Founder Burnout: Preventing, Identifying, and Mitigating It as the CEO

Founder CEO at a startup with business problems coming in from all sides - Founder burnout

I was a founder, and while I didn’t burn out, I came pretty close. I learned what worked and didn’t work to prevent burnout. I have watched other CEOs burn out and it isn’t pretty. To ensure that you remain a highly productive CEO without burning out, I have written this post for you.

Recognizing the Signs of Founder Burnout

Recognizing the signs of founder burnout within yourself is crucial to maintaining a healthy, thriving startup environment within your company. Symptoms often manifest subtly, making it easy to overlook their cumulative impact.

Recognizing Entrepreneurs Burnout: Signs to Watch Out For

  1. Emotional Signs: Persistent feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, or disillusionment might become increasingly prevalent. This might even extend to a loss of passion for your work or a growing sense of isolation and frustration.
  2. Physical Symptoms: Physical signs like chronic fatigue, frequent illnesses, or disturbances in sleep patterns. These can directly impact your day-to-day productivity and overall well-being.
  3. Behavioral Changes: Noticeable shifts in work performance, such as reduced productivity, increased mistakes due to inattention, or conflicts with team members, can be significant indicators of burnout.

By Identifying These Signs Early, You Can Enact Preventative Measures to Avoid Burnout

This fosters not only individual well-being but also contributes to the overall success and sustainability of your company.

Managing Stress as a Founder

As a CEO, being able to manage your stress is key to keeping output levels high and avoiding exhaustion. Here are some strategies that can help you cope with the demands of running your business:

Prioritize Your Tasks

Identify the most important tasks and focus on completing them first. This will help you feel more accomplished and reduce feelings of overwhelm. Use tools like Asana or Todoist for better task management.

Create Routines

Establishing daily routines can provide structure and consistency, making it easier to manage your stress levels. Consider implementing morning rituals such as meditation or exercise into your routine, which improve mental well-being.

Maintain Work-Life Balance

It’s essential that you not only to dedicate time towards your business but also dedicate time for your personal life, hobbies, family, and friends. Maintaining this balance helps prevent burnout by giving you space away from work-related stresses.

Leverage Technology

Utilize various tools available today that can streamline processes within your company – saving both time and effort while reducing stressors associated with managing multiple tasks at once. For example, project management tools like Monday or Airtable can help you stay organized and on top of deadlines.

Seek Support

Find a CEO Coach who has lived through all the stresses you are feeling now. They can empathize with you and get to the heart of the issues quickly.

Connecting with Others: Building Healthy Habits and Avoiding Loneliness

By using these techniques, you will be better prepared to confront the unavoidable pressures that accompany being an entrepreneur while minimizing your risk of exhaustion. Remember, chronic workplace stress is recognized by the World Health Organization as a significant health concern for business owners and CEOs alike. Take care of yourself and your business by prioritizing your mental and emotional well-being.

Connecting with Others and Avoiding Loneliness

As a founder, it can be difficult to remain connected due to the many demands of running a business; however, there are strategies that can help one avoid loneliness and build meaningful relationships, such as: 

Finding a Mentor or Coach

Finding a mentor or coach provides an opportunity for one-on-one guidance from someone who has been in your shoes before. A CEO coach can help you navigate challenges while offering insights into how they overcame similar obstacles during their entrepreneurial journey.

Engaging in Online Communities

In this digital era, you can converse regarding different facets of entrepreneurship from the comfort of their own workspace through online communities such as Hacker News, Reddit Startups, or even social media sites like LinkedIn.

Prioritizing Work-Life Balance

Maintaining work-life balance by setting aside time for hobbies, exercise, family activities, or simply taking breaks throughout the day will help combat feelings of isolation while also improving overall well-being.

By actively seeking out connections and support, founders can not only avoid loneliness but also gain valuable insights and advice that will contribute to their company’s success. Chronic workplace stress, also known as founder burnout, affects many business owners and CEOs, and it’s recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization.

