Politicians, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all types get burned out. The problem is that because they are on center stage, the little subtleties that indicate that they aren't at the top of their game are missed. Agendas get stuck. Leaders who have been previously energetic, focused, and a bit ahead of everyone else can get behind, and inertia sets in.
Those around them begin to whisper, get nostalgic for what was, and hope that the leader can turn it around. The signs of leadership burnout aren't as simple as noting when someone locks him- or herself away. Burned out leaders stay active, but there is a sense that they've lost their edge.
The problem of leadership burnout is that no one is going to tell you. You are the person in charge. You are the entrepreneur with the great ideas. You are the CEO with ultimate authority. No one is going to come into your office and tell you that you're losing your edge. You're going to have to monitor yourself to make sure that you are on top of your game. It is crucial that you learn the symptoms of burnout so you can make a change before it's too late.
Here are five signs to watch out for:
1. You keep talking about your goals, but you don't dwell on tactics.
When you continue to return to your vision and big ideas rather than discuss operations at a tactical level, you show signs of exhaustion and burnout. While vision and aspirations should compel forward movement, they can sometimes cause paralysis. You're a climber stuck at the base of a mountain who can't stop looking at the peak. You spend more time forecasting and dreaming than getting things done.
Remedy: Forget the momentous challenges and rewards in front of you and focus on getting a set number of smaller tasks done on a daily basis.
2. You speak to the same people, and your inner circle shrinking.
If you're only talking with the same group of people week-in and week-out, something is wrong. Truly entrepreneurial leaders engage in a wide array of discussions--across industries, across interest groups--to seek new information. They continuously network. Drawing into yourself could be a sign of burnout because the enthusiasm to champion your ideas is no longer there.
Remedy: Don't skip conferences and social events due to lack of excitement alone. Invite others into your inner circle and listen to their ideas and advice.
3. You never retool your message.
Mission statements and intents are never set in stone. Leaders must balance consistency with innovation. Burned out leaders, as a rule, leave well enough alone and refuse to reimagine their core purpose or message. If you fail to jerk the wheel as the car heads for a cliff, you're burned out.
Remedy: Retool your message by searching for different markets, outlets, avenues of innovation, and people. You don't have to operate within the box you constructed.
4. You're preoccupied with idealism or nostalgia rather than the complexities of the future.
By resting on the laurels of previous successes, entrepreneurial leaders cease planning for the future. When nostalgia replaces smart, strategic thinking, you are most certainly burned out.
Remedy: Forget about yesterday's accomplishments and set new, more challenging goals.
5. You are not always present, and come to life only sporadically.
Leaders who are only inspired to act periodically are trying (unsuccessfully) to fight off the creeping feeling of burnout. But these bursts of energy signal burnout rather than prevent it. When you find yourself working rapidly one week and dragging your feet another--you're burned out.
Remedy: Put together a calendar and a serious action plan. Try to work incrementally as much as possible. Jumping in and out of projects creates chaos--not only for you but for others around you.
As a leader, you've been pushing and driving an agenda for an extended period. Being on the edge all the time, as you often are, leads to the danger of burnout. The key to self-awareness is to mindfully monitor your behavior. These tips will help you get through those periods when you feel stuck and exhausted. And they will help you maintain your edge.