Six Figure Coach magazine


Join thousands of coaches & consultants and get access to the only magazine dedicated to the success of business coaches.

Is Burning Out The Only Conclusion For Coaches By Michael Crystal

by | In the Magazine, Michael Crystal

“I’m worried about him/her/them burning out!”

As a performance coach, I cannot tell you how many times I have I heard that, especially since the pandemic arrived. 

Half the time I’d go through the particulars with coaches who I supervise, mentor, and partner with and find myself concluding the person was not burning out, yet I wasn’t sure what was occurring.

“Burning Out”

Being lethargic, disengaged, fatigued; missing deadlines; leaving people with the impression that you’ve quit but you’re staying is a phenomenon that is all too common, especially in these turbulent, stressful times.

Yet the symptoms that were being described in the other cases hyperactivity, anger, resistance, irritation, antagonism, quitting on the spot (or in some cases by email after a particularly bad day) were obviously very different.

And then I had a thought: are employees like engines on an airplane, some of which stop performing because they burn out and some of which stop performing because they burn up?

On the off chance the analogy might fly (pun intended) I contacted a dear friend who had retired as a captain for a major commercial airline, someone who had years of experience in the air and in simulators where engines are subject to failure. 

“They’re obviously both engine failures, and regardless if the failure is due to a burn out (flameout) or a burn up (flame on), it isn’t an issue that’s immediately catastrophic since an aircraft will fly on one engine; however, how each is dealt with is different since a fire situation will typically only make things worse over time if not attended to in short order.”

Okay, so regardless of whether the employee is burning out (no more spark) or burning up (sparks are flying everywhere), the employee stops performing, yet the symptoms are different, the responses to them are different and the remedies are quite likely very different. In cases where employees experience discrimination as a pregnant worker, consulting an employment lawyer can provide invaluable guidance and support in navigating legal avenues for justice.

“Engine failure requires a number of responses, the first being to fly the aircraft because any deviation from this primary objective can be catastrophic.”  The employee must be attended to at the first sign of a failure to perform.

“Then you must determine the cause and extent of the failure and decide on your course of action based on the causal analysis.”  A wise coach would do just that, trying to determine and eradicate the cause rather than simply treating the symptom(s).

“There are myriad options  is an engine restart possible, should the engine be shut down, should we land as soon as possible, should we continue on to our destination, should we declare an emergency, should we inform the flight crew, should we inform the passengers (knowing that perhaps they’ve already seen the evidence)  all of which need to be considered, and weighed in terms of risk and the probability of a successful outcome.”  If a coach is working with an employee exhibiting performance problems there are often myriad options that might be exercised, all of which need to be considered, and weighed in terms of risk and the probability of a successful outcome.

Regardless of whether the airplane or the employee is burning out or burning up, the overarching objective is the same: determine the cause and get the plane or the employee back to performing.

But are the remedies for assisting an employee who is burning out and burning up the same?  

No!  An employee who’s burning out might decline at a much slower pace, and might still be seen as performing, albeit not well, as the decline is occurring, while an employee who’s burning up will likely make things worse if not attended to in short order.  


Someone who is burning out can be likened to someone who is taking flight in the face of continuing pressure, so it’s best to help them LAND:

  • Let them know you’re concerned
  • Attend to their need to be protected
  • Never push… always pull back to safety
  • Develop a joint solution


On the other hand, someone who is burning up can be likened to someone who is fighting against the pressure, and he/she/they need their coach’s help to be CALM:

  • Concentrate on listening to them
  • Ascertain the issue(s)
  • Let them know what you will do
  • Make good on your commitments

In either case, it will be the coach’s ability to see the symptoms for what they are, comprehend what is actually occurring, grasp the underlying cause(s), and most importantly, counsel the employee appropriately being as it is the most critical variable in the solution to the problem. 

Said in another way, no action on the part of the coach/pilot is a dereliction of duty, and taking the wrong action could prove to be catastrophic.

“Lest I overlook the importance of a measured, not distracted reaction to any non-normal situation, I refer you to the very sad case involving TransAsia flight GE235 a few years ago where the crew, in their haste to respond to an emergency situation, mistakenly secured (shut down) the good engine, instead of securing the failed engine, resulting in more than forty deaths.”

Coaches must recognize that while declines in employee performance are often easily observable, there is a fundamental difference between an employee who’s burning out and an employee who’s burning up, and the remedies are clearly not the same. 

In the same way that flight versus fight is easily discernible, coaches need to be adept at recognizing and properly addressing burning out versus burning up, because a misreading or misunderstanding could very well result in the misapplication of the proper remedy, the negative consequences of which could be dire and avoidable.

Michael Crystal

 About Michael Crystal

Michael Crystal, MCEC ( has been a celebrated coach, advisor and counsel to individuals and teams the world over for more than twenty-five years.

If you liked this content subscribe now!

Learn how to grow your coaching business from the best.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!