The CEO job is almost perfectly designed to burn people out. According to The Wall Street Journal, a Harvard Medical School Study found that some 96% of senior leaders feel somewhat burned out, and a third describe it as extreme.
This is a real problem.
Some leaders end up driving themselves to the point where they are all but forced to take time off, like Lloyds Banking Group chief António Horta-Osório did in late 2011, announcing a 2-month leave due to “extreme fatigue.” When it reaches that point, shareholders, and likely employees, get skittish. Yet you rarely hear of a CEO taking a month-long vacation.
Throughout their careers, managers are told that any sign of fatigue or unhappiness will be seized on by the people below them. They’re not allowed to have bad days. Rather than acknowledging the issue, they’ll hide it or push through.
There are a few things companies and leaders can do to try and catch executive burnout before it turns into a real problem:
- One researcher told the WSJ that many executives don’t have “good thermostats” for figuring out when they’re reaching the edge, so it’s important for leaders, and the people around them to know the signs. These include lost focus, irritability, and missed workouts. These signs of exhaustion and burnout can progress into resentment, dread, and lost productivity.
- Leaders need to realise that they are not indispensable. If they can’t take a week or a month off without things falling apart, clearly they’ve taken too much on individually, and haven’t empowered the people around them.
- Share substantive responsibility. There are some things only a CEO can do, occasionally for legal reasons. The rest, they can train others to take over or at least help them with.
- Obviously substantive vacations are needed. But even taking a half day or long weekend after a business trip helps.
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