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  • Melissa Sims

Resonant Leadership

Shifting out of the Sacrifice Syndrome and into Resonant Leadership


The sacrifice syndrome is something that many leaders fall into. It is an unsustainable cycle of intense stress, attending to crises, and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. Many leaders feel they must give of themselves constantly. Little value is placed on renewal, developing habits of mind, body, and behavior that enable us to create and sustain resonance in the face of unending challenges. If you are putting out fire after fire, feeling exhausted by the end of the day, the problem is not simply stress; this has always been a part of the leader’s reality. The problem is too little recovery time, a failure to manage the cycle of sacrifice and renewal. In this state of sacrifice without renewal, dissonance becomes the default.



A fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feelings in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance, a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primary job of leadership is emotional. How do we promote positive emotions and energy when we are absolutely drained, or caught in the Sacrifice Syndrome? In times of crisis, like we’ve been in, it’s much more difficult to stay in resonance, but self-awareness is the key to recognizing it. Interestingly, effectiveness in your work actually contributes to the sacrifice syndrome.


In the process of giving of ourselves, we give too much, leading us to ultimately become ineffective. Over time, and unchecked, the physical and emotional toll of leadership limits our ability to sustain high performance. Leaders have a tremendous responsibility; they need to engage and guide other behaviors towards challenging goals, and they need a great deal of self-control and emotional management, which takes energy and effort


Resonant leaders are self-aware and composed, focused and high energy, empathic and motivating, collaborative and compelling. This is obviously ideal, but again, in the midst of a crisis, and especially with what seems like constant uncertainty, it takes dedicated effort.


Sustainable, effective leadership can only occur when the experiences of sacrifice and stress are interchanged with those of renewal.In other words, we cannot avoid the stress and sacrifice. It just needs to be balanced with hope, mindfulness, and compassion. These have all been identified as qualities that reduce stress and increase positive emotions. When we experience these feelings, our brains turn on the parasympathetic system, prompting the brain to release hormones including oxytocin which, in turn, prompts more feel-good hormones that lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.


This process leaves us feeling optimistic, positive, happy and enjoying the sense of well-being. It is within renewal that we can achieve resonant leadership. When we engage in personal renewal, we are better equipped to deal with the challenges and sacrifices inherent in leadership.



Unfortunately, many of us slip into the sacrifice syndrome without even realizing it. To return to resonance, we need to make renewal a way of life and this requires conscious action and, for most people, intentional change. To engage in real change- the kind that enables us to manage the inherent stress of leadership, we need to engage in a process over time to capture our dreams and start a course towards them.


When we (or our organizations, for that matter) really want to change and develop, we need to first realize or reconnect with what is most important to us and who we are. This gives us the energy and the motivation to look closely at what is currently working for us and what is getting in our way. To spark the desire and energy for change, we need to imagine and articulate an Ideal Self: who could I be if I were at my very best, living and working effectively, fully, and happily? A meaningful vision of ourselves and our future engages our desire to move toward that future and gives us the courage to try.


Next, after we have discovered our Ideal Self and Personal Vision, we need to have a clear sense of our Real Self: who we are today, our strengths and weaknesses, and how we influence others.


Dream! Aspire! By thinking about what is possible, we experience hope and release a multitude of positive emotions. These positive emotions create energy for our actions and catalyze positive self-perpetuating sequences that feel good and are essential for lasting change. And this is exactly what promotes resonant leadership.






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