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Avoiding Burnout: What's Your Leadership Capacity?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

"It's important that you don't lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout." — Patrick Pichette

Just for a moment, imagine yourself as a car. Based on what you know about yourself and your leadership, what kind of car would you be? A race car? An off-road SUV? A diesel truck? Choose whatever type you think best fits your leadership style.

So if you’re that car, then your Leadership Capacity refers to the amount of payload you can carry at any one time—that is, how much leadership responsibility can you handle, how many people can you lead, before your engine overheats and your tires blow out under the strain?

There are two kinds of capacity that fall under this heading:

  • Task Capacity—how many tasks or projects you can handle at once without getting tanked or overwhelmed.

  • Relational Capacity—the maximum number of people you can directly oversee and invest in at one time.

It will come as no surprise to say that not everyone has the same task capacity, or relational capacity. For example, you probably know some people who have a really high task capacity (you might even be one of them!). These folks can take a project plan and knock out a hundred tasks a day like a real ninja. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. You probably also know leaders who quickly slide into burnout anytime they have more than just a handful of direct reports. People are messy, after all. Sometimes really messy.

Several factors can contribute to your overall leadership capacity:

  • whether you’re an introvert or extrovert,

  • your enneagram type (if you don't know yours, I can help with that)

  • how relationally- or physically-taxing your role is,

  • how difficult or easy your current home life is going,

  • your current health status,

  • how closely you’re being scrutinized by your supervisor,

  • and a dozen other factors specific to your given situation.

Whatever your particular factors may be, it’s critical for you to monitor your current leadership capacity, because it can help you discern how to navigate a host of daily leadership decisions, as well as avoid the scope creep that is so common in the workplace.

Here's a quick and dirty way to assess your current relational and task capacity as a leader: Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Divide your paper into two columns: TASK, and RELATIONAL. Under the TASK column, list all the projects and tasks you are currently responsible to complete in each of the following arenas:

  • Your work

  • Your home

  • Your personal growth (hobbies, health goals, spiritual life, personal studies, etc.)

  • Your community life (church, kids' sports teams, social clubs, etc.)

Under the RELATIONAL column, list all the people you are currently investing in via a direct 1-on-1 relationship. Don’t include co-workers or acquaintances you don’t interact with regularly. Instead, focus on your significant relationships in each of these categories:

  • Those you are investing in as a current team member and/or future leader

  • Your immediate family, and other close family members

  • Your “inner circle” of friends

  • Any other people in whom you are actively investing relationally

Notice with both lists I didn’t just include your work tasks and your work relationships. Why? Because your leadership energy can’t be compartmentalized like that. You have one tank labeled “my creative energy and attention,” and you have to draw from that one tank every day in multiple contexts of your life.

When you’re finished making your lists, get curious about them:

  • What stands out to you as you look at your lists?

  • Would you say that you are currently under capacity, at capacity, or over capacity as a leader? What is pointing you to that conclusion?

  • How did you get here? In other words, what drove you to create your current level of relational and task responsibilities?

  • What would have to happen to bring you into better alignment with your current leadership capacity?

Healthy leadership is as much about knowing when to say no as it is about knowing how to say yes. To avoid burnout, you need to stay on top of your current limits around leadership capacity, and do all you can to set boundaries in your work and life that allow you to be the most effective leader possible. For example:

  • Talk with your supervisor about your current leadership capacity and create a plan together to help you maximize your current leadership effectiveness and grow your capacity over time.

  • Talk with your team about your leadership capacity and its limits, and invite them to do the same. Look for ways to redistribute workflow and responsibilities to better balance everyone’s capacities and limits

  • Look for ways to grow your leadership capacity via experimenting with new tools and practices, as well as developing your mastery as a leader through key books, courses, and mastermind groups.

  • When you know you fast approaching a state of burnout, take responsibility for it, and take action to change course. It’s not your employer’s job to set your boundaries for you. That’s up to you. It's a key aspect of self-leadership.

What other insights or questions do you have about leadership capacity? Leave a note in the comments, or drop me a line via my contact page and we’ll set up a time to talk 1-on-1.

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