Like most things in this world, passion waxes and wanes as the years go by. But as CEO, you need to be careful of letting your passion slip. If you become disengaged from your business, how will your star employees react?

"As a researcher and consultant to executives across diverse industries, I know how common it is for successful, high-performing people to lose their passion for work--and their commitment to their organizations--over time," Michael Kibler, founder and CEO of holistic coaching and development firm Corporate Balance Concepts, writes in Harvard Business Review.

Kibler calls the dimming of a CEO's passion "executive brownout." He says executive brownout differs from burnout in one key way--a brownout is hard to detect and is not characterized by a major crisis. "They seem to be performing fine: putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement," he explains.

Kibler says his executives are suffering from feelings of being "drained from 24/7 obligations"; "physical deterioration" from little sleep and not taking care of themselves; "tenuous relationships" with their immediate family; lack of close friendships with old friends; "atrophy of personal interests"; and the inability to focus on non-business discussions with others.

These symptoms are a serious threat to your business. If you're not careful, your own personal brownout can spread throughout your company and infect your star employees--who may already suffer from a few of the symptoms. If you feel yourself or your executives slipping into a unenthusiastic state, you should know that a fat raise won't solve the problem. "Bigger payouts will either make it easier for these executives to leave," he writes, or "create incentives to 'hang on' in a state of passive disaffection." 

What you need is to revitalize your own engagement as quickly as possible. To do so, Kibler suggest trying "active partnering." The term refers to creating a supportive relationship with your managers in which you can speak honestly about your personal and professional life and the goals in each sphere.

A good time to start this is during annual reviews. "The point is to foster a dialogue that allows bosses (and therefore businesses) to build true partnerships with their most important people," Kibler says. The goals might include starting a nonprofit, writing a book, or completing a triathlon. Whatever your goals are, it's about actively working toward things you want to do before you leave this world and enhancing relationships with your employees and colleagues.

"When firms do so, it dramatically increases the commitment and impact of their stars," Kibler writes. "Think about it: If I'm your boss and, in addition to helping you develop professionally, I also actively support you in adopting a child, or becoming fit, or taking a service trip with your daughter to Africa, I have profoundly changed the nature of our relationship and your advocacy for and loyalty to our team and organization." 

Kibler writes that when a large professional services firm hired his company to create a yearlong holistic executive development program for its nearly 500 leaders, more than 60 high performers were planning to quit the firm within 12 months. After the program, which focused on mental and physical health, work, and family through one-on-one coaching, only two left the firm within the next five years.

"These professionals were revitalized in the ways that were most important to each of them--and newly equipped to sustain high performance in today's ultra-challenging business environment," he writes.

Published on: Jan 14, 2015