Executive Burnout; it can happen to leaders too

Stressed female leader

So would it surprise you to know that Leaders burnout too and Executive Burnout is real?! 

As a leader, do you prioritise your self care? I’m going to hazard a guess that you don’t. Perhaps you’re aware that you should, but most likely you don’t really have the time. You have a ‘high pressure’ role and any ‘spare time’ you have goes to the family and friends that you struggle to make time for. The problem is, Senior Leaders are one of the most ‘at risk’ groups of people to experience executive burnout.

Here’s my thinking. 

  • A senior leadership role is lonely. You are expected to be self sufficient. 
  • Senior leaders look after their divisions. They are the ones making sure that their teams are well supported, they have clear direction and they have what they need to do their best. Team members can come to you when they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed and your role is to remove the roadblocks for them, and make their life easier. 
  • Many Senior Leaders are ‘shields’ for their teams. They take and hold the pressure so that the team can continue to function and deliver. 
  • Senior Leaders became successful due to their track record. You’re a high achiever, you have a history of working long hours, you’re dedicated to your work, often loving what you do. And as your remit gets bigger and bigger, the hands on support for you gets less and less. 
  • Executives and leaders can become victims of their own success. Trapped in high paid roles, with huge responsibilities feeling unable to show vulnerability. 

Now yes, there are some amazing CEO’s, but at some point the chain stops.

Who’s supporting the CEO from Executive burnout? 

I speak to people every week who are trying to create better boundaries between their life and work, fighting the desire to ‘be perfect’ and ‘please others’ in their commitment to work, all whilst striving to serve the needs of their organisations and teams. It’s secret battle many leaders are facing with nowhere to go

So, if you’re a senior leader, you need to know that you executive burnout can affect you too. Serving the needs of your team and your organisation will always be important to you, but your self care needs to be a fundamental part of your role.  Burnout isn’t something that happens to ‘other people’, and if you’re struggling know this…..

  • You’re not weak
  • Others are not coping better
  • You are not failing

It’s just that no-one at your level is really talking about it. 

So are you at risk of Executive Burnout?

Here’s some tell tale signs…..

  • Are you regularly working beyond 9pm at night
  • Do you only have one mobile device  – personal and work, and it’s never turned off
  • Working on holiday is the norm – you believe you “have to”
  • You believe you need to “stay strong” and show no weakness – “executives don’t get stressed”
  • Your diary is like a game of Tetris. There is virtually no white space.
  • 40 hour weeks sound like a part time role
  • You regularly give up personal time for work commitments such as travel, short notice meetings, and ‘critical’ requests

Can you relate? 

So when you’re faced with an exceptionally busy, high pressure role, how do you balance your self care needs with the demands of your leadership role? 

Here’s some things you might need to take in….. 

1. Know you’re not alone

Your role may be lonely, there maybe no one else talking about feeling the way that you do, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone. It just means no one is talking about it. 

I can tell you this because I’m one of the people who is talking to leaders and executives about this Executive Burnout. Every week. 

It’s not that you don’t want to talk about it (although this can be a problem), it’s often that you don’t recognise there being anything wrong. Burnout is sneaky, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one day you can’t function. It can creep up on you quietly. Here’s some of the common symptoms: 

  • A loss of joy for what you do
  • Exhaustion 
  • An accumulation of ‘coping strategies’ – strong coffee anyone? 
  • Becoming more and more frantic about your workload 
  • Increasing feelings of self doubt and the need for perfection
  • Inability to switch off 
  • Work is the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of at night – and in the middle of the night when you wake up! 

And whilst it may be obvious to me that your burning out, you are able to make excuses that ‘it’s just a patch’, or ‘it’ll ease off next quarter’. 

If you hear yourself saying these things I encourage you to start keeping a journal of these ‘busy times’, as it is all too easy for busy to become the new norm. 

