How to Protect Your Senior Leaders from Burnout: Simple, Company-Wide Leadership Behaviour Changes to Help 

Business woman stress and burnout

By Andy Brown

Protecting senior leaders from burnout is essential for sustainable business success. This article from award-winning leadership coach and Amazon best-selling author, Andy Brown, outlines a three-step programme to help senior leadership teams recognise and manage their emotional overdrafts by; 1) Understanding emotional overdraft and its impact, 2) Recognising individual triggers, and 3) Applying the 20% rule to enhance leadership impact and resilience. 

Senior leaders often find themselves subsidising their business success at the cost of their own physical and mental wellbeing – what I call their ‘emotional overdraft’.  Living in your emotional overdraft leads to stress, overwhelm, and eventually, burnout. For the business it equates to a less resilient organisation, more sick days and a significantly less impactful senior leadership team.   

Understanding the Emotional Overdraft 

The emotional overdraft bookAn emotional overdraft occurs when leaders expend more emotional and mental resources than they can replenish, leading to diminished resilience and effectiveness. It’s the invisible line in a company’s P&L and can significantly impact both personal wellbeing and professional performance. Embedding an understanding of the emotional overdraft into your senior leadership team can multiply and accelerate positive business outcomes, strengthen team resilience, and foster mutual support among team members. 

Step 1: Recognise the Ubiquity of Emotional Overdrafts 

The first step in protecting senior leaders from burnout is acknowledging that everyone, including themselves, operates with an emotional overdraft. Every leader I’ve worked with, regardless of their success, has experienced this to some degree. By recognising this universal challenge, leaders can begin to monitor their emotional wellbeing proactively. 

Step 2: Identify Individual Drivers and Behaviours 

Understanding how emotional overdrafts manifest individually is crucial. In my research, I’ve identified ten drivers and resulting behaviours that often lead to emotional overdraft: 

  1. Duty: Feeling that it’s their responsibility to take on tasks, often to the detriment of personal time. 
  2. Self-worth: Associating their value with their professional achievements. 
  3. Trust: Struggling to delegate because they believe only they can do the job right. 
  4. Empathy: Overextending themselves to support others, neglecting their own needs. 
  5. JFDI (Just Flipping Do It): Taking on tasks impulsively to get things done quickly. 
  6. Urgency: Constantly feeling rushed and pressured. 
  7. Cost: Worrying about the financial implications of delegating tasks or hiring help. 
  8. At a Loss: Feeling stuck and out of ideas, leading to frustration and burnout. 
  9. Load Balancing: Juggling multiple roles and responsibilities without adequate support. 
  10. Expectation: Believing stress and struggle are inherent to leadership roles. 

Leaders can use tools like the Emotional Overdraft Self-Assessment to identify their specific triggers and understand how these drivers impact their daily lives. 

Step 3: Implement the 20% Rule to Improve Leadership Impact 

One effective strategy to mitigate your senior teams’ emotional overdraft is to ask them all to try the 20% rule. Leaders often allocate their time as follows: 

  • 20% on tasks only they can perform. 
  • 20% on skilled tasks that others could do with the right experience. 
  • 20% on complex work that doesn’t require specialist expertise. 
  • 20% on tasks that others in their team can handle. 
  • 20% on routine tasks that anyone could do. 

By eliminating the last 20%, leaders can double the time spent on core responsibilities, focusing on tasks that truly require their expertise. This not only enhances their impact but also reduces unnecessary stress and workload. 

Putting It into Practice 

To embed these principles into your senior leadership team: 

  1. Collect and monitor data: Encourage leaders to track their emotional overdraft and share the results regularly. This visibility builds a level of accountability and supports collective efforts to reduce these overdrafts. 
  2. Support each other: Build a culture of mutual support where leaders help each other identify and address their emotional triggers. This not only alleviates individual burdens but also strengthens the team’s overall resilience. 

Protecting senior leaders from burnout through awareness, recognition of individual triggers, and practical strategies like the 20% rule can lead to a more resilient and effective leadership team. By prioritising emotional wellbeing, organisations can ensure long-term success and create a healthier, more sustainable work environment.

About the Author

Andy BrownAndy Brown is a bestselling author and renowned leadership coach with over 25 years of experience. His book, The Emotional Overdraft: 10 Simple Changes for Balancing Business Success and Wellbeing, provides actionable insights for leaders looking to achieve professional success without sacrificing their mental and physical health. 


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