Chris Lorence: How to avoid leadership burnout

By Chris Lorence, ICBA

Leading organizations and developing people can be both exhilarating and exhausting. The daily challenges leaders face often fuel their fire, but everyone needs a little white space—time to reflect, think and process. Rest and reinvigoration can seem counterintuitive to progress. Is it possible to recharge without losing momentum?

Many leaders bristle at the thought of downtime, even for short periods. You want to stay relevant and connected to what’s happening within the team and the organization. It can be addictive, and the idea of disconnection can create anxiety. After all, how can the team function if the leader isn’t leading?

The answer may be surprising. Teams need opportunities to stretch, grow and put to practical use the behaviors and skills they’ve seen their leader demonstrate. Most leaders have done a great job of empowering others to make decisions while encouraging collaboration to accomplish goals. How better to learn what your people are capable of than to let them show you?

Once you’ve decided to take time to reinvigorate and recharge, here are a few ways to do it.

Take in new information from outside your day-to-day responsibilities. Review content developed for leaders by leaders, like the Harvard Business Review. Use your commute or block off time on your calendar to listen to a podcast or audiobook, like TED Talks. Subscribe to a blog that challenges your thinking, such as Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak.

Create brainstorming sessions around concepts you’re contemplating. Nothing is more contagious than other people’s excitement and energy. Gather a group of participants from various levels within your organization, set the parameters and throw the topic out for discussion. You can record the session and listen to it later if you don’t want to take notes. Ask questions like “What if we …,” “What are we not considering …,” “Are there examples of this we can review/study …” and “What are the unintended consequences?” By creating an opportunity to engage, you not only increase your own energy but also that of the people you work with.

Step away on a regular basis and disconnect. Yes, it’s tough, but done right, your team will do just fine without you. Plan to turn off your phone and allow your mind to wander. Tell Siri to take a note and narrate your ideas as they pop up. Set the expectation with yourself that time off can be valuable and productive. After all, a rested leader is a more effective leader.

Chris Lorence ( is ICBA group executive vice president–member engagement and strategy.