Today, leaders have more questions than answers. One of the common questions I am hearing from CEO’s, Heads of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development and leaders who lead teams is what can I do to engage and energize my people?
The Reality Your Team is Facing Today
Leaders today are dealing with what one CEO referred to as the “adrenaline of the change.” Neuroscientists call it the “level 3 threat”, that moment of intensity when the animal knows it has been spotted by the lion and runs for its life, or when the mother lifts the car off her child. We are wired to operate at this level for a few moments, not anywhere near the days and weeks some have been operating at over the last month.
This is a marathon, not a sprint, and people are burning out. As one CEO mentioned, there is “a tremendous amount of fragility” throughout the organization, and leaders are feeling deluged, exhausted, and barely able to keep up.
Balance this with team members wanting to be loyal and committed, grateful they have their job or don’t have the virus, so they are not wanting to complain or appear like they can’t keep up. Some have gotten sick and still want to be available. Many are struggling to balance family obligations of caring for young children (especially dual income or single parents) and/or caring for older family members, all without help. Many are also experiencing survivor guilt and grief when their peers and teams have been furloughed or downsized.
The toll on family members is increasingly obvious, and leaders are realizing they can’t keep ignoring them. The level of stress is higher than anyone wants to admit (other than to their partner or coach). Many leaders are admitting deep levels of fatigue, fear, sadness, overwhelm, family chaos and unsustainable stress. Emotions are running higher than ever, making it harder and even more important to show up as centered, powerful leaders.
Working from home is creating a “never leave work” mentality without the usual physical boundaries of leaving the office. The holiday weekend was a welcome respite from the sprint-like pace, giving a much-needed excuse to focus inward and home.
3 Main Challenges Leaders are Facing
In the regular CEO roundtables we are convening, there are three themes leaders are grappling with in managing energy. They want to know how to:
- MANAGE EMOTIONS: The stress of working remotely and managing family responsibilities is different for everyone and especially high for some. Leaders want to know how to support, inspire, maintain energy, make tough decisions with difficult implications, navigate complexity and long-term uncertainty.
- COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY: Communication is needed in various forums, levels, frequency, and tones. Leaders are asking how to strike the right balance and tone between sensitivity and inspiration and how to balance the amount, the messaging and the frequency of communications.
- STAY TOGETHER AS A TEAM: This is literal and emotional: leaders are asking how to keep team members feeling part of the team when they are working remotely, including those on furlough, with some, not all, returning for uncertain amounts of time.
How High Performance Leaders Are Addressing These Challenges
To effectively address the challenges mentioned above, there are 4 key areas you can focus on right now. This list is compiled from multiple conversations and forums with high performing leaders who are sharing what they are doing that is working.
1. Heightening Self-Awareness: Leaders with a high level of self-awareness are consistently focusing on how they are feeling, what their natural derailers are, and remembering to self-regulate. This is akin to looking in the mirror and being real with your own thoughts, feelings, and needs and this is harder under stress with constant big decisions. When you work on yourself, you change the environment in your team.
- The CEO who knows he needs to regulate the speed of his voice because he can be too intense and move too fast.
- The CEO whose natural style is to coach and empower, who needs to be directive and clear without sacrificing relationships and alignment.
- The leader who thinks she’s holding it all together and doing what’s needed and realizes she’s stressed, reactive and reverted to doing it all herself.
2. Increased Vulnerability: One of the silver linings of this crisis is that leaders realize they have to get real and authentic. To quote Brené Brown, Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, change. This creates real connection, and team members can then focus on the real business issues. Leaders modeling this are reporting results such as: “my organization has never been more productive and collaborative.”
- The CEO who was carrying the weight of the organization on his back, and admitted this to his leadership team and asked for help.
- The usual formal, guarded CEO who made the Tik-tok video with his wife and kids, with him being human as the silly dad, dancing out of sync and having fun (and sharing it with his organization).
- The CEO whose Leadership Team meetings were all about the “what” (business and deliverables) and now starts every meeting with the “how” (a check-in, to get to know each other and find out how people are feeling and what’s on their mind).
3. “Just Right” Communication: What we call the “Goldilocks Phenomenon” in the BOLD research applies here: not too much, not too little, just enough communication. Getting it right requires contracting with your team to find the balance. Most are erring on over-communicating and acknowledging where people are.
- Frequent: Leaders are addressing frequency of how often they are meeting and communicating with their leadership teams and greater organization. They are having daily huddles at the beginning and/or end of day; holding Monday meetups, hosting Friday all hands meetings, Friday afternoon happy hours, etc. The key is to contract with the team to determine how the frequency is working. Many are overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings, especially the constant video-based communication. (Look for a future post on managing “meeting-based video fatigue”).
- Transparent: Leaders are erring on the side of honest communication about business and health conditions, balancing both practical and emotional needs. They are creating channels to maintain real-time updates, and information on the competitive landscape. They are including check-in time to get to know each other as humans: introducing pets or a family member, showing the view of their makeshift offices, sharing a current book or board game, laughing about the last time they left the house in their car.
- Practical: The antidote to uncertainty is clarity and facts. Many are providing tangible, data-based information either themselves or by bringing in experts who can explain key facts. Many are surprised at how helpful current information is for settling uncertainty.
4. Structure: Most companies are continually reprioritizing priorities. It is vital everyone is clear about the new objectives and has a line of sight to their personal goals and accountabilities. Leaders are using language like the “old normal, new normal, future normal” or we need to “react, regroup, or refresh, or this is what we are doing to “play defense and prep for offense.”
- For some, they are focused short-term, measured in weeks. Others are focusing on the next 2-3 months.
- Leaders are mobilizing teams to focus post-crisis “on green shoots of optimism”, creating multiple contingency plans based on possible future scenarios.
- At the most basic level of structure, leaders are helping their teams identify what a “normal” day or week looks like. They are helping people organize their time and clarify tangible deliverables and accountabilities.
- Some are leveraging the crisis by cross-training and developing people either in new jobs, tasks or skills. High performing teams are particularly focusing on their alignment and how effectively they are functioning, which is more critical than ever. For a simple team meeting agenda to lead a team check in click here (and scroll to the bottom of the post).
None of these are “new” areas for leaders to focus. In fact, they are core tenets of high performance that many of our clients have been practicing since they committed to build high performance leadership, teams and the organization.
However, the difference now is these are no longer optional.
What is the extent to which I am managing the tightrope of:
- Being authentic and decisive?
- Communicating to create connection and clarity?
- Creating alignment that allows for empowerment and structure?
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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