Are you an exhausted leader?

Tired leaders are everywhere.

Actually, it’s a badge of honor to be tired in a lot of circles.  I am constantly around people that talk about the long hours, lack of sleep, & crazy travel schedules.

Here is the deal:  I used to be one of these guys that bragged about how hard I worked.  And, I was prideful enough to believe that it impressed others.

THE TRUTH: I was dumb and it was hurting me and the people closest to me. 

When tired, we operate out of an exhausted brain.  As I have read & studied, the brain will shift into a “fight or flight” state when we are exhausted.  This means that we will lead through reaction & instinct, instead of wisdom & sound decision-making.  As we become more tired we:

  • Learn less – A tired brain doesn’t learn very well
  • Overreact – A tired brain makes things a big deal that shouldn’t be
  • Under react – A tired brain makes us “not care” about things we should care about
  • Get angry quicker – A tired brain decreases patience & will operate out of anger
  • Become afraid – A tired brain will create massive amounts of fear that things are falling apart when they really aren’t
  • Feel increased desires to escape – A tired brain leads to overeating, over drinking, & sexual temptations
  • Deflate our self worth – A tired brain makes us feel like we aren’t any good or worth anything
  • Withdraw – A tired brain tells us to withdraw from our family, friends, & team emotionally
  • Criticize – A tired brain makes us see things more negatively

Want to know the real me? 

I’m writing this post not as an expert on how to not be exhausted, but as a work in progress.

When I was on staff at a church, I literally got so exhausted by the pace that I would sit in the bathroom stalls on Sunday mornings so I wouldn’t have to talk with people. I also went to the Emergency Room three times, thinking I was having a heart attack.  It ended up being panic attacks due to exhaustion & emotional immaturity.  Many of my other friends were experiencing the same thing and we just thought it was normal to be stressed and exhausted all the time.  I remember being so EMOTIONALLY SICK that I would wake up at 5AM to email staff members so they would see I was up really early working.  That is SO STUPID, but I was trapped.  I was into impressing people above me because I was CRAVING approval.

The Turning Point…

I remember driving to the airport one time with my wife and having to pull off the side of the road because I was having a panic attack.  My wife looked at me & basically told me a STRONG, STRONG, STRONG TRUTH I needed to hear.  She spoke into my life about getting healthy because it was hurting our family.  I was sick & needed help.  I never thought being an exhausted leader was a sickness, but it is.  The people closest to you get hurt the most.

The following are the steps I’ve taken to reduce exhaustion in my life.  I’m NOT perfect at this, but I am growing and getting better.

1. I Go To Counseling 

I believe every leader should go to counseling. Counseling creates a safe environment for you to share your life.  Counselors can help you see WHY you are doing what you are doing.  Most of the time, we try to deal with the symptoms & never get down to the root issues.

My counselor helped me realize that above everything else I want to be wanted & liked.  

I realized the reason WHY I was leading on empty was 100% because I wanted everyone to like me.  I had no limits or boundaries and wouldn’t ever tell people no.  Counseling has literally saved my marriage, family & organizations.

Quit being a wuss and get to counseling now

2. I’m Taking A Sabbatical 

I’m taking five weeks off this summer with ZERO connection to technology.  I’m not sure how this will go, but I feel like it will create a breeding ground for growth.   I believe getting away for a long period of time will help me realize that the world will be just fine without Casey Graham.

3. I Changed My Definition Of Failure

I used to believe I was a failure if something I did failed.  This is NOT true.  I changed my definition of failure to this:

If I learn something, I haven’t failed.

Some lessons are tough, but it takes the pressure off me to try to be perfect.  With my personality, I want to start a lot of things and the temptation is to want them ALL to work.  The best way to relieve the pressure of trying to be perfect is to be honest when you fail, even if it’s just apologizing or admitting things didn’t work.  It’s exhausting to try and NEVER fail!  Failing helps you stay human & reduce pride.

4. I Turned Off Notifications On My Phone

This sounds shallow, but really helps.  The reason you get exhausted is because the brain isn’t turned off. Disengaging from work is impossible if you are connected to social media & your phone 24/7. Just turning off any notifications or sound on your phone can help.  It did for me.

5. I Hired A Trainer

Having a physical trainer is one of the most important decisions I’ve made on my journey from living an exhausted life.  Working out and running literally makes every part of my life better.  The reason I hired a trainer is for accountability.  Having someone show up at my doorstep at 7AM ensures I’m working out!

6. I Work On Stuff I Am Good At

The reason I was so exhausted on church staff was because I was MANAGING stuff instead of leading stuff.  Managing people, budgets, volunteers and day-to-day stuff is NOT what I’m good at.  I need to be creating.  God gifted me to create great stuff.  If I’m not creating a blog post, business, ministry, idea, song, or something, I will die. Yes, I will literally die slowly.

When we do stuff that drains us for long periods of time, it creates defeat and exhaustion.  You might be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m the only one that can do this.” Well… That’s not true.  I used to believe that.  The reality is, there are many people that can do what you think only you can do.  You HAVE to let go! Usually you have to find a volunteer or hire someone to help you. PAY THE MONEY for that assistant or staff position; it’s worth it.

This post was super long, but I just wanted to share my journey in hopes it will help you realize that exhaustion isn’t cool.