How to Overcome Leadership Burnout: Tips from Survivors




  • Last week I wrote a small piece for leaders who are on the verge of giving up, as a result of extreme workplace stress.

    In it, I discussed the well-known syndrome of burnout, and how it leads many leaders to feeling seriously debilitating physical, mental, and social consequences.

    If the symptoms of burnout that I shared in my previous article describe you, then you may well be headed down this dangerous path yourself.

    Burnout develops gradually as a result of extreme workplace stress that is not effectively managed. The tricky thing about burnout is that it’s like a slow fizzle, one that builds over time before the implosion.

    Burnout is particularly common among leaders, who are of course almost always chronic achievers. Successful leaders can share many cautionary tales about going through burnout and learning to manage and overcome it.

    However, if you are aware of this syndrome and how it presents itself, you will learn that there are ways to avoid burnout. In fact, cautionary tales from great leaders often serve as a guide as to what not to do in order to prevent it.

    In this article, I will share their experiences and mine, in overcoming burnout and getting back on track feeling better than ever.

    The Burnout Retreat

    When a person is constantly striving to achieve – and overachieve, it automatically increases the chances that they will crash and burn.

    Many leaders push themselves to the point of depression and exhaustion by working endless hours to further their success and the success of their company.

    Once they feel the scorch of the burnout, many leaders deal with it by parting from their position and going on an indefinite leave.

    Generally speaking, taking breaks is a great way to rest, recover and return to full productivity.

    The regular CEO can’t afford to take several months or years off and still be able to reclaim their title and position on their return. But it will be worth taking time apart from work and your typical workplace environment for a few weeks if nothing else.

    During this period, reflect on the signs of burnout and how they have affected your life. Reach out to trusted sources for help and support. Stop and reprioritize your personal and professional life. Incorporate self-care into your routine.

    One by one, consider doing the following things:

    Improve Your Health

    Without realising it, it’s likely that you have been letting your sleep, your diet, your exercise regimen, and your social life suffer.

    The first thing you need to make time for is healthy activities outside of work. Make sure to engage in exercise or meditation once a day until you develop a habit of it.

    Eat healthy food and try to avoid putting toxins in your body for a while. A good detox is the best way to rejuvenate you physically and mentally.

    Rediscover Your Vision

    One of the worst things about burning out is that tasks which used to draw you closer to your vision have now become burdensome.

    Ask yourself; when and why did you start feeling this dip in energy? When was the last time you did something that furthered your goals or engaged your heart and mind?

    Take a break from the tasks that have started to seem onerous and go back to seeking inspiration again. When inspiration comes, productivity follows.

    Seek Social Support

    When crashing and burning, you tend to feel completely disconnected from others and from your environment in general. You find yourself feeling irritable and irrationally angry towards the people around you.

    You resist socialising and avoid social gatherings like the plague, choosing to isolate yourself instead. You stop returning calls and emails, and keep to yourself as often as possible.

    But now is the time to change all that. Overcoming the burnout syndrome involves building positive social support in your personal and professional life.

    Engage with your colleagues off the clock. Schedule social get-togethers with old friends and family members. Talk to people about your recent experiences and ask them if they have ever gone through something similar.

    You will find comfort in company and realise that we really aren’t that different from each other.

    Search for Passion

    During burnout, losing enthusiasm and passion for what you do on a daily basis is what causes your spirit to suffer.

    When passion leaves, self-confidence and efficacy follow soon after. Your enthusiasm is slowly replaced by cynicism. You stop practicing self-care and begin to lose your taste for work and life.

    Now, while passion for what you do is a powerful source of inspiration and motivation, it’s not the only type of passion that matters. If you feel unable to find passion in your work, look for it elsewhere, in activities that interest you.

    Check in next week when I will go over burnout prevention strategies that can help you avoid feeling the burn of burnout, even during the busiest and most stressful phases of your career.

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    Author: Paul Keijzer

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