The Exhausted Leader

The Exhausted Leader

I work with a lot of type-A personalities and my day is regularly filled with exhausted people. We all know that experiencing occasional stress can act as a motivator and provide energy boosts that help encourage creative energy and a strong passion to succeed. But un-managed, stress can become toxic especially during times of crisis. Unfortunately, in some quarters exhaustion has become a symbol of virility. That is to say, it has become synonymous with toughness.

I was recently having dinner with a client who bragged that he had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before. I felt like saying to him, “You know what? If you had gotten five or six hours, you might not have needed this conversation with me.” I didn’t say that, but it is certainly possible. There are a number of issues with trying to work through exhaustion. We’ll address them point by point.


Some of my clients experience a kind of exhaustion one-upmanship. It is not uncommon in the business world to suggest scheduling a business meeting, “How about eight o’clock?” and hear back, “Eight o’clock is too late for me, but I can do it, tell you what, I’ll get a game of tennis in and do a conference call and meet you at eight.” They are trying to tell you that they are incredibly busy and productive. The truth is they are busy, but they are not being productive. Look around you at this very moment; we have brilliant people in business, finance, and politics, making terrible decisions. It isn’t because they’re not brilliant people

The result of all this is a reduction in their ‘Cognitive Skills.’ Cognitive skills are the ability to learn and reason. These skills are an entrepreneur’s greatest asset. When experiencing exhaustion, people often experience:

Weakened Memory
Lack of Focus
Lack of Concentration
In this state of reduced cognitive skills, even the simplest of decisions can become monumental tasks.


Exhaustion is not just a physical state; it also has a neurological impact on our emotional well-being. No longer finding the joy in life, feeling worn out and upset all the time are a few of the symptoms of exhaustion. This is what living in the ‘gray area’ of life look likes. Face it, a high I.Q. does not help you to be an effective leader if you are too exhausted to notice the iceberg looming on the horizon. Effective decision-making stems from the ability to view situations from multiple perspectives and reason them out with the right balance of emotional intelligence, logic, and aggressive action.

Exhaustion negatively impacts emotional intelligence, resulting in:

Quick decision making without having all the information
Misunderstanding of the information provided
Making unintended biased decisions
Failure to recognize impending consequences
When to take action and when to let the event pass you by is often a decision where you need all of your logical and emotional skills at full strength, rather than running at half power as they are when you are exhausted.


Exhaustion clouds the mind making it difficult to be a proactive leader. Emotional outbursts encourage reactive decision-making, leading quickly to a negative work culture. Proactive decisions are made most effectively when the mind is clear and able to process information logically.

Reactive and emotional decisions often lead to:

Increased stress levels
Feelings of powerlessness
Failure to adapt when the unpredictable occurs
Thinking in absolutes (black and white thinking)
When you are busy being hyper-connected and exhausted, you won’t notice the iceberg, you won’t see the big picture. And isn’t success so often about seeing the big picture at just the right time?


As a life coach, my responsibility is to help you avoid the gray area of life by encouraging rest and working alongside you. This is aimed at discovering the best way for you to conquer exhaustion.

Mary Oliver wrote, “…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It turns out that what is good for us on a personal and professional level, what’s going to bring more joy, gratitude, effectiveness in our lives and be the best for our own careers is also what is best for the world.

Frank Hopkins is a certified Professional Coach (CPC) and certified by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). He is a certified Master Practitioner (ELI-MP) of the iPEC proprietary assessment tool, the Energy Leadership Index and offers seminars on Energy Leadership. He maintains memberships in the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Institute of Coaching (ICPA).