How to be a good manager without burning out

10/30/2022

Bernice Lee, a brain-based coach, on ways middle managers can thrive in their roles and overcome stressful situations



People have been dealing with a lot in the past three years – the pandemic, challenging business conditions, remote working, talent shortages, mental health problems, and reading disturbing world news every day. Not to mention the normal pressures of servicing clients, working with difficult colleagues, navigating organizational change, and managing their personal lives.

Middle managers in particular are under a great deal of pressure. In addition to delivering business results, they must maintain effective relationships with those below them and those above them.  They need to communicate and negotiate with people that have conflicting interests, advocate for their direct reports, and navigate complex problems and dilemmas. According to a late 2021 Gallup survey, manager burnout is getting worse.

One of my clients, a middle manager in the hospitality industry, was ready to quit her job because she was chronically overworked. Since her team was understaffed, she often had to assist them with daily operations and administration, which pulled her way from her managerial responsibilities. She worked extremely long hours and on weekends to complete her own work. Her team felt unsupported by leadership, which demanded that they do more with less, with no complaints and no expectation of recognition or reward.

Some mid-level managers may be feeling the same way. But by taking certain actions, they can work more effectively, feel fulfilled, and thrive in their roles even under difficult conditions. Here are three ways to be a great manager.

Prioritize taking care of yourself to build your personal resilience

When you’re leading a team, people count on you to have a clear direction, stay calm when times get tough, and guide them to achieve goals and deliver business results. For managers to show up as an effective, present, empathetic, genuine, resilient, and empowering leader, they must prioritize their own well-being.

Think about the last time you flew on an airplane. The flight attendant would have said, “In case there is a loss in cabin pressure, yellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you. Please secure your own mask before assisting others around you.” It is essential for managers to “secure” themselves so that they are physically, mentally and emotionally able to cope with stress and be in the headspace to lead their teams to reach their potential, even during challenging times.

There are many scientifically proven ways of taking better care of yourself. Get enough sleep every night; do a little light exercise every day; eat healthy, nutritious, unprocessed food; and practice mindfulness. Manage your priorities, time and attention; and de-clutter your work space. Surround yourself with people you respect and trust, and lean on them for support when you need it.

While this may all sound great, many coaching clients have had doubts about being able to prioritize themselves, especially when they’re busy as C-suite level executives or senior managers, and some also have kids to raise. However, they quickly discovered that achieving this vision takes less time than expected, and are surprised by how they have become happier, more engaged, and more effective at work within just four short months. The coaching methodology I use was developed by the NeuroLeadership Institute from the latest research about the human brain and how to maximize human performance and potential.

Invest in your own development – and take it seriously

To be the best manager, it’s important to commit to investing in your own development. Go beyond the generic “I’m going to improve myself.” I encourage you to pursue it with strong intentions and laser focus because in a world of uncertainty, the best way to future-proof yourself is to take control of your own career development.

Start by doing an assessment to identify your strengths and developmental areas, for example a psychometric, leadership, or 360-degree assessment. I use the Harrison Assessment with my clients. It measures your behavioural tendencies, interests and preferences at work. It does not put people in boxes with labels like general personality tests do. By completing the Harrison 30-minute online questionnaire, you will gain clarity about your key strengths and how you can be more successful in your job and career.

Secondly, celebrate your strengths. These are your magic powers that you enjoy using and that enable you to excel. Brainstorm different ways to use your strengths more often and in different contexts at work. Thirdly, identify developmental areas that are essential in your role as a middle manager but that you’re not highly skilled in yet. Choose one or two areas to work on then identify a role model who is skilled in those areas; find a mentor who’s willing to observe you, give you candid feedback, or brainstorm ideas; attend a training session; or hire a coach to assist you.


Four essential leadership competencies

When I work with coaching clients who wish to elevate their leadership skills, we typically focus on four competencies:

Opportunity management: Develop the ability to analyse the potential pitfalls of a plan or strategy while at the same time be willing to take risks. Have a keen sense for valuable opportunities, inspire and motivate others to go after them, and obtain valuable learning from what worked and what didn’t.

Coaching mindset: Know how to enforce necessary rules with compassion. Take a genuine interest in other people and show you care, encourage them to be their best, and be warm and empathetic, but not permissive.

Collaborative accountability: Take responsibility for decisions while at the same time allowing others to genuinely participate in the decision-making process. Know that when you consult with other people, it improves decisions, fosters innovation, shows respect, and has the effect of inspiring engagement, cooperation and teamwork.


Strategic acumen: Analyse the potential pitfalls of a plan or strategy while remaining positive about achieving the potential benefits. Monitor threats and obstacles, revise strategies, and be realistic without being sceptical or pessimistic.