2. You have choices

In the midst of stress and executive burnout your self talk can be full of mantras such as “I have to” “I’ve got to” and “I have no option but…” “xyz needs me to..”

Stress brings out unhelpful thinking and automatic behaviours that are not helpful. Stress breeds stress, and the more we trade on automatic unhelpful behaviours, the more entrenched we get in our stress. 

The reality is, you don’t have to, you haven’t got to and you do have options. You just can’t see this because you are deep inside the problem. 

Your choices may not be easy – you might have to say no, perhaps you will need to open up and let someone know what’s going on, you might need to take a break, maybe you need to change jobs or roles – who knows what the options are until you stop focusing on the problem and start looking at solutions 

3. You need a coach

I would say this wouldn’t I!

Traditional coaching is about moving from A to B, it’s about goal achievement and progress. Leadership and Executive Coaching can be different. 

Great coaches create safe spaces for leaders and executives to think, reflect, breathe. 

Coaching isn’t about more action. You’re more than capable of achieving goals.  It’s about having an hour every few weeks entirely for you. 

In that time, you may have something you want to talk about and address, in other sessions you may have no agenda. Here, a great coach will help you to explore, discover and learn. It’s completely emergent and there is ALWAYS something valuable that comes from this work.  

The reason it’s so valuable is because as soon as you allow yourself space to think and reflect, you will be overflowing with ideas, challenges, emotions and situations that you need a thought partner for.

So, if you’re a leader or an executive and you don’t have a coach, in my opinion you’re not doing your job well 😉 Think of a coach as putting your own oxygen mask on so that you can be in the best possible place to serve others. 

You can check out ways to work with me by clicking here

4. You have inner work to do (“pst……we all do”)

There are many external factors affecting your risk of Executive burnout. Corporate culture, the size of your role, your team and your responsibilities but the single biggest influence over your risk of burnout is your mindset. Here’s a snippet of some of the reasons why people fall under the spell burnoutt: 

  • Desire to please others
  • Need to be perfect
  • Inability to show vulnerability
  • Wanting to ‘prove’ your worth
  • Fighting the feeling of being an imposter
  • Struggling to know when and how to say no
  • No idea how to prioritise when everything is important
  • Protecting others – so taking on more than you need 

And let me assure you that we all have these. This inner work is actually a source of our strength. It’s often what drives us to the senior role in the first place. 

Like everything though, if we don’t invest in our development and in our self care, we begin to trade on old strategies and behaviours that no longer meet the situation that we find ourselves in. You can build new helpful behaviours and mindsets that serve you as a senior leader and enable you to create more space and balance in your life. 

How do you do that? 

It starts with challenging where you’re at right now and not accepting that this is OK and ‘normal’. Once you start to recognise that you want something different you’re in a powerful position, because you can achieve what you set your mind to. You may not have the answers right now, but that’s ok, this is day 1. 

5. Consider what you’d advise your all time favourite friend. 

If your closest, most loved friend came to talk to you and shared some of the challenges that you’re facing in your work, what would you say?

Would you tell them….

“Look buddy, it’s almost certainly you. I know it’s a tough job, but what do you expect when you’re as senior as you are? Take a look around, you don’t see anyone else struggling. Maybe you’re just not cut out for the job? Perhaps you should work a bit harder and push through the busy patch. 

Of course you wouldn’t say this! So it’s not OK to tell yourself this either. 

When you’re stressed and burnt out you’ve most likely lost sight of your strengths and talents that are there to support you during the times that need it. You have everything you need inside of you to be successful, whole AND fulfilled. Perspective is a wonderful thing. 

So look, Executive burnout can happen to you too, and it’s not because you’re not good enough, or there’s something wrong with you. It’s a tough world out there and it’s important to resource yourself for success, that starts with prioritising your self care. And if you’re inspired to take action then check out my 90 day Leadership Coaching Package “’CATAPULT YOUR CAREER’, because true success is only possible when you’re feeling resourced and whole. 

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