Makarios Consulting Blog

I’m a Leader But I’m Also a Player and It Is Burning Me Out

Everybody is busy nowadays; no question about it. But there is busy and there is burnout. The two are very different. For leaders who are also forced to pick up a role as a player on the team they coach, burnout is often right around the corner.

There are several ways this happens. Here is one common scenario: you are a leader of a team with several direct reports. One of the seats on your team becomes open. As you look for a replacement, there is no one to perform the responsibilities of that seat … except you. You are suddenly thrust into the unfortunate position of trying to do two jobs at once: coach your team and play on it as well.

Then there is this scenario: you are a leader of a team in a growing company. That growth generates the need for a new seat on your team. However, there is a lag between the time the need manifests itself and the time the need is officially recognized and a new seat added. In that gap, the responsibilities are put on your already overflowing plate.

For leaders who find themselves acting as player-coaches in situations like this, exhaustion and burnout quickly set in. The ramifications are serious. The leader finds him or herself:

  • Unable to make good decisions
  • Not providing adequate leadership for the team
  • Making mistakes or forgetting things
  • Not seeing or addressing issues in a timely manner

In other words, your team’s performance is negatively impacted. So is the leader’s motivation, attitude, and outlook.

If you are in the position of acting as a player-coach, you need to do two things to avoid work burnout: simplify and delegate.

Simplifying involves taking a step back and asking “What are the three to five most important things I have to do to be an effective leader of my team?” Write them down. Be specific.

This list becomes your plumb line. These items are ultimately what you need to focus on. All the other tasks you have as a manager you either need to let go of for the duration of the time you are filling two roles or delegate to someone else. For example, you may need to let go of participating in meetings that are primarily informative in nature and arrange to be informed in other ways that do not eat up hours of your day, such as by receiving a written summary of the meeting. Or, again, you may need to determine how a task can be condensed in time and scope. The result may not be optimal, but if it is acceptable it will work in the short-term until the seat on your team is filled.

Once you have done this exercise for your management role, do it again for the team role you are currently filling. What is essential? What is not? What tasks do you have to maintain to keep the business moving forward? What can you ignore? What can you delegate? You want the list of what you are required to do to be even shorter than the list you made for your management role. Narrow it down to just two or three tasks. After all, this is not your primary position. You are a coach first and a player second: your time should be divided accordingly.

Delegation, as already mentioned, is part of the simplification process. Delegating can be tough for many reasons. For instance, you may have always done a certain task. You may be convinced you can do a task better than anyone else can do it (you may even be right!). You may not want to take the time to teach someone else how to do a task.

But if you want to avoid burnout, delegation is vital. So, list out all the tasks for both roles that have to be done that are not on your own “short lists.” These are the tasks that must be delegated. Do so carefully and strategically: you don’t want to avoid burnout yourself only to create it on your team!

It is true: simplifying is not simple. Delegating is not easy. But they are possible. More than that, they are necessary to avoid burnout that will ultimately damage yourself, your team, and your business.