How does a star performer turn into a loose cannon, or experience complete and total burnout on the job? In most cases there are telltale signs that can be identified in time to turn things around.

Consider this scenario.

Pat, a star performer, has been crushing it at work, a real force multiplier who raises the bar for everyone she works with.  She has been a key driver in her department’s performance and has been identified to supervise a new project, which comes with new levels of responsibility. Rather than prepare her for her new responsibilities by giving her with some management training, her boss decides she should start her new role immediately. And so she does.

What happens next is critical. And if unnoticed can lead to the end of stardom. A wise manager will pay attention to the signs.

3 signs that a star performer is on the path to burnout

Overwhelmed at work.

Needs no words.

1. They are overwhelmed

Before her promotion, Pat was a strong contributor as an individual. Now she has to supervise 16 others. It is safe to say Pat is overwhelmed. She exhibits all the behaviors of someone who is completely stressed out. She is transforming, from a high performer to a loose cannon. (

Loss of Productivity

Loss of Productivity

2. Loss of productivity

From a leadership perspective, Pat is becoming less productive, because she simply doesn’t have the resources, experience, or time to give her attention to things that need it. So she defaults to micromanagement, using directive, not outcome-based leadership to assert control, instead of allowing her team to work through its challenges.

Resisting Good Feedback

Resisting Good Feedback

3. Not open to developmental feedback

As Pat’s constituents become less productive and more disengaged, the new supervisor decides to ask for feedback, a 360 because Pat heard it was a good thing to do, not because of a growth mindset that feedback is valuable. After Pat receives the feedback and is not painted in a favorable light, but full of opportunities for growth, learning, and change, it is rejected because Pat was not developed to view constructive feedback as an opportunity to get better, and views it as a threat to authority. So the death spiral of performance and conflict continues until Pat hits burnout.

Why burnout happens.

As human beings, we do not have unlimited psychological resources to commit to leadership and supervision. Every day those resources are depleted and need to be replenished. Unlike a car, which will run out of gas and will simply stop, humans if they are not refueled, keep going right through to burnout in the workplace, and as research shows into the realm of unethical decision making. And there you have it – Pat went from star performer with potential to a burnt-out, unethical leader.

Star performers hold value for any organization. This type of behavior can cost the organization value as productivity drops, workers become disengaged, and it has to deal with the decisions the burnt-out leader has made. Good news is this can all be prevented with an investment in the development of people before promotion or other taking on a new responsibility.

If they learn anything in business school about leadership, much of what students learn is about leading from the top of the organization. That is not the true nature of organizational leadership. Great organizations have leaders at all levels. They understand that in today’s fast-paced landscape they cannot rely simply on hierarchy as they move into action. They have to develop leadership throughout their organizations.

How to prevent it, or turn it around.

Upon being identified for leading the new project, the company could have enrolled the new leader in a program to develop their leadership skills.

If the organization does not have a program, a quick search in your area will reveal what is available. We offer one here at Bridge 3. See here for more information

In such a program, and for certain in the Bridge 3 Leadership Essentials Program, they would learn:

  1. Leadership is relational. In reality, a leader can’t lead without followers and leadership is about relationships. Effective leaders are creating and re-creating relationships with those they have the responsibility to lead.
  2. They would learn about self-leadership, emotional intelligence, and emotional connection. They would develop self-awareness, and learn how to manage their emotions, and how to establish strong bonds with their teams.
  3. They would learn about concepts such as span-of-control, the effective span of leadership, which in our experience and research finds is 4-7 people. Anything larger, the supervisor does not have the bandwidth to effectively lead, and a new organizational structure needs to be designed to maintain and improve performance.
  4. They would learn the difference between more directive leadership styles, and outcome-based leadership and how more hierarchical, command and control leadership approaches constrain an organizations ability to learn and adapt to remain competitive and relevant in today’s fast-changing landscape.
  5. They would learn how to use coaching techniques to support outcomes-based leadership to improve their team members performance and confidence in their ability to achieve successful outcomes.

There are many other important topics for leaders to learn on the road to becoming an effective leader. No one program will cover all of them. A leader’s development is a journey in lifelong exploration, discovery, and learning, investment in who they are, not what they are. Through self-development, challenging experiences and positions, and participation in programs like what we offer at Bridge 3 leaders will grow, learn, and develop the skills and knowledge critical to maintaining their effectiveness. If you’re not learning, you’re not leading.

Elevate your star performers.

Organizations can boost or obstruct their star performers development. If they invest in their development, specifically behaviors, mindsets, and reinforcement of learning, they can elevate the individual and the organization. If they don’t then there is a risk of the star performer flaming out and the organization losing a high potential employee.

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