Preventing Leadership Burnout

Preventing leadership burnout

Have you snapped at someone when you’d normally be patient? Felt irritable with everyone and disinterested in what you normally value? Reacted to situations disproportionately?

These could be warning signs that you are suffering from burnout or close to it.

In a recent article on Digital Freelancer, James Sower outlined how to differentiate stress from burnout and it resonated for me; it made sense. Essentially, he explains the characteristics of stress versus burnout this way:


  • Feel emotions more strongly
  • Feel less energy
  • Leads to being anxious or worried about a situation
  • Manifests as physical consequences, such as feeling tired or nauseated or having headaches

  • Feel emotionless or disinterested
  • Feel less motivated, optimistic, or hopeful
  • Leads to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or depression
  • Manifests as emotional consequences, such as experiencing anger, mood swings, or depression

When you feel the stress list building up and maybe you’re starting to worry about reaching burnout, or maybe you’re already there, try these strategies:

Let go of perfectionism

I think those of us who are overachievers are arguably more prone to burnout than others. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you may be pushing yourself toward burnout by exceeding expectations unnecessarily.

It’s important to understand when your personal expectations are higher than what’s expected. Overproducing can generate a lot of extra pressure as you try to juggle all your deliverables and priorities.

It’s time to step back, take stock, and delegate

When you feel like you’re close to hitting a wall, that should be your trigger — let that feeling catch your attention — and stop. Take a moment to look at what you’re doing and what needs to be done. Are you working to meet goals, or trying to maintain total control? It can be gratifying to have the reputation as a leader who does it all, but perhaps it’s time to delegate effectively to save time and your sanity!

Some folks find it difficult to trust that staff or peers can complete tasks to their own exacting standards, but there are benefits to educating others and giving them opportunities to learn and grow. Notably, giving yourself a manageable workload and the time to add value where it is most needed.

Control your schedule

One of the biggest challenges for the leaders we work with is finding balance, and one of fastest paths to burnout is to lose control of your schedule. While you want to be available to your team, your clients, and your boss or board, you still need to have time for your own work and a life outside of work (that includes weekends!).

It is possible for you to draw pretty clear and firm boundaries about your time and availability. Read our tips on how to set boundaries at work and then implement strategies to help you set limits and say no without losing respect.

Limit tech time

Never being unplugged exacerbates feelings of burnout. It’s an easy fix in theory, because we’re supposed to control our technological devices, but many of us are addicted to the quick fix of “quickly” checking emails and texts and getting sucked into work till late at night or in the early morning hours.

Decide what your boundaries for tech will be and treat it like a ritual. Some people find it helps them to turn off cell phones and shut down iPads and laptops at a certain time each evening, while others will set weekends as their tech-free time or have set hours for connectivity outside the office. Did you know most phones and devices these days allow you to set quiet hours? If you’re curious, Google it for your device.

If you feel you’re not ready to be untethered from electronics, start small. Try not checking your phone as soon as you wake up and wait until you’re ready and have had breakfast. Unplug at night at least an hour before you go to sleep because studies show our brains won’t rest immediately after screen time — and rest helps us avoid burnout. A big step here for a lot of us is to keep the phone out of the bedroom — charge it overnight, in the kitchen, or in the hall by the door where you exit and enter the house.

Accept help on the home front

When things are particularly hectic at work, try to find help at home. This might mean hiring a house cleaning service, ordering ready-to-cook healthy meals, or working out how to divide household tasks with your partner and children.

If you are a parent, carve out some adult time by hiring a babysitter to watch the kids for a few hours. It might be in the morning so you can go to the gym, or for the evening so you can go grab a bite or catch a new movie.

Be creative to find balance and make time to nurture your own interests (and stave off feelings of burnout!).

I get it — it may feel frivolous or it may seem like these little steps aren’t going to make a difference, but take a look again at those two lists at the top — what looks like stress and what looks like burnout. If you’re reaching burnout, every little thing is going to help.  

Cultivate gratitude

It’s pretty hard to feel grateful if all you do is work, work, work and try to eat and sleep as you can around the work. But, finding reasons to be grateful during your day, even tiny little reasons, and taking time to acknowledge them, counteracts the feelings of negativity and hopelessness caused by burnout. This will help you find ways to get (and stay!) motivated about work.

Acknowledge team members who work hard and find ways to make arduous tasks a little less painful by bringing in a snack for the team because joy is contagious. A positive attitude sounds cheesy, but it shifts perspective and elevates the mood. Feeling appreciated and having a shared purpose are not to be underrated!

What is new and exciting at work? Find opportunities for workshops, courses, or conferences that will help you professionally, but also give you something to look forward to. If that’s out of the question, what about setting up a lunch or a breakfast with your team to simply discuss the latest trends, or to talk about a relevant book? Burnout is less likely to surface if you and your team are not only sharing the load, but enjoying the work.

Practice mindfulness throughout the day

We hear admonishments to walk and move periodically so that our physical well-being isn’t adversely affected by sitting at a desk for hours each day, but it’s just as important to give our minds a break.

Whether you prefer to think of mindfulness as self-awareness or detaching, it’s important to relax and recharge intellectually every day (not just on a holiday or day off!). Starting with just a few moments a day, at your desk, can help. In fact, a lot of us who have started exploring mindfulness have found it’s a little addictive — it’s so effective, you naturally bring it into your day over and over. Check out our tips for how to be mindful when your mind is full for other ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your day.

Seek professional advice

Athletes have trainers and dancers, musicians, and artists seek instruction and mentorship. Similarly, business leaders can benefit from hiring one-to-one executive coaches.

At Padraig, our goal is to help our clients be better leaders and more successful than they are now.  Take our online quiz to see if coaching might be right for you right now.


Coach’s Questions:

Do you recognize any characteristics of stress in your life? What about burnout? Which strategies do you think could help you prevent leadership burnout? What can you try today?