How CEOs can de­feat ex­ec­u­tive burnout

The Star (Kenya) - - News Business - CHRIS HAR­RI­SON Chris leads the African op­er­a­tions of The Brand In­side chris@the­brandin­side. co.ke

Many busi­ness peo­ple strive for pro­mo­tion to the top with­out ever con­sid­er­ing what the top looks like. In many ways, it’s like climb­ing a real moun­tain. Whether it’s Mt Kenya, Kil­i­man­jaro or El­gon … or as­cend­ing one of the Moun­tains of the Moon.

Over the years I’ve climbed some of these, and I can tell you the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the sum­mit is al­ways won­der­ful. It drives you for­ward, ev­ery aching step. But once you reach the sum­mit it’s al­ways the same. You take a few pic­tures to prove you were there and then all you want to do is get down again; quickly and safely.

Reach­ing the top job feels won­der­ful, but soon two new com­pan­ions – iso­la­tion and per­for­mance anx­i­ety – ar­rive to be­come your con­stant com­pan­ions. You find that the vo­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions that el­e­vated you aren’t enough to con­sol­i­date your po­si­tion. You need new skills; you need to learn how to work through other peo­ple. And that takes time.

And when the time pres­sure bites, where can you go to for so­lace? You can’t turn to your par­ents for sup­port. Their gen­er­a­tion thinks you’re a worka­holic. The mil­lenials you have hired don’t as­pire to be like you. They don’t want your life. They see that you’re dis­con­nected from your fam­ily and friends. You look ter­ri­ble be­cause you never have any time to ex­er­cise; you may drink too much and sleep too lit­tle. Mil­lenials say: “I don’t want to end up like you.”

I may be paint­ing an overly bleak pic­ture here. But if you are not mind­ful of the pres­sures of lead­er­ship, you risk ex­ec­u­tive burnout. Richard Jolly, Pro­fes­sor of Or­gan­i­sa­tional Be­hav­iour at Lon­don Busi­ness School, sug­gests three use­ful strat­a­gems to help you sur­vive:

Ask your­self, what three things do you need to achieve to be suc­cess­ful in your role? Three is a pow­er­ful num­ber and it hap­pens to be the limit of ab­so­lute pri­or­i­ties a hu­man be­ing can man­age. Keep track of how much time you are spend­ing on these.

Pro­tect time to think. No-one’s go­ing to give you that time, so take it. Go for a long cy­cle ride, block out time for fake clients or work in a café with­out your phone for half a day.

Ac­cept that your en­ergy is fi­nite. Eat well and get enough sleep. Most se­nior ex­ec­u­tives are con­stantly ex­hausted, which af­fects your abil­ity as much as if you were drunk.

I would add a cou­ple of other tips from my own ex­pe­ri­ence. First, look be­yond the pro­fes­sional. Cre­ate bound­aries around the things you re­ally care about. Make time for your fam­ily, friends and fit­ness. And sec­ond, don’t be afraid to call in a pro­fes­sional. An ex­pe­ri­enced coach will help you cre­ate space to think things through. They’ll also chal­lenge you when no one else is telling you what you need to hear… be­cause you’re the CEO.

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