What Leaders are Admitting to Coaches
As I’ve coached individuals and groups of women (and men) through our COVID-19 crisis, clear themes are emerging about how people are feeling.
Over the last five weeks, leaders have been reporting UNCERTAINTY, ANXIETY and FEAR were the initial, primary emotions they experienced most.
People started meeting in crisis-mode. Daily or even more frequent meetings, stand-ups, huddles – anything to connect with each other, share information, determine clear steps – to attempt to make sense of what was happening, to take care of each other, and to clarify key priorities and next steps.
Regular, frequent communication became the norm and many flet called to reach out proactively with an elevated frequency to check-in and be available to help, support, collaborate. Authentic, frequent communication is a best practice that leaders need to be doing all the time and is almost always considered lacking. In times of crisis, it is more important than ever. (Note – it is also important to re-evaluate communication needs regularly so they can be updated and renegotiated based on current needs.)
Crisis-mode is not sustainable.
When asked my most important question, how are you? Many start with “I’m doing ok, healthy, grateful and blessed, working non-stop, creative.” They tell their peers and manager they are having game nights, glad to be with family, and that their dogs are getting walked multiple times a day.
When I ask them again how are you really feeling and doing? It comes pouring out: I’m in quicksand, untethered, my days are running together with no definition, I’m sick of this! I’m tired of my kids. Everyday feels like the day before! I’m sitting at my desk 7 days a week. I miss travel and room service – I have never been home this many days in a row. I’m really struggling.
Leaders are drained, exhausted, isolated, torn in a million directions, reactive, overwhelmed and stressed, unable to find common ground and support. And it simply is not sustainable.
Stress and Conflict are Escalating
According to Bloomberg, those who are working are spending at least 3 hours extra per day working than before. Dual working parents are juggling young kids, single parents are overwhelmed and not feeling they’re doing anything well. Some are experiencing isolation and looking forward to wave at the mailman for human contact. Others are reporting being “trapped with grown kids, extra friends and their dogs, sharing bandwidth and bedrooms with little to no individual space.”
For many, conflict is escalating at work and at home.
I am getting more calls about helping leaders resolve conflicts with others, or helping their team members work through issues than ever before. In most cases, conflict was already brewing pre-Covid. That being said, stressful conditions are surfacing issues more quickly and with more intensity.
What You Can Tangibly Do Right Now
1. CLARIFY PURPOSE
As Simon Sinek famously reminds us, your purpose, your “Why,” is your North Star. It’s what you’re committed to. It drives you. You know what matters most, though it’s rarely what you remember to prioritize first thing in the morning. When we ask leaders the extent to which they actually do what matters most, there is almost always a gap.
One bank executive talked about his organization creating the ability to process PPP funding in less than 72 hours. They translated the dollar amount processed to the equivalent of saving 75,000 jobs, inspiring his leaders and keeping them focused on their purpose.
Most leaders say health and physical well-being are important and yet many are confiding their Covid indulgences in comfort food are taking their toll. By contrast, one CEO declared on March 1 that he was committing to a health regime (the one thing he can control, he admitted) and has since dropped seventeen pounds in less than five weeks.
Another client determined time with her kids was #1 and yet she was working 12+ hours a day 20 feet from them. When she clarified her priorities, she added 30 minute breaks into her calendar, scheduled a daily family lunch break (short ones count on busy days!) and added exercise time back into her routine. Another client decided to “leave work at 6pm.” No matter what. Even if what matters most means you get up or go to sleep earlier, or make other concessions, to make it happen.
2. SHIFT PERSPECTIVE
Perspective is another word for mindset. It is the one thing you can control in any situation, with intention and focus. In times like this, it may require you to manage it everyday, minute by minute, hour by hour. How we are viewing a situation is directly proportional to the kind of experience, life and effectiveness we are able to create. It is so easy to look at the glass half empty right now. Anything and everything around us right now can negatively impact our mindset. It’s a fine line to balance staying informed while not letting numbers and news overwhelm us.
This does not mean ignoring how we feel. On the contrary, we need to make space to feel them. Grief is rampant for us all right now: missing our “old life” – good health, help, routines. Having childcare, going places – to the store, work, school, restaurants. Seeing friends. Exercising. Eating out. Taking the train. Going to a movie. All of it. We are missing people and life as we knew it – loved ones we have lost and are not able to be with, family, friends, communities, local businesses that are closing. It is everywhere and we need to be honest with how we are really feeling about this. Making space to feel these feelings matters, a lot.
Shifting perspective means every single moment we need to be choiceful about how we are viewing a situation. My son’s freshman year in college next year might result in a deferral. We can either see this as the worst news and be angry and feel he’s wasting a year of his life. Or, we can remind ourselves there is some possibility about what he might do instead that will work out, no matter what, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Who chooses how we see it? We do.
Shifting perspective means we get to choose how we choose to view this situation. Looking for the MBO (most benevolent outcome) is the perspective that’s going to make you feel best because you are choosing a perspective that’s true (and authentic) for you and anchoring around it.
3. DROP PERFECTION
A theme I have heard in the last 2 weeks for what leaders need to do for themselves: “give myself grace, let go, adapt my standards, ask for help.” (Hallelujah! This is leadership!) The majority of my clients and colleagues are successful, high performing, (over)-achievers. This has been their winning formula, they have always juggled, managed, said yes and made it work by hard work. But crisis always ups the ante and that may work in sprints, but it does not work in marathons. This crisis is stripping away basic help, and yet leaders are not adjusting what they’re agreeing to in spite of losing almost all support. Some of us are even struggling to get groceries and toilet paper (no joke).
Letting go of perfection is key to moving from being effective managers to inspiring leaders.
The good news – these are the skills needed at all times (not just in crisis). Here is an example of one client’s list of action items:
- Ask for help early & often – Renegotiate deliverables with my manager and team. Problem-solve as a team instead of assuming I need to be responsible
- I don’t need to appear to be perfect – I can share the truth of what is going on
- I don’t need to feel bad if I’m not at 100% – move on and do what I can without beating myself up
- Cut myself slack – schedule time for lunch with my son.
4. RENEGOTIATE PROCESSES
Most processes, systems and structures are out the window. How we work, parent, live, shop, eat, clean – it’s all changed. Form follows function, and identifying anchors for yourself and the people you’re living with will create glimmers of needed certainty.
There is the dual reality of processes changing at work, which many leaders have been tirelessly and heroically doing in hours and days what would have taken them months and years. On the one hand, processes and new ways of working are being created everywhere.
On the other hand, “Groundhog Day ennui” has leaders feeling the tyranny of sameness: days are rolling from one day to the next and people are feeling restless and feeling bored.
Processes to create sanity start with you.
In our BOLD program we call this putting on your oxygen mask first, which is often sorely lacking even in “normal” times. As they say on airplanes, you need to put it on yourself first, and most women, often self-described people-pleasers, focus on putting it on everyone else first (and then wonder why they are burned out, tired, exhausted).
How clear am I about:
- What matters MOST?
- The biggest gap between what I SAY matters and what I’m actually DOING?
- What I can do RIGHT NOW to create 10% more sanity for myself?
If you are wanting and needing more on this topic, join my upcoming webinar, Managing the Chaos: How BOLD Leaders Move From the “Struggle with the Juggle” to Self-Care on May 5th from 1-2pm EDT (email here if you’re interested). My next post will dive into more detail and offer specific examples you can immediately apply about what leaders are doing to help themselves create sanity.
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.
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