A Deloitte survey last year raised eyebrows when it reported that two-thirds of CEOs were considering quitting as a result of burnout. While we haven’t seen an avalanche of resignations since then, there’s no question that the job of a CEO is getting more stressful and complex. As we recently chronicled, C-suite leaders are facing board pressure, economic uncertainty, controversial political issues, and a highly engaged workforce.
Given these challenges, CEO burnout seems almost inevitable. Examining this challenge from multiple angles, we thought it would be helpful to look at how some of the world’s most prominent leaders have approached the challenge of mental wellbeing and performing at peak levels. Here are some of the ways top CEOs keep burnout at bay.
In a world where CEOs are often compelled to remain connected and updated, disconnecting can become a challenge. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and author of "Thrive," emphasizes the importance of mindfulness. She says, "I can assure you you all take better care of your smart phones than you take care of yourselves. I bet everybody here knows approximately how much battery remains on your smartphone, right? But how much battery remains in you?" She calls for leaders to find small windows of time to recharge, for example, by not dragging your phone into the bedroom.
Mastering the Art of Delegation and Trust
The sheer workload that CEOs face can be an overwhelming source of stress, but this can be mitigated by effective delegation. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, speaks about the necessity of trusting others with responsibility: "Most entrepreneurs are driven personalities, but you can’t overcome challenges and bring new ideas to the market through the sheer force of personality alone," Branson once said.
The British serial entrepreneur is an advocate for strategic delegation because it not only allows leaders to pull back from certain areas of involvement, but also because it makes the company more resilient.
Prioritizing Physical Health and Fitness
One unambiguously positive change from the Covid-19 pandemic has been a greater embrace of mental health, including among CEOs.
A few years ago, the major business outlets regularly published “day in the life” profiles of corporate executives, each one seeming to prove the CEO’s superhuman traits (wake up at 3 a.m., drink 12 raw eggs, complete an ironman while checking email, then a quick shower before the first meetings of the day). But things are changing for the better – as Apple CEO TIm Cook said, “I think mental health is a crisis. And it’s one that has been stigmatized so much. It was for so long that people suffered in silence and in isolation.”
Now it’s time for CEOs to walk the walk by instituting strong employee benefits programs that support mental health – and focusing on their own mental health as well. Avoiding burnout as a CEO isn't merely about managing work but also about managing oneself. Understanding that distinction is a key first step.