This is the first question being asked in most meetings these days. The most common responses in public meetings aren’t telling the full story.
Most people want to be positive and upbeat so they say things like “we are doing pretty well and are grateful. We are healthy, employed, have enough food, have more time with family”, etc.
That isn’t telling the whole story. I have been encouraging my clients to answer for real, and to ask their team members “No, really, how are you?” because they know their team members are struggling more than they are letting on.
Here are some direct quotes I have heard from leaders about how they really are:
- Reactive: have no control or boundaries, working around the clock with no clear “off” time, stuck in my chair, feeling trapped on video, pulled in a million directions in the chaos
- Overwhelmed from multiple competing urgent priorities from different stakeholders who all think everything is critical right now
- Feeling constantly interrupted, distracted, unable to focus
- On the edge, riding the daily (or hourly) ups and downs, ending days in tears when I’m not even a “cryer”
- Constantly “on” – I lost my commute time between meetings; I have earlier mornings and later nights while I’m juggling being a 2nd and 6th grade teacher
- Absorbing the news, disappointed about not returning to the office in the near-term and wondering how I’ll manage this with young kids
- Sad and grieving a co-worker who just passed – I didn’t realize this until I slowed down
- Jealous of the neighbors having their cocktails at 4pm while being grateful to have a job
- Guilty: working too much or losing it with my kids – we are learning how to apologize and forgive
- Worried about my team: not sure how to motivate them, to help certain members who are significantly struggling, how to maintain momentum given there is so much work and we are so lean
- Anxious about dealing with conflict with a team member
- Drifting: untethered to a physical location, moving in sand
- Excited to (finally) create work/life integration and demonstrate we can work virtually, appreciating time with my family
Clearly, we are in times of unprecedented disruption and stress. In the BOLD research we conducted in pre-pandemic times, the “Struggle with the Juggle” between balancing work and life was one of the top 3 challenges already. Today it has heightened to extreme proportions for both men and women.
It’s not an either / or: many are seeing the challenges and also the gifts. Below are several of many examples of changes occurring:
- Companies are integrating faster in 8 weeks than years of work to create one company culture
- Teams are collaborating cross-functionally among themselves and with key partners in many cases more than ever
- New ideas and processes are being innovated and implemented that would never have happened
- Boundaries between work and life are dropping, and leaders are being authentic and showing their true selves more than ever before
- Leaders have examples of developing trusting relationships with key stakeholders in days and weeks that would have taken years, if ever, to happen
- Some leaders are integrating work and life with family members and exercise in innovative and creative ways.
- Working from home (before often associated with lower productivity) has now been proven to be a viable alternative.
Where to Start
As time goes on, emotions are becoming increasingly fragile. We aren’t designed to do a marathon at a sprint-like pace. Stress is high, conflict is rampant and many are admitting (at least privately) to “not being my best self” and to behaviors and actions they would redo if they could.
So…first things first:
Step 1: Slow Down: One of the benefits people mention about coaching is that it gives them time to slow down, pause, think and feel. In other words, they get present with how they are really feeling. You can’t do this when you’re triple booked, and in a reactive state.
Finding a space and place you can do this – with a coach, on a walk by yourself, listening to music, journaling, getting on a yoga mat etc. – wherever you can stop and pause so you can start to listen is the first step. We are a society used to defining itself by being busy, fast, and in constant motion. When we slow down because we are literally forced to stay home, we can still stay busy in our own homes and heads until we make a choice to slow down on the inside, too.
While this is counterintuitive when there is so much to do, if you take space for yourself, you will achieve more. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast, says a colleague of mine. Taking space will allow you to show up as you intend, allowing your brain (and energy) to reset. It can be as simple as five minutes of breathing. Petting the dog. Taking a ten minute power nap. Coloring with your child. Washing the dishes for 5 minutes. Anything that takes you off the treadmill, momentarily.
Step 2: Get Real: Many people don’t like to slow down because they get real with how they’re really doing. They notice the thoughts and feelings they’re having and for many, this is uncomfortable. It takes courage to feel the fullness of grief, overwhelm, sadness (or even guilty joy of how much they’re enjoying their situation) – whatever is below the surface.
It doesn’t have to happen all at once. My son told me that he knows he has feelings about a distant family member’s recent passing, and he also has AP exams and end of year finals. He astutely mentioned that he knows he needs to grieve, and he will give it the time and space it deserves when he gets through the next two weeks. Recognizing what he needs and what he can juggle is managing feelings and being realistic about how much he can handle at once.
Another leader “hit the wall” (her words) in one of our meetings and didn’t realize the extent to which the stress, anxiety and overwhelm was getting to her until she started talking. Getting past the “I’m fine, really” stage and getting real with yourself is key. It’s akin to an emotional cost-benefit analysis, tallying up (aka feeling) the true costs and realizing how big or small they really are. Once she got real, she was able to step back, make changes, and is now back to being productive and feeling more like herself again.
Step 3: Step Back: Once we pause and realize what’s really going on, it’s the perfect time for the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee (link to the article here) to take over. In other words, all those voices telling you that “You should have” or “you need to” can take the wheel. You might have an active inner superhero justify why it’s temporary, you’ll get through it, you are strong, this isn’t as hard as you’re making it, blah blah blah.
Or maybe your inner people pleaser wants to compare yourself to others and remind you how much better you have it than others, that you could actually be doing more and what are you complaining about, anyway?
Or, maybe you have the inner overachiever who wants to make the most of the time and learn guitar while you’re home, clean out your closets, be a better 2nd grade teacher, volunteer in the community, blah blah blah.
To find out more about Quieting Your Itty Bitty Shitty Committee, click here.
Whatever voice is speaking loudest to you, it will likely encourage you to move on, keep going, and not do much differently.
Unless you step back. And pause. And reflect. And ask:
“What do I want? What do I need?”
For real. What would make the biggest difference? And then start with a baby step.
For me, I am drawing a boundary around work on the weekends. I am blocking out my calendar, renegotiating with team members and clients and listening to my inner coach and guide. Listening to the wise one whispering to me what I have known all along (that, and a good conversation with my own coach).
Here’s the Truth
Deep inside, we know how we’re feeling and we know what we want. That’s the place to start and to boldly listen and step back as if we were listening to our child, our sister, or a best friend – someone we deeply love. When we treat ourselves with that kind of respect and care, it’s the first step in creating the freedom and power to “rightsize” what might feel like a drowning crew on a sinking ship.
In the next post we will look at the next key steps after stepping back about what you can literally do to create space, freedom and boundaries that will ensure your own personal sustainability in this marathon of marathons. Stay tuned!
- When was the last time you slowed down and checked in with yourself?
- “How am I, really?” Take three deep breaths. What is your real answer?
- If you were to step back as your best friend – what advice would you give yourself for what you need most, right now?
Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to connect about what you need most or, to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours in practice,
If you are interested in exploring whether we are a good fit to help you and your organization, contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.
Want to Build More Trust on Your Team?
Download The Leader’s Roadmap Trust Tool