leadership burnout - head on fire

Signs of Leadership Burnout

By Kimberly Kafafian


Our client had a top performing manager that slowly stopped performing well. She was letting deadlines slip, not followed through on serious customer issues, and she wasn’t effectively managing her team (which in turn caused stress on her team, which stressed her out further). As their fractional Chief People Officer, I approached the CEO about what I was seeing. Upon deeper discussion with the CEO, we realized the disengagement and performance issues we were seeing from this great manager were signs of burnout. Burnout continues to be a real challenge for organizations. While it may have reached its height during the pandemic, this physical and mental health issue continues to plague companies today. Just ask Google –  how to prevent “employee” burnout is still trending. Although I’m glad that leadership recognizes and wants to tackle the problem, I remind my clients that burnout can affect all members of the workforce, especially those in leadership roles. In fact, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 53% of managers report they are burned out at work. So, I like to devise strategies to identify and prevent burnout across all levels of the organization, including those in managerial and C-suite positions. 

Leadership Burnout Is Bad for Business 

Leaders are expected to handle anything that comes their way, remain positive, and guide the ship forward. The pressure they are put under, especially in a tumultuous economy, can be overwhelming. The constant stressors leaders experience can start to take a serious physical and emotional toll. And when that happens, not only may the ship go off course, it can start to sink!

So, it’s important to proactively recognize the causes of leadership burnout, know the symptoms to look out for, and develop strategies to prevent it.

Causes of Leadership Burnout

There is no singular reason why leaders get burned out; it is different for each person. There are, however, some common causes:

  • Extremely heavy workload
  • Too much multitasking
  • Unrealistic expectations from superiors, team members, partners, and investors
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Lack of support to execute duties
  • Work-life imbalance

Those in higher levels of the organization should assess how their actions, inactions, or corporate policies are contributing to any of these causes, and if so, take action to address them.

Lookout for These Burnout Signs in Leaders

Just as the causes of burnout vary from person to person, so do the signs. I advise my clients to pay attention for:

  • Mistakes
  • Decreases in productivity
  • Missed meetings and deadlines
  • Irritability
  • Negativity
  • Inability to focus
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches)
  • Failure to return calls or emails
  • Brain fog
  • Reduced enthusiasm or motivation
  • Moodiness

Of course, these all could be symptoms of other issues, but it is important to note any red flags. 

Strategies to Prevent Leadership Burnout

Once you’re aware of the signs, it’s time to take action. Here are some suggestions on how leaders can take steps to prevent burning out:

Prioritize self-care. Just as you would put a meeting on the schedule, set aside time to recharge. Take breaks, make sure you get enough sleep, and make time to do things you enjoy. 

Delegate. You can’t do everything yourself – even if you want to! Thoughtfully assign tasks, which will empower your team to take on more responsibilities.

Don’t Overcommit. You can’t be accessible and responsive all of the time. Set boundaries and stick to them. Of course emergencies will arise; I’m talking about the day to day stuff.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. When your ship starts taking on water, you can’t handle it on your own. You have teams and colleagues for a reason. Reach out and ask for assistance when you need it.

And remember, happy and healthy leaders benefit the organization overall.

Need assistance with developing policies to address leadership burnout? Our HR team can help. Call to schedule a consultation.

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