The 5 Warning Signs of Leadership Burnout
We’ve all seen it: The high level pastor whose ministry seems astronomical, suddenly fail. They have a moral failure or just get sick and burnout. Sometimes it’s related to money, sex, or some other type of scandal. The fallout is always devastating for those involved. The post-crash diagnosis is that a leader burned out somewhere along the journey. Unfortunately, it’s only visible after-the-fact.
When a leader falls, it’s not simply his or her life impacted, it’s their spouse, kids, family, relatives, neighbors, community, network, denomination, town/city, social media followers and all whom that leader influences. It’s the person you get coffee from everyday that’s impacted. It’s the social media follower that tells you that your influence has changed their life.
When a leader burns out and falls morally, it most often involves loss of credibility, income, influence, trust, and relationships. Sadly, the devastation from many scenarios like this is completely irreparable and the damages are far reaching, even generations ahead. Everyone loves a great comeback story, as well as stories of redemption and restoration when it comes to people who have fallen. The truth is that some people will be so damaged by a leader’s fallout, that it will forever impact their ability to trust a spiritual leader again, thereby hindering their journey with God.
Burnout is something that every leader should take seriously. Not just for their own life and leadership, but for the lives and leadership of those on the teams/staff they lead. Do you and your team know how to avoid burnout and the all too common devastating pitfalls that happen to great leaders?
Here are five signs of leadership burnout you can examine in your own life:
“You need accountability” is as much of an overused phrase for spiritual leaders as “you need to eat healthy and exercise” is for the average person. It doesn’t matter if you know it or have heard it before, it only matters if you do it. Without openness and transparency in your life, you say to those you influence that you have no need for healthy, honest relationships. You have no need for anyone to look in on your life, nor pray for any weakness or blind spots you may see.
In Psalm 139:23-24, David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” God most often uses people we are open with to be the ones who show us the anxious and offensive things in our lives that can break us down and burn us out. Without the help of others, we deceive ourselves into believing we don’t need trustworthy friends with whom we can be open and transparent.
2. Grace for Others
Leaders on the edge of burnout often have a difficult time giving grace to other people. Every mistake is a life-shaking, world-shattering scenario. Grace for others and the mistakes they make is a necessary part of leadership.
Jesus was filled with grace for the disciples he had chosen to be with Him. Leaders who are verbally abusive, condescending, negative and constantly stressed are often on the edge of burnout. They often see other people as a means to an end rather than a reason they’ve been given the opportunity of leadership.
3. Closeness to God
Prayer is not an interruption to life, prayer is an invitation by God. God invites us to participate with Him not only in what He is doing through us, but alongside us as someone we can know. Burned out leaders who find prayer, solitude, and time spent with God as more of a task than an opportunity to be refreshed are in danger of leading on an empty tank. You are limited in what you can give to others and you are most effective when you lead from your close relationship with God. Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
It is said that comparison is the thief of joy. Leaders on the edge of burnout often lose their joy because of constant self-comparison to other leaders or ministries. Sometimes leaders also suffer from having false expectations they’ve created for themselves, about themselves. You are not a failure because of unmet goals. You are not a bad leader because someone you invested in fell away or betrayed you. Jesus encountered rejection and betrayal yet still knew who He was. Seeing yourself as God sees you is the key to a healthy self-image. God made you unique with certain gifts. Don’t lose your joy over unhealthy and unnecessary comparisons. You are on a unique journey with God. Trust Him with what He’s put in your hands and see yourself as a loved and accepted son or daughter of God.
5. External Value and Support
Burnout can happen to leaders who have walked out seasons of life without feeling supported by others. We all have needs, and God created others and their gifts to help encourage our lives and endeavors. Yet sometimes, people aren’t connected enough to us to know all that we’ve accomplished or how hard we’ve worked. This can lead to feelings of discouragement and perpetuate the desire to isolate ourselves. A lack of support should never lead us into isolation or dependence on someone or something other than God.
Your long-term health is more important than your role as a leader. I encourage you, if you find any of these warning signs in your life, be intentional about changing them. Look for someone with whom you can be open and transparent. Start giving grace to others. Focus on your relationship with God. Start seeing yourself the way your Father sees you instead of how others see you. And gather people around you who will support and value you for who you are and not just what you do.