Are you in a leadership slump? Five things to revive yourself

Focus on being honest and ask for help, consider a sabbatical and trust yourself

Reading Time: 4 minutes

David FullerI bumped into Julie’s father at the grocery store and asked how his daughter’s business was doing. He told me she was going through a rough patch, so I called Julie.

The first thing I noticed was Julie’s voice: the excitement was gone, and her energy seemed depleted. She told me about everything that was going wrong, including dropping sales and a lack of customers. Over the past few months, she said she felt defeated. She felt like she was losing but didn’t know why.

Julie was in a slump.

Having worked with leaders and top performers in business and sport, it’s apparent that each of us has times in our careers when we get into a slump. There are many reasons for slumps, including emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual or economic factors. Slumps happen when we feel we can’t make shots, sales or lead our teams effectively.

As a manager or coach, it can be frustrating when we see one of our team in a slump, but we recognize that people can’t be at the top of their game all the time. We’ve all been through dry spells in our performance.

Here are five things you can do if you’re in a slump:

Mini reset

Often we’re in a slump because we’ve lost focus on our purpose. We’ve forgotten the love we have for what we do.

Click here to downloadAs a result, we let external factors dictate how we feel or think. We end up putting too much energy into worrying about factors beyond our control.

Julie was more focused on customers who had left for economic reasons than focusing on the prospects walking right by her establishment every day.

Sometimes a mini reset – where we take the time to contemplate why we do our job – is all we need. A mini reset can enable us to regain our purpose in order to meet our obligations, whether they be payroll, lease payments, or our commitments to family or our team.

Often a mini reset can be all the difference we need to get back on our game.

Focus on three essentials

Leaders and athletes in a slump can take for granted the focus and hard work it took to achieve a high level of performance. Over time, we can become sloppy and let bad habits get in the way of our desired outcomes. When this happens, we need to get back to the essential factors of our success.

What are the two or three things that drove our success in the first place that we need to do regularly?

In Julie’s case, her success was built on the effort she put into attracting new customers. She spent time training her team to listen closely to customers, and she was creative in fashioning an experience for people walking into her business.

As we discussed this, she realized she had been putting less effort into these factors than in the past.

A basketball player I worked with recently felt she was in a slump. So she focused on her follow-through, her leg work and practising her shot. Reflecting on your previous success and the factors that enabled you to get to where you are can inspire you to get back to the basics and on track.

Be honest and ask for help

It’s amazing how our teams rally around and support us when we show our weakness as leaders.

Recently I needed time off because of a family illness. When I said I couldn’t do everything expected of me, friends, family and staff rallied to help.

Admitting you’re in a slump and need help will probably inspire your team to rally to your aid. Moreover, when you verbalize the challenges, you will often be surprised to hear that those around you have already recognized that you’re at a low point and want to help.

Consider a sabbatical

In 1994, I told my partner I was taking a break from our business and booked six months off to travel the world. I came back refreshed and revitalized, and the business grew astronomically upon my return.

Sabbaticals are a great way to overcome major slumps in your career.

More advice on running your business

In 1998, Michael Jordan took an 18-month sabbatical from his basketball career. He came back to add a string of championships and records in the years that followed.

Typically, a sabbatical is an extended leave from your job or business to refresh and revitalize. Most sabbaticals range from six months to a year, and in some professions like academia they’re granted every seven years.

Unfortunately, in leadership, we believe we’re expected to work throughout our career without any extended break. This often leads to professional burnout.

If you’re in a slump, consider this option seriously.

Trust yourself – be patient

Your first professional slump can be confusing. It’s impossible to perform at high levels continuously. However, once you’ve gone through a dry spell, you will recognize that slumps are a natural part of life. 

As professionals, we need to be gentle with ourselves when we struggle. We also need to be patient. Often when we try to force our return to high levels, we become frustrated at our lack of results.

This doesn’t mean we should give up. Instead, we often have to go through the process and trust that we have what it takes to return to success. The trust and patience we place will be rewarded in time if we give time a chance.

If you’re in a slump, I feel for you. Having experienced a number of slumps at personal and professional levels, I know you will get through this and be better off for it.

Slumps are just one more bump in the school of hard knocks. Learning how to get through them will make you a better leader and a better person.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. In a slump? Tell Dave about it for a quick email response. dave@pivotleader.com. For interview requests, click here.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the authors’ alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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