form the platform I currently lead, I had to make the conscious decision as to whether I would focus my attentions on the technical or the people; whether to focus on our architecture or on the crafting of, selling of, and driving toward a vision. I chose the the latter and became the director of the platform rather than its architect. While I have valued and found success in the role, I often find myself missing being able to be in the thick of things (and if I’m being truthful, in my weaker moments I’ve found myself stepping on the toes of the tech team and the actual architects as I get more involved than I should have on more occasions than I feel good about counting).

All of this is to say–in my inimitable long-winded way–that I found myself starting this year in need of a change. Thankfully, I work for a place that is uncharacteristically caring and people-focused, so when I brought my concerns (and ultimately my decision) to my leadership team, we were able to put together a plan of attack that culminated in my being able to step over to a role as a software architect. After a lengthy search, we have found a replacement for me that will provide strength in areas that I am weaker so that the leadership team I’ve been so fortunate to lead can benefit from further growth in new areas; especially areas in which I’m less ideally suited to coach growth!

I’m sure that I will again find my way back into leadership at some point, but for now I’m truly excited for this next stage of my career and to get back hands-on with some cool technology on some challenging new problems to solve! Let’s hope that I haven’t lost too many steps over the last few years!