Burnout is practically unavoidable these days, with 65% of employees feeling its effects.

And those in leadership positions are uniquely prone to burnout. Leadership roles come with immense responsibilities and pressures, and as organizations continue to grow, the risk of burnout grows, too.

But when leaders burn out, the effects can be felt beyond the individual level, which is why it’s crucial for both the well-being of leaders themselves and the success and sustainability of the organizations they lead that burnout is avoided.

In this blog, we’ll talk about what leadership burnout is, what causes burnout, strategies to overcome (and prevent) burnout, and when additional help might be needed.

Understanding Leadership Burnout

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or overwork. For leaders, this often manifests as a loss of motivation, reduced effectiveness, and feelings of cynicism or detachment towards their work.

Burnout isn’t something that happens overnight, and it’s different from general day-to-day work stressors. While stress is a normal response to challenging tensions at work (say a big project, an upcoming deadline, or interpersonal clashes), burnout is a more chronic condition that develops over time.

Put simply: Stress can be managed and alleviated with adequate coping mechanisms, whereas burnout typically requires more intensive intervention and lifestyle changes.

But if the root cause of the burnout isn’t addressed, those changes won’t cover up the damage that’s already done—and feelings of burnout might spring up again. So, that begs the question: What’s fueling burnout among leaders?

Related: Burn Bright, Not Out! Crafting Solutions for High Achievers

Root Causes of Leadership Burnout

While employees of all levels can experience burnout for many reasons we’re about to cover, leaders often face sky-high expectations from stakeholders, boards, and even themselves. The constant pressure to perform can lead to chronic stress and eventual burnout.

That kind of pressure also often results in poor work-life balance. Blurring boundaries between work and personal life can deprive leaders of essential relaxation and rejuvenation, which feeds the growing fire of burnout.

Often, a lack of work-life balance stems from excessive workloads and long hours. Many leaders feel the relentless demands of their role day in and day out, resulting in barely any breathing room. 

This need to clock in additional hours can come from outside sources, but many leaders face psychological and emotional factors contributing to their excessive work. Traits like perfectionism and a relentless drive to achieve can predispose leaders to burnout. Emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue from dealing with high-stakes decisions and team dynamics also play significant roles.

Finally, a work culture characterized by mistrust, poor communication, and unreasonable expectations fosters conditions ripe for burnout among leaders. Without a proper support system in the workplace, regular pressure to take time off, and understanding from others, leaders can get locked in a perpetual cycle of burnout.

How to Tackle and Prevent Leadership Burnout

In the same way that burnout isn’t caused by a single person, it isn’t solved by a single person either. However, leaders are in a unique position where they must establish clear boundaries with their team and their stakeholders to prioritize self-care. 

As a side note, leaders who take a stand against burnout aren’t just doing themselves a favor—they’re setting an example across the organization that employees need to focus on balance and rest.

One strategy to empower other team members and lessen the workload for leaders is to delegate effectively. Leaders who take on the brunt of the work aren’t setting their team members up for success by keeping important projects off their plates. Delegation helps leaders conserve energy while helping others build essential skills.

Next, there’s a great opportunity to assess what tasks can be simplified with the help of automation and AI tools. Here’s a quick guide on how to choose the right tools, but in a nutshell, leaders and their teams stand to gain much of their time back by assigning time-consuming tasks to a helpful tool.

But perhaps the most substantial change that can mitigate burnout is to create a supportive work environment that encourages balance and actively snuffs out burnout before it becomes a major problem. That means collaborating with various forces across the organization—including HR and even mentors and mental health coaches—to build and maintain an environment where burnout can’t thrive.

Related: “Tactegic” Thinking: Work Smarter, Not Harder

When Should You Consider Professional Help?

While many of the strategies we’ve outlined can be started right away, things like building a culture that discourages burnout are hard to do alone. And the difficulty of that task might make you think it’s better off skipping, but you could be setting yourself up for a cycle of rebound burnout.

This is where fractional leadership can help. Fractional leaders serve as fiduciary partners on your team; meaning, unlike an outside agency, they work alongside you and your team and provide guidance on various goals of yours—including eliminating burnout.

Because fractional leaders come in from an unbiased, clear point of view, they’re quickly able to identify sources of burnout you and your team might have overlooked or become accustomed to—and help you squash them quickly.

Here’s a quick rundown of what fractional leaders can do.

Or, if you’d rather speak with one yourself, you can set up a quick, no-obligation call with one. Be ready to share your goals and your concerns with burnout (or anything else!) to set yourself and your team up for success moving forward.