Lessons for Leaders 21: Preventing Leadership Fatigue and Burn Out

Jun 23, 2020 | Lessons for Leaders

Preventing Leadership Fatigue and Burn Out

Leaders often thrive with a challenge, however when the challenge is a prolonged one, such as this period of the Covid-19 crisis, leaders need to ensure that they are able to sustain the test of time. Prioritising mental wellbeing is just as essential for leaders in a time of crisis as it is for your employees.

Leaders often thrive with a challenge, however when the challenge is a prolonged one, such as this period of the Covid-19 crisis, leaders need to ensure that they are able to sustain the test of time.

Prioritising mental wellbeing is just as essential for leaders in a time of crisis as it is for your employees.

Failure to look after one’s self can result in fatigue and burnout.

Burnout characterised by “emotional exhaustion” and usually attributed to the professional role you have, therefore, maintaining work life balance is vital to prevent burnout.

The difficulty though is that often fatigue and burn out happen because leader DO love their jobs, or feel a sense of responsibility or struggle to delegate – in fact there can be a host of differing factors.  Because everyone is different. 

The important thing is to ensure that you know what affects you and, more helpfully that you’re able to spot the signs in your leadership team too.

There are things you can do to ensure that you implement a balance that supports your performance (so it isn’t about working less necessarily) but working and living in way that supports your overall professional and personal wellbeing.

Spot the Signs

There can be a number of signs – IBS and gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, sleep issues, problems with immune system and even just getting ill really frequently – more frequently than the next person.

Admitting that there is a problem can be a tough one for the leaders I work with.  Often they come to me because they know they are struggling, they can’t quite pinpoint a specific area where the struggle starts or the look for one key area.  They also come to me because they don’t want to admit to their CEO or Board that they are struggling. 

The thing is that often it’s not just one thing.  It also doesn’t mean that you have to stop work or do less – as we’ll discuss – it’s often about doing things differently.

The key is to acknowledge that there is an issue and once you’ve spotted the signs then you’re half way to solving the problem (as long as you do something about it).

Do Away with Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue happens when there is a prolonged situation that is stressful and demanding.  The thinking part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex can become overloaded and worn out – essentially.  What that means is that basic functions and decisions, judgements and strategic thinking are clouded and it’s really difficult to make a decision.  A leader who is under pressure to make difficult or severe decisions each and every day can find they have increased difficulty doing so.  Even simple decisions such a what to wear, what to eat can become a problem. 

Barack Obama apparently only wore blue and black suits so that he reduced the decisions he had to make there and keep his brain free for the bigger decisions.  Have you ever found you get the best ideas or decisions in the shower or when you’re out for a walk?  That’s because you’ve taken that mental step back and given your brain chance to rest, recover and then it’s able to decide. 

This is why I teach all my client’s ways to take those brain breaks, with breathing techniques or relaxation or even just adding in healthy restorative time as I’ll talk about in a moment.   By creating a brain break, you’re better able to make decisions.

Address the Stress

Making a plan to address the stress and looking at any underlying cause for the stress is key.  Leaders usually like this idea because they are goal and action focussed.  However the tough stuff starts when they have to look at themselves!!

Looking at personal and professional activities and areas where there is struggle, things that are missing, what needs more, what needs less enables you to make a plan.

This is where we look at adding in healthy restorative aspects and for this we are talking about looking at different areas of your life.  Physical, emotional, mental, sometimes spiritual.  This includes, social aspects – where is there fun in your life?  What support do you have – is there one friend or a group of friends where you can be totally honest and say today was a nightmare?

Are you eating well or grabbing stuff on the go and skipping meals?

What’s your sleep pattern like – or are you awake at 4 in the morning?

Do you take time off – properly?

One chap I worked with got told by his family that they knew he wasn’t listening to their conversations to they used to add in random crazy sentences, like there’s a pink elephant coming now and see if he noticed.  They got lots of fun and hilarity from it – he missed it all.

When you’ve assessed all this, you need to establish some goals and address the gaps and blocks.  I really would advise here, that you have some accountability strategies to help make the plan really effective and get the results you want much more quickly.

Master Your Mindset

I always say, you can’t control what happens on the outside, but you can control what happens on the inside.  By that, I mean that you are in control of what you think, how you think and that impacts how you respond.  So working on your mindset means you can make the changes that help you work on any fatigue and prevent burnout.

Do you need to rethink delegation?  Sometimes in coaching we look at what’s stopping someone from delegating – it can be personal for everyone, but it might things like lack of trust, not wanting to be let down, thinking it’s easier to do it myself.  You don’t need to a superhero.  I often ask ‘ what’s the best thing you can do to develop your team” and the answer is often “give them responsibility”  So then I ask when are you going to do that.

It might be that you need to look at boundaries.  My favourite subject and need to say no to things instead of yes… or yes instead of no (particularly if someone says, shall I look at this).

What will happen if you’re not there?  If you’re doing everything yourself then things will fail anyway.  If you allow others in to support and work with you then you’re setting yourself up for wins.

There’s a million ways we can change our mindset – and exploring what’s going on with yours is the first step.  One client is never the same as the next, that’s why I LOVE working with leaders.

The combination of the above has wide reaching effects on their team and often the entire company, because it changes their approaches and they are more likely to promote a good work life balance across the organisation too.  Because they see the value in how work life balance enhances productivity and performance, rather than being something that is about working less.

I’ve been working with a number of organisations to successfully deliver virtual trainings on stress management, work life balance, boundaries and resilience – so contact me to discuss the needs of your organisation now or book direct into my diary for a complementary discussion with this link

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This post discusses: burnout, coaching, covid19, fatigue, leadership, mentalwellbeing, training
Emma Langton

Emma Langton

Executive Leadership Coach

Emma hosts the Lessons for Leaders podcast. Each week she brings you lessons, learnings, tips and advice to enable you to lead with ease in business, without stress, doubt and overwhelm so that I help you to increase your performance, be resilient and thrive in life. Emma has been providing coaching, training and therapeutic support for executives since setting up her business in 2011. Prior to that she spent over 20 years with people at the top of national and multi-national training and communication businesses.


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