Leaders, Don’t Get Numb

When did you go from being burned out to being numb?

How long did it take to digress from burned out to numb?

Did he just get numb and stop caring?

Those are questions I have asked in conversations with leaders, and those alongside them, who have taken themselves out of leading or have been asked to stop leading for a season. In each instance, those in the conversation understood the distinction between being “burned out” and being “numb.” It did not require a lot of explanation because we have seen the pain and danger of numbness in leadership.

I am not a medical doctor, counselor, or psychologist, so I am not writing from that vantage point. I am grateful for those disciplines and am sure they could offer a more thorough perspective. I am writing from the vantage point of a friend or colleague.

In those conversations, we have understood “burned out” to be a phase describing leaders who are just very tired, even exhausted. The pressures and pace of leading can take a toll. And without regular rest and caring for our own soul, exhaustion in leadership is inevitable. Some leaders, when they are burned out, wisely stop. They ask for help or accept the help from godly friends who offer it. They take time to rest. They work on self instead of working on everyone else.

Other leaders attempt to push through the stage of being burned out. They work harder and longer because it takes more and more work to accomplish the same tasks when you are exhausted. They keep pushing. They grow more isolated because they are in pain. They keep fighting because at other times in their leadership, they were able to fight their way through painful seasons. Only this time is different. This time it is not a painful season they are attempting to persevere through but a season where they are exhausted and unhealthy. And persevering in unhealthy patterns is never healthy. Instead of crying for help when they are burned out, they keep pushing. And in time, they grow numb.

When a leader is numb, the leader stops caring. The leader is no longer only physically exhausted; the leader is now mentally, spiritually, and emotionally numb. Passion has dissipated. Concern has ceased. Emotions, heart, passion, and care are all just numbed.

So how long does it take to go from being burned out to being numb?

I have asked that question dozens of times over the last two years, and the answers vary. But leaders who have lived and seen it know that it happens. And the best counsel I could give would be to cry for help when you are burned out. Don’t keep pushing. Don’t get numb.