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Are You Dating AMY?: Three Signs Leaders May Be Facing Burnout



In the intricate workings of our brain, the amygdala plays a crucial role, particularly in processing emotions such as fear, anxiety, and stress responses, including the "fight or flight" reaction. For executives, understanding this small but mighty part of the brain can provide insightful clues into how stress impacts their decision-making and leadership styles. In high-pressure environments such as the C-Suite, the amygdala can trigger the "flight" response—a psychological attempt to escape perceived threats, which can manifest in various behaviors detrimental to both personal wellness and organizational health. If leaders are increasingly exhibiting neglectful or escapist behaviors, it's likely that they are "dating" AMY. In this blog post, we will explore what it means to date AMY and identify three interconnected behaviors that may suggest an executive is experiencing burnout and deteriorating mental health.


AMY: Three Signs of Burnout

Given the intense demands placed on leaders, maintaining mental wellness is not just an advantage—it's essential. The very attributes that drive executives—passion, commitment, and the relentless pursuit of excellence—can paradoxically lead them to neglect their psychological well-being. This oversight can reduce their effectiveness and lead to significant personal and professional consequences, primarily burnout. To help leaders recognize when their mental health may need attention, we can use the acronym AMY, which stands for Avoidance, Mediocrity, and Yearning. These three signs that I have observed in executives over the years are early indicators that some stress (dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, or pressure) is a significant burden, potentially overwhelming an executive's ability to lead effectively.


A is for Avoidance

In the context of executive responsibilities, avoidance can manifest as an increasing reluctance to engage with daily responsibilities or strategic decisions. This might appear as overly delegating tasks that you once handled personally, or using busy work to avoid tackling the more challenging aspects of your role. It could also show as "ghosting"—not responding to emails, calls, or missing meetings without clear reasons. Such behavior often serves as a defense mechanism, a subconscious method to reduce stress from perceived threats or overwhelming demands. While delegation is a key leadership skill, excessively avoiding direct involvement can signal that the stress of leadership is taking a mental toll.


M is for Mediocrity

For a leader, settling for mediocrity can be an alarming sign of mental health decline. When a leader, typically driven by a vision for excellence, begins to accept "good enough," it often points to burnout or underlying stress. This decline in performance quality—doing just enough to get by, showing little enthusiasm for improvement or innovation—indicates a loss of motivation and fulfillment. Such a shift can dampen overall team morale and stifle organizational growth. For leaders, recognizing this in oneself can be challenging, as it often develops gradually, underscoring the importance of regular self-reflection on performance and satisfaction.


Y is for Yearning

Yearning refers to a persistent, overwhelming desire for change or escape, often because current circumstances feel intolerable. This might manifest as a fixation on potential changes rather than present realities, or a consistent sense of dissatisfaction regardless of achievements. While aspirational thinking is vital for progress, when coupled with chronic frustration, it suggests misalignment between one's role or responsibilities and personal values or sense of purpose. This form of yearning can deplete an executive’s energy, making it difficult to maintain focus and enthusiasm for their current position.


The Interconnectedness of AMY Behaviors in Leadership

The behaviors encapsulated by AMY—Avoidance, Mediocrity, and Yearning—are interconnected in how they can collectively signal and contribute to declining mental health, particularly in the context of leadership and executive roles. Each of these behaviors can influence and exacerbate the others, creating a cycle that can be challenging to break without intentional action.


Avoidance typically starts as a response to overwhelming stress or discomfort associated with certain responsibilities. When a leader begins to avoid tasks, whether through delegating excessively or ignoring communications, it can create a gap in their engagement with their role. This avoidance can lead to unaddressed issues accumulating, which increases stress and dissatisfaction, thereby feeding into the other elements of AMY.


As avoidance continues, it often results in a drop in the quality of work—Mediocrity. This isn't necessarily because the leader lacks the skills or knowledge to perform at a higher level, but because their engagement and investment in their duties diminish. Mediocrity can then lead to further disconnection from the work, as the lack of effort and care in tasks often leads to less rewarding outcomes, reinforcing the desire to avoid facing these challenges head-on.


In this environment of avoidance and mediocrity, leaders might start Yearning for a different situation or fantasize about radical changes that could alleviate their dissatisfaction. This yearning can be a psychological escape from the current state, where the grass always seems greener elsewhere. However, if these feelings aren't addressed constructively, they can lead to a persistent state of frustration and disengagement, completing the cycle by further motivating avoidance behaviors.


The cyclical nature of AMY means that each component can be both a cause and a symptom of the others. Breaking this cycle typically requires acknowledging the underlying issues—often related to stress management, work-life balance, or alignment of personal and professional values—and seeking appropriate interventions, such as coaching, therapy, or organizational changes.


Taking Action - How to Break Up with AMY

Acknowledging these signs—Avoidance, Mediocrity, and Yearning—is the first step to breaking up with AMY. Addressing them may involve a comprehensive mental health check-up and possibly seeking professional assistance. Potential strategies include:

  • Prayer and Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as prayer, meditation, massages, and regular physical exercise can significantly reduce stress levels and improve mental clarity.

  • Professional Therapy: Engaging with a therapist can help explore the sources of stress and develop coping strategies.

  • Leadership Coaching: Working with an executive or leadership coach can help realign professional goals with personal values, rekindling passion and commitment.


For leaders, actively maintaining mental wellness is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of strength and dedication to their role. By staying alert and responding proactively to these signs, leaders can not only safeguard their mental health but also enhance their effectiveness and the vitality of their organizations. Recognizing and addressing the signs of mental fatigue with the AMY indicators is a vital step in sustaining not only your health but also that of your organization. Remember, leading well means living well. So, if you are dating AMY, it's time to break up with her NOW.


Dear God, in moments of overwhelming stress and challenge, I seek Your guidance and strength. Help me recognize when I am falling into the patterns of avoidance, mediocrity, and yearning. Grant me the clarity to see these signs and the courage to make changes. Please guide me to break free from these burdens, reconnect with my purpose, and rejuvenate my spirit. Inspire me to lead with integrity and passion, and to find peace and fulfillment in my calling. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or psychiatric advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or mental disorder. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.




 

Dr. Wanita Mercer, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Lead My Heart, an executive coaching and consulting company specializing in equipping executives and executive teams to live and lead with purpose, passion, and power. She has a Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in organizational leadership, and she is certified in life coaching, executive coaching, change management, project management, executive management, corporate crisis management, and mental health ministry. She has over 15 years of experience as an international educator in the USA and China, motivational speaker, author, and civic leader. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.


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