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The Risks of Burnout for Leaders

Burnout is defined as emotional stress, cynicism, and ineffectiveness at work, as well as recurrent negative responses to a demanding workplace environment. Burnout, while not a mental disorder, can be regarded as a psychological health concern. The Journal of Applied Bio-behavioral Research has put forth that the impacts of burnout are incessantly aggravating in the world today.

Coaching can support leaders to break out of the vicious cycle of leadership burnout. But before that, leaders must first be able to spot the symptoms of burnout or identify their own risks of burnout.

Let’s have a look at three scenarios of burnout:

Triumvirate of Burnout

Christina Maslach proposes that the triumvirate of burnout is: the crushing exhaustion, the feeling of cynicism/alienation, and the sense of ineffectiveness. The burnout syndrome occurs when leaders have faced the entire three mentioned phenomenon. They feel chronically stressed and withdraw themselves mentally, emotionally and physically from their work. They lose their confidence in their ability to have a productive impact.

“Togetherness Position” Burnout

Edwin H. Friedman in his book “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” posits that the most lethal risk to leader’s health is “togetherness position”. It is a harmful predicament faced by the leaders in which they feel responsible for keeping a system together. When different forces pull them in different directions and their capacity to hold things together reaches to its breaking point then they suffer with burnout. The phenomenon can be observed in families, in working systems, in leadership settings.

Work-life Balance Burnout

Leaders with high pressure and unrelenting workloads are at serious risk of burnout. The workload fatigue can decrease a leader's cognitive and emotional capabilities and put a massive strain on their work efficiency. As a business leader, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of creating the next big thing or in the pressure of a looming project deadline. Under the stress of a major project, committed professionals may believe that working long hours for a few days to get things done faster is reasonable, and their team follows the lead. While doing so, they can drain themselves of the mental and emotional energy to give to themselves or their loved ones outside of their work life. This approach may be suitable for one-time projects or short seasons at work, but is unsustainable as a regular rhythm of work and life.

An exceptional leader is the one who manages to have work-life balance. In the absence of such balance burnouts are unavoidable. Researchers have suggested that work-life imbalance has serious ramifications for leaders, their organisations, and society. When leaders face burnout their employees are at a greater risk of facing burnout too. A work-life balance can help you enjoy life, manage stress, avoid leadership burnout, and work well for longer. A leader who works closely with their team to balance their workload and their life balance, will lead their team to improved and sustained energy while collaboratively accomplishing goals.

How coaching can help reduce the risks of burnout

Leadership is an exciting experience but it has its pressures too. Executive and leadership coaching can provide a space for a leader to meet with a trusted partner on a regular basis outside of the usual workday and engage in professional development.

Coaching provides a safe environment for leaders to work through issues. A skilled executive coach may assist the client in processing pressures, challenges, opportunities, and difficulties in a safe and objective atmosphere. This culminates in an emotional recharge, which minimizes isolation, provides job support, and allows the leader the breathing room they need to continue forward during times of uncertainty.

The interaction provided by executive coaching can fill a much needed gap in a leader's support system - to provide lift, encouragement, and direction for leaders.

You can THRIVE in every season

🔺 Are you a leader going through burnout or feeling the weight of immense pressure?

Through 1:1 online coaching Atlas & Axis Coaching helps leaders navigate every season and overcome obstacles with clarity and confidence​.

You'll have the support and tools you need to take action, break through the pressures of burnout, and thrive in the season you are in.

Don't wait to get support.

Inquire now via the contact link in the header or request to book a complimentary coaching session.


  • Brown, LW, Quick, JC, Environmental Influences on Individual Burnout and a Preventive Approach for Organizations, Journal of Applied Bio-behavioral Research, 2013, 18, 2, pp. 104–121.

  • Friedman, E. H., A failure of nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Church Publishing, New York, 2017, pp. 235

  • Nitin Nohria, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, Harvard Business Press, 2010, pp. 489

  • Christina Maslach et. al., The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs, Harvard University Press.

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