How to Avoid Burnout

We speak with David Kegley, the owner and Principal of Coaching & Conflict Transformation, on avoiding burnout and the importance of good health and wellbeing for leaders.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Primarily I’m a catalyst for change through coaching. I find that coaching promotes a multitude of possible changes that open up whole new worlds for my clients. In most cases, I don’t need to specialise, I simply coach effectively. I do help people surmount tremendous obstacles like daunting work challenges, devastating medical diagnoses, burnout, or unyielding conflicts. Usually, the stakes are high and we figure out how to turn those obstacles into opportunities… or at least find the best possible path forward.

My father was a banker and brilliant at his work. He started as a bank teller and finished as a President and CEO. While I respected what he did, I chose a path in the humanities and religious studies and became a Presbyterian Pastor. Though we had completely different careers, some of the leadership challenges I faced were similar to those of my father.

Through the years I worked in several congregations, the last one was a somewhat large congregation where I was the Head of Staff. In Presbyterian congregations, pastors are considered “Moderators” of their governing board. This leadership-among-leaders position gives me insight into the work I do today.

As a Credentialed Coach, I have gained a unique perspective both on my own life and career and on the world of self-improvement, performance and optimal health as it applies to high-level leadership. The following assessments are important for the self-care of C-suite executives:

  • Holding the confidences of the leaders of an executive board and details of the decision-making process for an institution can be lonely: one must find support to bear this load.
  • Being an executive leader often makes a person the centre of controversy: staying strong amidst this climate takes wisdom.
  • The movement of an organisation does not wait for you, it flows day and night relentlessly: managing oneself in this flow requires knowing when and how to say “yes” and “no.”
  • It isn’t a given that you will have the support network you need to handle the emotional weight of your position: one must create it for oneself.
  • No one else will assure that you take care of yourself physically and emotionally, however, if you don’t, everyone will assuredly blame you for not doing so: it is up to the leader to make this happen.

Burnout seems to be so common for CEOs and leaders. How can you help them deal with it?

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organisation as a work-related phenomenon. It has three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, (or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job)
  • reduced professional efficacy (people work harder and get less done)

I’m currently conducting interviews with executives around burnout, coaching and work performance and I invite you to contact me if you would like to be part of this interview process. Most will respond by saying that at least two of the above dimensions are present in their lives. Others will say that all three are present to varying degrees.

One secret to addressing our health and wellbeing is to increase our awareness of potential consequences.

In addressing burnout, what is enormously important to begin with is one’s ability to accurately assess their level of burnout. Accepting and being willing to get help for burnout is the first step. For some, it is a simple matter to be self-aware and forthcoming. For others, there seems to be a thick layer of insulation preventing them from the admission: “I am burned out.” For that person getting past that layer of insulation may be the best thing they do for themselves and all concerned.

Second, if two or three of the dimensions of burnout are at play, it is important that a person get help. Family can provide support, but as one executive said to me recently: “It’s not right to require family members to help me be accountable for all this stuff, I need outside help for that.”

A good rule of thumb is that if you believe that you need to work on past wounds, a therapist is an appropriate choice. If you feel that past wounds are not an issue and want to look forward and design a new future, a coach is a good choice. It is also fine to use both, but in that case, it is important to inform both the therapist and the coach.

Beyond that, I have the following important challenges to give you: create a better separation between work and the rest of your life, get more physical movement/exercise and refresh your mind with new, creative thought. 

Why is it so important for leaders to pay close attention to their health and wellbeing?

In short, it’s so easy for the downhill slide of health to get out of hand. All of us enjoy having good health and wellbeing when it is present in our lives. We presume upon such things. As a neurologist once said to me:

“The absence of pain is… well… nothing, it doesn’t motivate us unless we are very intentional about sustaining it. When the pain finally catches up to us, that’s when we want to do something about it.”

Unfortunately, when pain does catch up to us, it often takes a lot of work from thereon.

The truth is that many if not most C-Suite executives live on the verge of a health crisis.

How can corporate leaders create motivation for improved health?

One secret to addressing our health and wellbeing is to increase our awareness of potential consequences. For example, to affirm that if you allow yourself to have significant stress, get under 7 hours of sleep per night (most people need 7 to 8 hours), and eat poorly, you will eventually suffer the consequences. Summoning the power of this reality toward changing your habits can trigger significant motivation.

Another approach is to allow yourself to dream of a better future. What are your dreams for how you want to feel physically and emotionally? How present do you want to be with your family? Make these dreams vivid. See where they take you!

The truth is that many if not most C-Suite executives live on the verge of a health crisis. Good health is often deferred until later, “After the company has finally achieved ‘x.’” or “Until I can move to a lower stress situation.” Another common misconception is the time-off remedy. Some executives do take their vacation time, which is admirable, yet resume unhealthy habits the moment they return to work.

Time off may have allowed a person to get away from work but it did not allow for them to change those habits. Instead, why not develop work habits that sustain you day-to-day? This would model sustainable work paradigms for your employees (some of whom don’t have the vacation or health benefits you do) and reap enormous gains for your health.

The resistance usually comes from knowing that it’s difficult to change deeply ingrained habits. (Incidentally, that’s what coaches are for.) It takes courage, focus, perseverance for sure, but why not stand out as a leader instead of blending with all the rest who simply burn out and suffer in their retirement years?

burnout, balance, leaders

David Kegley



Phone: +1 (360) 870-9310

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