We often expect leaders to be superhuman — to be guardians of employee engagement for their teams while staying passionate about their own work. But the truth is, even the best managers sometimes find themselves running on empty.
Rather than try to deny this happens, it’s best to acknowledge that sometimes your morale and motivation run low. That way, you can be proactive about preventing total burnout. Here is some tried-and-true advice from leaders on how to do just that.
Adopt the Right Mindset
Speaker and author Barry Maher outlines a vital preliminary step: “Start seeing motivating yourself as an essential part of your job, maybe the most essential part.”
And not only should it be your priority — it’s also your responsibility. “Because when it comes right down to it, nobody else can motivate you,” Maher explains. “All anyone else can ever do is talk you into motivating yourself, is sell you on the idea of motivating yourself. You motivate you. And Steven Covey can't be with you every hour of the day or the night when all those thousands of little decisions that lead toward your goals or away from your goals have to be made. You've got to be your own guru, your own favorite motivational speaker.”
Get Away From the Work
When work gets overwhelming, one of the simplest solutions is to take a break.
“There’s a big difference between long-term burnout from months of working too hard and a short-term loss of passion on a particular project, but I think the remedy is largely the same,” notes Matt Somer, COO of Brolik. “Break your cycle. This is where vacation comes in for that painful long-term burnout, but it doesn’t have to be a week in the Bahamas to be effective. Just this weekend, I took a one-night road trip to Rehoboth, DE, for a brewery tour, and it felt great. It’s amazing how one night in a cheap beach hotel can change up your perspective. A quick breath of strange, fresh air to break a repeating cycle of work, work, work.”
But what about if you don’t have time for even a day trip? “Some mornings, if I don’t feel ready to lead with fire, I make the hour-long walk to work instead of driving. Try a quick walk around the block for midday drag. Or travel a little further to try a new lunch spot. Listen to a new podcast. Whatever breaks the cycle that you feel trapped in and reminds you that there are other great things to experience.”
Zenell Brown builds small refreshers right into her normal routine. “I take breaks and self nurture. I watch Scandal and Shark Tank every week because they have no relationship at all to my work.”
Reset Your Perspective
Brown’s routine also includes ways to recharge her enthusiasm about her work. “I have a groups of peers who have similar careers and we support, problem share and problem solve, and remind each other of the importance of our work,” she says. “On my own, I identify goals and the real reason the goals are important. Improving collections by X means more money for families and children. I save letters and thank you cards as a reminder of a job well done.”
Nihar K. Chhaya, Executive Coach and Principal at PartnerExec, shares advice that he gives to leaders he coaches, especially those who are in a leadership position for the first time:
Try to suspend judgment and have a beginner’s mind. There is a saying that every expert was once a beginner, and it’s important to step back and recognize that your depleted passion or energy isn’t always a sign that you aren’t in the right job or that you will fail, but rather your internal discomfort with stretching out of your comfort zone. Every growth opportunity requires stressing the muscle (similar to exercise) in order for it to develop.
Remind yourself of the reasons why you are managing your team or taking on this role. Understanding your “why,” whether it has to do with your intrinsic goals or extrinsic obligations, can help you center on the purpose of your work. It can help you evaluate whether the loss of passion signals a reason to think creatively about other reasons why you must persist through the demotivation, or a reason to truly change something in your life/work because of a conflict with your most deeply held values.
Take stock of your peak moments in life and work. Looking back in your career or personal life, when have you felt your best? When have you felt as if you are motivated and fulfilled? What were the conditions that surrounded that peak moment? Can you re-create that in any way? A client I had learned that his core value was “learning.” He realized that no matter how hard he was working and burnt out he felt, if he felt he was learning something in the process, he was able to feel a boost of energy and recapture the passion.
Do More Work
“It sounds counterintuitive, but my solution to being burnt out on leadership and management is more leadership and management!” says Sean Pritchard, Cofounder and Partner at MilitaryHire. “I find that the most likely cause of burnout is falling into a reactive firefighting mode. The solution is to carve out some time to be proactive.” Take stock of your responsibilities and projects. See what needs to be done, and you can plug the unnecessary holes that are draining you dry.
Do What You Want to Do
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But we can spend more time on unimportant things than we think.
“Whenever your feel life getting out of balance, sit down and make a list of all the ways you spend my time during your waking hours, everything over and above a standard eight-hour work day,” advises Maher. “Rank the list in order of the amount of time you spend on each. Then, next to that list, write down the five things you consider the most important in your life, in order of their importance. For me at least, just seeing the discrepancy between those lists is an incredibly powerful motivator for putting things back into perspective.”
Have any of these suggestions shifted your perspective? What’s your essential trick for avoiding burnout?
- Everything You Really Need To Know About Employee Engagement
- The Leadership Qualities Employees Want — And How to Achieve Them