Preventing Burnout as a Company Founder

As a company founder, you need to take proactive steps to prevent burnout and maintain your mental health. By implementing the following approaches, you can ensure that you stay motivated and focused on growing your business.

Founders’ Wellness Strategies: Navigating the Journey to Success

  1. Set Realistic Goals: It’s essential to set achievable goals for yourself and your team. Break down larger objectives into smaller tasks so they are more manageable, reducing stress levels in the process. This will also help you monitor progress more effectively.
  2. Delegate Tasks: As a founder, it’s tempting to try and do everything yourself; however, this can quickly lead to burnout. Learn how to delegate responsibilities among your team members based on their strengths and expertise.
  3. Prioritize Self-Care: Ensure that you make time for regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and adequate sleep – all of which contribute significantly towards maintaining good mental health. Recognize that caring for yourself is as significant as looking after your business.
  4. Maintain Work-Life Balance: Establish boundaries between work hours and personal time by setting aside specific times each day or week dedicated solely for relaxation or spending time with family/friends.
  5. Create Support Networks: Connect with other founders through networking events or online forums like Startup Grind. Sharing experiences with others who understand the unique challenges faced by entrepreneurs can provide valuable insights while alleviating feelings of isolation often experienced during the startup journey.

Incorporating these practices into your daily routine will not only help you prevent founder burnout but also improve overall productivity within both your personal life and professional ventures. As business owners, it’s essential to prioritize our mental health and well-being to ensure long-term success.

Strategies Successful Founders Use to Overcome Burnout

To avoid founder burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance, successful founders employ various strategies that have proven effective. By adopting these habits and implementing the following strategies, you can overcome burnout and achieve long-term success.

  • Prioritizing self-care: Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being is crucial for productivity. Make regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep non-negotiable in your daily routine.
  • Setting boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to prevent overworking. Define specific working hours and consider creating a separate workspace at home.
  • Maintaining a support network: Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who understand the challenges of being a business owner. Engage in networking events or join online communities to share experiences and learn from others.
  • Focusing on long-term goals: Keep sight of your company’s vision while breaking it down into achievable milestones. This approach maintains motivation without feeling overwhelmed by daunting tasks.
  • Leveraging delegation: Delegate tasks to team members based on their strengths and expertise. This allows you to focus on strategic decision-making rather than getting caught up in day-to-day operations.
  • Continuous personal growth: Invest in your own development by learning new skills and staying updated with industry trends. Explore resources like podcasts (e.g., Startup Grind Podcast) and blogs (e.g., Y Combinator Blog) for valuable insights and inspiration.

Prioritize your well-being and the success of your business by incorporating these strategies into your daily routine. By doing so, you can effectively overcome burnout and ensure long-lasting success for both yourself and your company.

Founder Burnout FAQ

What is Founder Burnout?

Founder burnout refers to the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion experienced by entrepreneurs who start and manage a business. It often results from excessive stress, long hours, high expectations, and a lack of support or resources. This can lead to reduced productivity, poor decision-making, and even personal health issues.

What Does Founder Burnout Feel Like?

Founder burnout may manifest as constant fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, loss of motivation or passion for the business venture; feelings of hopelessness or being overwhelmed; insomnia; anxiety; depression; neglecting personal relationships and self-care. These symptoms can negatively impact both professional performance and overall well-being.

How Do You Manage Founder Burnout?

To manage founder burnout effectively: prioritize self-care (exercise regularly, practice relaxation techniques, maintain a healthy diet); set realistic goals for your startup; delegate tasks; establish work-life boundaries; connect with other founders; seek mentorship or coaching;

How Do You Prevent Startup Burnout?

To prevent startup burn-out: develop effective time management skills; create a supportive company culture that encourages work-life balance; practice open communication and encourage feedback; set realistic expectations for yourself and your team; learn to say no when necessary; celebrate achievements, big or small.

Conclusion

Founder burnout is a real issue that can affect any CEO or business owner. Recognizing the signs of burnout, managing your stress levels, and avoiding loneliness are all important steps to prevent burnout from taking over your life. It is essential to develop healthy habits and consider hiring a CEO coach to help you stay on track.

