avoid burnout

How leaders find support through a crisis and avoid burnout

Leading through the COVID-19 crisis has pushed many of us in ways we could never have anticipated when we first welcomed 2020. 

From keeping frontline workers safe or coping with staffing challenges to transitioning to working remotely, leaders have had a lot to figure out during this global crisis all while keeping revenue on track, protecting citizens, sourcing supplies or even figuring out how to stay in business.

In preventing leadership burnout, we talked about how to differentiate characteristics of stress versus burnout and ways leaders can guard against burnout under more typical business circumstances.

A small table we shared in that last blog about leadership burnout might be helpful to you. It was from a recent article where James Sower outlined how to differentiate stress from burnout and it resonated for me:



  • 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


But how do you slow down the burnout rate when you’re thrown into leading during a crisis especially one that doesn’t necessarily have an end in sight? 

The characteristics of burnout are the same during a crisis as they are under more typical conditions. During a crisis, however, everything is intensified and many leaders are at risk of overworking as they try to support their team members and take care of the company. 

We’re always at risk of missing the warning signs of burnout but it’s worse when everyone is in crisis and that feels like the new norm.

Here are five ways to avoid burnout during a crisis:

Find support for yourself: As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to make sure that you have someone to turn to when things are hard. Reach out to someone you trust. You can vent to a good friend or family member, find help with emotional overload from a mental health professional or get help navigating issues and leadership challenges from a certified leadership coach. 

In a time of crisis, when everyone is facing challenges, you might want to pick more than one person and invite them to talk to you, too, or help them find someone to talk to. If you share with each other, just monitor to be sure it doesn’t become a “pity party” or just complaining and venting without thinking “and, so now what?” You may find it works well to talk to several people about forming a group to share concerns and frustrations and to help each other see solutions.

Don’t try to be a hero: Many leaders feel they need to keep going and save the day when there is a crisis, but you’re not going to be as effective if you’re worn out. Adequate sleep, regular exercise and healthy food all contribute to our overall health and ability to manage stress. Now, perhaps more than ever, self-care is essential if you want to be able to lead everyone for the long haul. (Bonus: Your team members will be more likely to take care of themselves if they see you make building resilience alongside productivity a priority.) 

Figure out what’s important – and what’s not: When things are dire, you need to be ruthless about priorities. Figure out what is essential, what you can defer and what you just can’t do right now. Make the best decisions you can given the information that you have right now (speed is more important than perfection when things are changing quickly). As leaders, we need to be able to adapt, adjust and figure out new strategies. That means letting go of, “Shoulda, woulda, coulda.” Make the decisionif it’s wrong, or something changes, consider your overall priority, make another decision, and keep going. The keys here are:

  1. Think of your goals or priorities as “hypotheses”if things change, the goal might have to change. That doesn’t mean you were wrong; it means things changed. 
  2. Don’t beat yourself up when it looks like something was wrong. Make a new decision given what you know now, and keep going.

Keep communicating: Let your team know what’s happening, including what you’re not going to do and what you don’t know yet. That last part might be scary when you think the boss needs to know the answer in order to be respectedbut the opposite is proving to be trueacknowledging what you don’t know and pledging to share the answer when you know it builds enormous trust and respect with your team. 

Also, now is the time to use a coach approach with your team, which will help keep information flowing from the frontline to senior staff. This is essential when you need to stay informed about the ground-level situation with your clients, stakeholders and supply chains.

People are as important as goals: During a crisis, it can be all too easy for leaders to put their whole focus on the business goals. While those are important, so is your teamand during this time of uncertainty, the people who will help you reach your goals need your support and empathy more than ever. In addition to checking in with your team, this is also a time to be flexible so your team can keep working without stressing about taking care of themselves and their families. 

I realize that might be part of the pressure that’s on you – balancing the demands from your boss and the need to be flexible and support the people reporting to you. If that’s the case, try thinking about the end goal your boss has and how flexibility with your staff might help you achieve it for the boss.  Or, use the tips above to work with a coach or trusted friends and mentors to explore new approaches, interesting ideas and other ways to solve the challenge while satisfying multiple needs.

Coach’s Questions:

How have your stresses changed during the pandemic crisis? What characteristics of burnout can you see starting to happen for you? What can you do to find support and avoid burnout? What would help your team?