Owning your own business is enormously rewarding, but success can take a Herculean effort that often leads to isolation and exhaustion. Preventing burnout before it starts will strengthen your business and help you build a lasting career in entrepreneurship.
Burned out leaders typically feel exhausted, detached, and emotionally volatile. Their example creates a dysfunctional culture prone to power plays and confusion. "You're likely to lose your best personnel when a leader gets burned out," says Stephen Courtright, a management professor at Texas A&M University and an expert on leadership burnout. "[Employees] sense that things are not going well and bail out."
Worse, burned out leaders become slow and indecisive when faced with important decisions, and they feel much less confident in their choices. That leads to poor decisions and missed opportunities.
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Courtright is blunt with leaders who push themselves to the limit and assume they'll be fine: "If you keep going down this way, you will reach a point where everything just hits the fan," he says. "You don't want to be making poor decisions for your company -- you care about it too much -- so some steps need to be taken right now."
An occasional vacation is not enough to stop burnout; your life needs to be set up to ward it off, all year round. "A vacation is like putting a bandaid on a flesh wound," Courtright says. "It can help you find a little relief, but then you have to go in and really clean out your life."
To effectively prevent burnout, practice these three skills:
1. Empower your employees. Entrepreneurs risk a lot for their companies, so fear of failure can lead to micromanagement. When that happens, employees disengage and offer fewer creative ideas, leaving their leaders to push the company forward alone. In short, it's a fast track to burnout.
Instead, inspire your employees to buy into the full scope of your vision. If your enthusiasm rubs off on them, they'll bring more innovative ideas to the table and share your investment in success. "The more you empower others and help them catch the vision, the less likely you are to feel alone at the top," Courtright says. By making your employees feel that the company is theirs as well, you strengthen your business and relieve some of your burden.
2. Bolster your confidence. Confident leaders are much less likely to burn out, but that confidence has to be genuine. "You can't just wake up every day and tell yourself, 'I can do this,'" Courtright says. "Confidence comes from being able to meet the demands."
Great leaders build confidence by learning how to learn on the job, a skill that empowers them to meet any demand that arises. To do the same, ask for advice or feedback whenever you feel unsure. If you encounter something you don't know, find someone who can teach you. Whether you're new or seasoned, asking for help will make you a more confident, stable leader.
3. Make your wellbeing a priority. Entrepreneurship is very time-consuming, but taking care of yourself properly will help you push through and prevent burnout. That means eating well, exercising, sleeping at least six hours every night, and spending time with friends and family who support you.
Get creative to find balance with a busy schedule. Prep a week's worth of healthy meals on Sunday nights and freeze them, call a friend while you take a walk around the block, and schedule work tasks in related blocks so you can finish them more efficiently. "We imagine this badge of honor for whoever works the longest hours," Courtright says. "It's not about working longer; it’s about working smarter."
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