Remembering that vanquishing burnout as a founder necessitates time and exertion, but the payback is great for both your mental health and the success of your company. By implementing these strategies and seeking support when needed, you can avoid burning out as a founder and continue to lead with confidence.

Contact an Experienced CEO Coach 

My name is Glenn Gow, CEO Coach. I love coaching CEOs and want to help make you an even better CEO. Let’s decide if we are a fit for each other. Schedule a time to talk with me at calendly.com/glenngow. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

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SUCCESS STORIES

Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

As one of the founders, Janice had created the perfect solution in an exploding market. As her CEO Coach, we worked very hard to create a scalable business model that significantly accelerated revenue growth. This model included geographic expansion, the addition of new product offerings, and stickiness to create repeat business.

This triple revenue-acceleration model not only worked but it attracted the interest of growth investors.

But a growth model wasn't enough. We needed to help Janice become a better CEO. Specifically, we worked on how to manage her board, so their faith in her as the CEO grew as time went on.

For some CEOs, the board can be intimidating. At first, it was for Janice as well. We worked on how to manage the board and get the most out of the board. Ultimately, we turned the board into a strong set of advisors and advocates for Janice as the CEO.

The support and confidence of the existing board was a critical factor in enabling her to raise well over $100M in the next round, increasing the valuation by more than $600M.

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

My CEO client (Darren) was starting a company in a new category. He was focused on raising capital for his business and wanted help crafting his story. Darren is a brilliant CEO, yet he realized he could produce a better story with help from someone who has created successful fundraising stories many times.

When we started working together, his story was overly complex, difficult for investors to understand, and not as strong as it could have been. Together we built a story about the tremendous value the company was creating. We used historical precedent to bolster the vision and mission. We gave investors confidence in the founders. We proved that the company could scale.

Investors are pattern-matchers. They look for the patterns that tell them this opportunity is like other opportunities they’ve seen, giving them a strong belief in the potential ROI. Together, Darren and I constructed a winning story that helped key investors see the patterns of success.

According to Darren, “Glenn gave me the perspective and confidence I needed to succeed.” Darren raised $3 million for his startup company in his first round. Darren has continued to successfully raise money in later rounds as well.

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin was always asking, "How can I help my company grow faster?" She was successful by most measures but had higher growth ambitions.

As her CEO Coach, I helped focus her efforts and energies on an often-overlooked area for many CEOs. This area enables scaling and enables the CEO to manage their team more effectively -- values.

Most CEOs have corporate values but don't use them as the ultimate way to install a belief system - a way for every employee to focus on the most critical issues for the company.

Meilin and I worked on making the values core to the thinking and speaking of the management team. Once the management team adopted these values and started speaking about them in their regular communications, we knew that we were on our way to ensuring that every employee “lived” the values.

While values are not the only thing a company needs to grow fast, they are critical to its success. Meilin's company is now growing over 100%.

Sean Gets It All Done

Sean Gets It All Done

As CEO, Sean had no work-life balance, and he was struggling with the overwhelming responsibilities of being a CEO. One of the biggest challenges of any CEO is to get everything done. The list of critical items seems to grow every day.

As his CEO coach (and as a former CEO), I recognized the stress he was under. That level of stress is no fun. To help Sean become a better CEO, I focused him on delegation, talent development, and balance.

First, we focused on developing Sean's delegation skills. Delegation is the "8th wonder of the world." When you make it work, your workload diminishes, and the company performs at a higher level. As Sean became better at delegating, he also began to see strengths and weaknesses in his leadership team from a different perspective.

The next step was to refresh his leadership team. We created a plan to either develop the ones that could step it up and perform better or find new leadership team members for those that couldn't help the company grow.

Finally, we worked on creating a way of living for Sean that provided him some balance. I tell my CEOs to "put their oxygen mask on first." If a CEO wants to perform at the highest level, they need to take care of themselves first.

Now that Sean has a much better leadership team, he has become a master delegator. By delegating many of the activities he had taken on before, he now has much more time to take care of himself.

