But Who’s Looking after the Leaders? Three Ways Leaders Can Avoid Burnout

It’s lonely at the top.


Whether “the top” for you is head of your company, head of a department, or head of a team, being a leader comes with extra responsibilities and stress even under the best of circumstances.


And lately, circumstances haven’t exactly been “the best.”


Even before the pandemic, technology was making it increasingly difficult for people at any level to disengage fully from work in the evenings and weekends. Then came lockdowns, the pressure to work—and lead—virtually, ongoing uncertainty about when or if we’d return full-time to the office, and now the “great resignation” that has millions of workers quitting their jobs and employers scrambling to replace them.


And while there is plenty of advice to go around on how leaders can support their teams in troubled times, there’s a lot less emphasis on how leaders can support themselves. It’s no wonder that people at the top are exhausted, frazzled, and on the cusp of burnout (if they’re not there already).


As a leader, you have a broad impact on the people you work with, and you owe it to them, as much as yourself, to take care of yourself. The advice to “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” is more relevant now than it’s ever been.


But what does that look like on a practical level, in a world where there’s constant pressure to do more, have more, and be more? Let’s look at three ways that leaders can help themselves thrive—and by extension, help their teams and organizations succeed.


Take care of yourself

Leaders are sometimes hesitant to practice self-care because they view it as self-indulgence or an admission of vulnerability. But the fact is that no one can thrive if they’re burning the candle at both ends without adequate mental, physical, and emotional recovery.


Busy as you are, you may feel like “self-care” is just one more obligation in an already-packed schedule—who has time? But being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Adequate sleep and nutrition aren’t negotiable, and studies show that breaks, even short ones, to exercise, read, or just daydream can pay off exponentially, with clearer thinking and reduced anxiety.[1]


Going back to the oxygen mask analogy, you owe it to the people around you as well as yourself to make the time for real self-care.


Celebrate your wins

Leaders tend to be driven people who thrive on pressure. All too often, they set a goal and blow right past it without pausing to acknowledge their achievement. Then they set a new goal and start all over again.


There are few things more stressful than a constantly moving goalpost—even if we’re the ones doing the moving. Leaders who are making consistent, or even remarkable improvements may feel like they’re on a hamster wheel, running a race they have no hope of winning.


It’s time to STOP. Breathe. And acknowledge the progress you’re making.


Get the feedback and training you need

For decades, studies have shown clear benefits for leaders who are given coaching, assessment, and mentorship. They report improved job satisfaction, better working relationships, and higher productivity. Their organizations benefit as well, with tangible in increases in productivity, organizational strength, and customer service.[2]

But there’s a flipside: recent research[3] indicates that when leaders don’t get sufficient coaching and feedback, they’re more prone to burnout, feel less confident, and are more likely to look for a new job.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has put many leadership programs on hold, making them harder to access exactly when they’re needed most. As hard as it can be to ask for help, leaders may need to advocate for honest, developmentally oriented feedback and supportive coaching.

Leadership can be isolating, and the higher you are in your organization, the harder it can be to admit vulnerability and ask for help. But whatever your rank in an organization, you deserve to invest in your self-care and well-being the same way you invest in the success of your teams. This doesn’t just benefit you—it benefits everyone around you.

[1] https://behavioralscientist.org/remedies-distracted-mind/

[2] https://www.perspect.ca/pdf/ExecutiveCoaching.pdf

[3] https://www.ddiworld.com/global-leadership-forecast-2021

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