Leadership Fatigue: The Struggle to Maintain Work-Life Balance
It’s something no leader wants to admit, but leadership fatigue can hit like a ton of bricks. Yet before it does, there are often warning signs. According to the American Psychological Association, burnout is “characterized as emotional exhaustion, and negative attitudes toward one’s co-workers and job role.” It can manifest in a number of physical ways, everything from headaches to gastrointestinal disorders, muscle disorders, hypertension, sleeping disorders and a lower immune system, resulting in more colds and illness in general. But it can also surface through a negative, defensive attitude, grumpiness, moodiness, constant sarcasm, blaming and victimhood. It’s been our experience at MAP that when leaders experience burnout, it’s not because they don’t love their jobs. More often than not, it’s more an issue of struggling to maintain that vital work-life balance, usually indicative of a whole host of complex factors and issues. If this sounds familiar, or if you consider yourself somewhat of a self-professed workaholic experiencing burnout, don’t despair. There are things you can do to address this leadership struggle and regain the sense of balance that will support your performance, productivity and overall professional wellbeing.
Here’s how to take control of burnout before it gets the best of you:
Recognize burnout for what it is. You can’t combat burnout if you fail to admit that it’s real. While you think you can continue in your current work patterns and ways, truth is, the seriousness of the imbalance will eventually catch up with you and wreak havoc on your own “leadership quality control.” This can impact your ability to carry out many aspects of your job, such as effectively managing relationships with people—including yourself. Admitting burnout isn’t easy because we always tend to think it will just go away on its own. But that’s rarely the case, so this means you’ve got to call upon your courage and wisdom to acknowledge it. Once you see it for what it is, you’ll know what you’re dealing with and then can start seeking the right solutions to tackle it.
Build a plan to address all the stress. As we talk about in MAP’s new book, “The Disciplined Leader,” you’ll be far more successful with whatever change you undertake if you commit to that change by using a solid plan. Here, the goal is to eliminate and prevent future burnout, reclaiming your work-life balance in the process. So start by conducting a self-analysis of your professional and personal activities and the areas that need focus, improvement and commitment. What are the areas that could use less (in an ideal world)? Consider all aspects—physical, emotional and mental. Then set some goals that will help you achieve the balance you desire and know, deep in your gut, will make your life feel better and become more productive. Next, establish more specific goals to address the clear roadblocks. Finally, build in some accountability strategies. These will help make the plan effective and the desired results more likely.
Get the right mindset to make change happen. You can’t control everything happening to you as a leader, but you can control your mindset and the degree to which you commit to your plan to fight against burnout. To make change happen, you’ve got to believe it’s possible and that you’ve got what it takes to make improvements that will empower your leadership (and personal) potential. Fail to believe and that’s a telltale sign that you are likely your biggest roadblock. If so, then get out of your way, starting with how you view your ability to solve this common leadership challenge. For example, if you think you have to be the “Super Hero” among your team, think again. Learn to ask for help, delegating to others and asking them to take on more challenges in their roles. This isn’t just about dumping more stuff on others’ plates but empowering people to grow while enabling you to focus on what’s vital to your responsibilities. Over time, you’ll evolve into a less stressed, more capable leader. Delegating to others, creating a “to-stop list,” improving your time-management skills, and taking care of yourself (e.g., exercising, getting checkups, practicing great nutrition, carving out time to relax, etc.) are just a few of the many ways to reclaim your work-life balance and avoid/prevent burnout. Believe you are worth it—then do it.
What easy stopgaps can you put in place to avoid burnout?