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January 16, 2019

Marketing Medicine: Leadership crisis will impact brands

 A global trend has emerged in which corporate leaders are exiting their positions before the end of their term. However to those involved in coaching leaders, this comes as no surprise.

The phenomenon known as 'The Sacrifice Syndrome' has been identified by Richard Boyatzis, an eminent professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve and Annie McKee co-chair of the Teleos Leadership Institute.

 Many modern leaders feeling the effects of executive burnout such as depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue are either seeking alternative careers and or are taking the money and running.

This unique and scientific study enables an in-depth understanding of executive burnout as well as offering pathways for renewal.

 I was discussing this recently with my good friend Gail Cameron an executive coach to corporate leaders in South Africa. Over the last 25 years she has become overtly aware of the debilitating effects of executive burnout that may result in executives leaving prematurely, or damaging the company and even in certain cases committing suicide.

As Cameron explains “However, not only can the syndrome be identified, and managed effectively, it is possible to uncover true purpose in a life changing way”

“Boyatzis research shows how the Sacrifice Syndrome occurs. Executives begin to feel anxious, depressed and nervous. This leads to power stress, as they are in a leadership position and have an obligation to influence others. Next follows the neural circuitry of fear – finely mapped by neuroscientists, the circuitry first enters the brain stem via the senses such as hearing, feeling or seeing negative information. Next stop is the limbic structure, deeply embedded in the subcortex, where much of the emotional processing occurs. Here the brain compares this information to previous experiences. If no satisfying answer is received, the amygdala (also known as the emotional centre) hits the panic button. This circuitry constantly repeated can result in aggravated forms of burnout as the entire world view reality of the afflicted person becomes distorted”

 Cameron says, “Boyatzis research set out in his book “Resonance Leadership” also offers pathways for renewal. Three pathways need to be opened. The first is Mindfulness - a heightened awareness of the person’s heart, mind, body and soul.

 Once a meaningful examination in this area has taken place, it is important to open the second pathway namely hope. As Cameron explains: “We are, after all the only species that require hope to flourish.

So it is critical to keep the light switched on, to keep hope alive. The third and last pathway is known as compassion. And compassion is not feeling for someone else, it means acting appropriately.

It can be small things such as standing in a supermarket queue with a woman holding a crying baby standing directly behind you. Allowing the women to go ahead of you is considered an act of compassion. Demonstrating compassion makes you feel better.

 As the speed of business communications, and the demands of leadership increase, African business leaders are becoming more vulnerable to the risk of burnout.

Traditional senior management behaviours were designed to protect leaders from pressure and give them time to develop their own agendas. Such protections are being stripped away as African businesses become leaner, more effective and more connected to the world.

When it comes to the successful management of brands, the vital requirement is consistency of approach. Brands take years to build, but only months to damage. It’s important that as stress levels increase brand management does not shorten its horizon. Brands need strategic shaping, and not knee-jerk tactics.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising. Most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company which helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

 To comment on this article, send a Tweet to harrisoncj on or chat to him on Linked In.

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