Sean's company has now entered a new growth phase. More importantly, he is enjoying his work a lot more and his life a lot more.

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

As a CEO, Viraj was focused on employee retention. He recognized the value of keeping high-performing employees and the high cost of turnover.

One of Viraj's direct reports was one of his "best" employees. This person consistently out-performed against their targets. Within their function, they were a rock star.

However, this same person was toxic to the rest of the organization. They constantly argued with others, and they made most others feel bad about themselves. Viraj found he was spending a great deal of time managing around the toxicity created by this employee.

Viraj valued this person's contributions within their function, and he also really hated the idea of employee turnover. As a result, Viraj put up with this person and continued to work around the toxicity issue.

As Viraj's CEO Coach, I helped him understand that team alignment and team cohesion are critical factors to help the company grow. We agreed that preventing employee turnover is a good goal, but not at the expense of creating a well-functioning team.

Viraj wanted to become a better CEO, and he knew what he had to do. While it was difficult, he decided to fire the person he once thought was his "best" employee.

The first thing he heard from the rest of his direct reports was, "What took you so long?"

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia, my CEO client, is a product genius. She is highly creative, an excellent problem-solver, and knows how to get products out the door on time.

Olivia raised a great deal of money based on her product ideas and some early successes. The challenge was that her company wasn't growing fast enough. The pressure from the investors was building, and she was worried.

Raising a lot of money early is a blessing and a curse. The curse is that Olivia delivered her product too quickly. She delivered it, making too many assumptions about the market she was serving. When the product was released, it was a good fit but not a great fit.

Olivia was concerned about the time and dollars it would take to conduct research and test product-market fit in multiple market segments. We created a partnering strategy that enabled us to test multiple new market segments in a short time.

Olivia has found multiple market segments that are a fit for the product. Now that she has achieved product-market fit, the strategy is to "go big" on the go-to-market. And her company is taking off.

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson was a first-time CEO. The company was doing well, but not quite as well as the board had hoped. Wilson found himself uncomfortable as a minority shareholder working with a board that could fire him if he didn't perform.

Wilson wanted to know how to manage a Board of Directors. The first step was to acknowledge that a board has different measures of success than the CEO. That means there will naturally be tension. The second step was to dig in to deeply understand what the key drivers are for each board member.

Based on this information, Wilson can now address his needs, the company's needs, and the board's needs. That was the first breakthrough.

Once he knew how to address the needs of the board, we turned to address his needs. As Wilson's CEO Coach, I helped him realize that the board is an incredible asset to leverage.

Wilson began to build relationships with the board members individually to understand better how they could be of service to him and the company.

When Wilson works with the board, he is fully aware of their needs and addresses them appropriately. More importantly, he now tells the board what he is doing and relies on their insight and experience for feedback on how to help the company perform at a higher level.

Wilson is no longer concerned about the board and now gets more out of them than ever before.

Darius Solved His Crisis

Darius Solved His Crisis

I got the call at 10 PM on a Thursday. Darius, a CEO client, reached out to me just as I was about to end the day. "Glenn, my Chief Revenue Officer, just resigned, and I'm not sure what to do."

Darius was running a rapidly-growing business that was highly dependent on a well-run sales organization. He had delegated sales responsibility to his Chief Revenue Officer so Darius could focus on engineering and product.

The good news is that Darius didn't relinquish oversight or reporting of sales, just sales execution. It's also true that Darius wasn't in a panic, and we had worked on a plan for the departure of each of his direct reports.

At the moment, though, Darius and I needed to review that plan to ensure it was our best option. We checked whether or not the interim head of sales could genuinely step into the role. We discussed which accounts Darius should immediately nurture relationships with. We agreed that the recruiter we would need was still the right recruiter.

We quickly put together a communication plan on how to bring this news to the leadership team and the rest of the company. We worked on the exact next steps to interact with the interim head of sales, the director of sales operations, and HR.

Darius felt he didn't know what to do, but in actuality, he did. We had prepared for this, and he just needed to talk it through in the heat of the moment so he could execute against the plan immediately.

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