In recent conversation with leaders, five common themes present:
- Feeling ‘exhausted’, ‘flat’ and ‘tired’
- Concern about their people’s state of wellbeing
- Anxiety over an uncertain future – economic, conflict, climate, covid, etc.
- Struggle to overcome daily grind and develop vision for the future
- Unsure how to reconnect and re-engage with purpose and passion
Who and how in fluid transitions?
What Alec Ross calls the Raging 2020s are upon us. While government, business and citizens face messy, uncertain transitions, leaders have been stuck behind their computers at home. In fact, most of humanity has been in a kind of solitary confinement – the worst form of torture – for eighteen months. Many are still locked down.
In times of threat and confusion, leadership is urgent. Yet, those leaders who could step up to the challenge are anxious, frustrated, and exhausted. What we need is courage, love, and enthusiasm for a hopeful and realistic vision.
McKinsey & Co have released an excellent article on building the new employee experience. Alec Ross describes the economic, political, and public risks. Azeem Azhar talks about the exponential nature of our times. Together, they scope out the emergent future and what is required from leadership.
The purpose of this article is to craft a practical plan for leaders to step back into the fray and find a way to reconnect their people and stakeholders with a meaningful vision. These practical steps suggest how you might rise to the challenge.
Understandably, many are feeling flat. Politicians and media have launched a sustained fear attack – alarming, threatening, and dominating. Fear gives way to frustration. Some act out in rage. Confronted by the futility of resistance, we simply submit and resign. This sustained freeze response is dangerous. It causes your fatigue and exhaustion. Unresolved one can sink into depression.
Effectively, you have hit the bottom of your resilience spiral. Bounce with determination and discipline. It can overwhelm you and your leadership team.
First, accept it, name it and bounce by reaching out to trusted connections. This may be your exercise, sleep, or meditation/prayer regime. Often, it is faster to talk it through with candour and courage. Reach out to a coach, respected family or even your colleagues. If concerned, see you doctor.
Second, establish a daily rhythm that allows you to engage fully, rest adequately and fill your resilience tank – physical, emotional, and mental. Include in this rhythm social connection with those who matter. Walk and talk, meet outside or have virtual coffee (or other).
Healing begins by deliberately getting your leadership team together on a regular basis. Some high functioning teams are meeting daily to secure this connection. Weekly is the minimum. Check how each executive is travelling. The CEO’s primary responsibility is to secure the capacity of the executive team to take the next step.
The second priority is to allocate time to building a vision and a plan to create the future. It is easy to be overwhelmed by noise. Keep reactive work to a separate meeting. The primary job of leadership is to articulate a vision, demonstrate a reasonable plan and give your people hope. Even if you get it wrong, this is far preferable to leaving your people wallowing in uncertainty.
2. Concern for People
You should be concerned about your people. If leaders are exhausted, imagine how others feel? Be aware of clusters. Some may be mastering the new world of work. A majority are wrestling with the challenge. A few are in trouble. You have a duty of care to know where the strengths and risks are.
Leaders support teams. To do this, you will need strong empathy muscles. First, you must be able to hold your altitude to connect effectively. Empathy takes energy. You cannot connect if you are exhausted, frustrated, or anxious. Prepare yourself before each day and each interaction to make sure that you radiate this strength to others. We call it presence.
Second, be deliberate and rhythmic in creating time to reach out to your people. Ask them how they are travelling. By asking about their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing, you show that you care. This has never been more important. Some leaders make it a daily discipline to call in with each of their team. Get this in your diary. It should be so rhythmic that they are expecting your call. Show interest, ask questions, hear them out, and share you own experience with humility and honesty.
It is the leader’s job to model these personal connections. Make sure that your leadership team is checking in with each of their team members. If you have the time and resources, a diagnostic that gives individual feedback and allows you to see the aggregate data is recommended.
3. Moving into the Unknown
Yes, the future looks bumpy and that is exactly when leaders rise to the challenge. As the Navy Seals say, relax, look around, decide, and execute. Master your tactical calm practice. Choose your words carefully. Be specific about what your organisation is doing to lean into the unknown. Make it more than shareholder wealth. Give your initiatives purpose, nobility, and compassion.
Don’t underestimate the importance of describing this journey. When we link purpose, nobility and compassion, we engage the very best of the human state. Strong positive emotion becomes a fuel for momentum. Simon Sinek says it well here.
Walk the line between individual and organisational responsibility with wisdom. Neither blame nor abdication will serve us. The individual is responsible to ensure they front up as a good version of themselves. The organisation is responsible for guiding, resourcing and enabling self and team development.
4. Lead Forward
After the long haul of Covid, it is easy to surrender to limbo and allow you and your team to wrestle with the daily grind. Your job is to generate hope for a better future. Grinding lockdowns have destroyed hope. To generate hope, you must articulate a vision, demonstrate the plan, and beat the drums to engage action.
Every day, delegate the daily grind to managers and build your space to lead. Connecting with your people and strategic action should consume 50% of your day. No less.
5. Reconnect and Re-energise
Testing times call for courageous leadership
Take excellent care of yourself – fatigue, apathy, and exhaustion are not options
Take good care of your team and make sure they care for their teams
Connect regularly with your people and demonstrate empathy
Delegate the grind and allocate 50% of your time to strategy and people
Articulate your plans with clear vision and enthusiasm
Generate hope. It is ok to get it wrong.
Exponential, Azeem Azhar, 2021
The Raging 2020s, Alec Ross, 2021
McKinsey & Company, Employee Experience.