We live in the new era of social media leadership where younger leaders are finding it harder than ever to separate their ideas from their identity. Big ideas equal a big life. But this is precisely why they are struggling. Too many young leaders have become obsessed with being discovered instead of investing their lives in discovery.
There’s no inherent disgrace in “networking” as long as it’s based on the making of actual relationships. Looking at the people you meet solely through the lens of “leverage” is a dishonest formula for success, and is actually the underlying cause for burnout. God gave us relationships to replenish us, not diminish us.
The bible doesn’t directly use the term burnout, but instead calls it “losing heart”. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). It’s not God’s will for any leader to end up without a heart. A true leader finds a way to get above the endless cycle of first impressions, bridge burning and grudge bearing that most people have accepted as the natural way of doing life with other human beings. Even though social media is reengineering the human attention span, creating new variables, the traditional triggers for leadership burnout are still in play.
- Going long periods of time without results.
- Having too many relationships to cultivate and manage.
- Making too many promises to too many people.
- Running out of time and resources.
Now, add to that the relentless inadequacy young leaders feel as they compare themselves to other leaders on the Internet and you have a viral culture of defeat and burnout.
We’ve all met a leadership zombie or two who feel trapped by the malicious and suspicious world in which they live. They’re easy to spot because their woundedness is covered with scabs instead of scars. Picking at their own pain, they never give their woundedness a chance to heal. I’m not trying to be mean-spirited, but when I started in leadership I would occasionally come across leaders who fit this description. Typically they were burned-out, older leaders who enjoyed telling their memoirs of misery to anyone dumb enough to listen. Though once passionate and purposed, they were now emotionally splintered, void of optimism and critical of everyone past, present and future. Nobody loves a good leadership war story more than me, but woe stories turn me off. Whenever I hear one of those stories the last thing I feel is pity. The first thing I feel is poisoned. Now, just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re a zombie. A healthy, older leader is a tremendous gift, and most older leaders are just that – a gift. Zombies are the exception.
At 52, I’m doing my best not to become one myself.
A few weeks back I found myself having coffee with a leadership zombie…except he was 30, not 60. The magic carpet ride of social media had left him just as splintered, pessimistic and resentful as the generation before him that was twice his age. Burnout is a terrible thing at any age, but when it happens this early, it’s even more tragic. So much potential is lost.
Why the downshift? Why are younger leaders burning out faster than ever?
First, let’s identify 12 Warning Signs of Burnout that I have seen personally:
- They commit their time and emotions to a distraction
- They no longer feel sad about other people’s pain
- They lose anticipation about the future
- They lose the desire to initiate new ideas
- They spend long periods of time doing nothing
- They avoid friends like they were enemies
- They hope other leaders will not succeed
- They believe their struggle is unique
- They resent details and schedules
- They start to accumulate secrets
- They dismiss correction and call it judgment
- They call inconvenience suffering
Philippians 4:6-7 is the key to beating burnout. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (gratitude) let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Burnout is not the result of fatigue. It’s the result of anxiety. You don’t overcome burnout by working less. You overcome burnout by worrying less. The best calming agents for your soul and psyche are prayer and gratitude. Prayer is when the heavy loads of life are transferred to an all-powerful God. Gratitude is when my memories and emotions get reorganized around what God has already done for me rather than what He hasn’t (yet).
God promised that if I would build my life on prayer (transferring the load) and gratitude (focusing on what God’s already done) then His presence would continually reorganize my heart. Biblical peace is not about removing a crisis. It’s about God’s presence halting my fears by altering my emotional patterns and memories. We all have painful regrets; it’s simply a matter of where they line up in your memories. Are they first or last? People who experience burnout always have them first.
When it comes to relationships, the best way to beat burnout is to establish a few vital relationships that have nothing to do with your career. In other words, you need an anti-networking aspect to your relationships. When I first began in ministry, my best friend and mentor was Joe Elston. He was 38 and I was 20. He worked in the manufacturing warehouse at Hewlett-Packard and had no aspirations to preach, nor did he have even one friend I wanted to meet who could advance my career. But Joe did do one thing very well. He taught me to pray. He advanced my heart, not my career. Almost every day for 18 years Joe and I met at 6 a.m. to pray together. There was no other agenda than friendship, accountability and growing closer to the Lord as men.
It wasn’t complicated, but it saved my life from burnout.
So whether you’re 30 or 60, I want to first encourage you to make Philippians 4:6-7 your new key to success.
Then go find someone to pray with …