Leading through Exhaustion

Harvard Business Review recently put out an article that really got us thinking and did so by starting with the painfully obvious…we’re all exhausted. As 2020 nears a merciful end, it’s hard not to reflect on the stress caused by the vast range of emotions we’ve experienced. From fear (Coronavirus exposure, losing loved ones, economic instability), to confusion (thrust into lockdown, work-from-home, the “unknown” about COVID-19), to hope (stock market boom, employment market recovery) and optimism (Pfizer vaccine was released the week of this article’s writing). But one thing is for certain as we are firmly in the virus’  second wave and patiently awaiting vaccine rollouts in the months to come: we are all dealing with fatigue. Fatigue like boxers feel after going 15 rounds in a heavyweight bout…with Ali…in his prime.

For those of us fortunate enough to retain employment, the work hasn’t stopped, although the mode of delivery may look a bit different than it did previously. What is required of leaders has changed as well. Plenty has been written about leading remotely but we should also focus on how to manage and motivate others when leaders, themselves, are dealing with the same emotions, stress, and fatigue as their direct reports while hunkering down for months on end.

The tactics used during the beginning of the pandemic to engage our teams when constant video calls were still shiny and new, and virtual happy hours were all the rage, are no longer as effective. The HBR article covers some key strategies to combat fatigue in leadership and reach into the reserves for the additional mental stamina required to be effective.

Differentiate what’s Urgent vs. what is Important

While we are all creatures of habit and tend to focus on tactical work during crises, we need to keep an eye on the long-term. The article notes that during high-stress times, we often focus on what’s been flagged as urgent (often crisis-response related), even though it may not be critical in the bigger picture. As the vaccine distribution picks up steam, there will undoubtedly be a period of chaos for many companies to make up for lost time and revenue, so it’s essential to challenge and refocus your teams on activities to ensure they come out as a stronger team/group/company on the other side of this!

Leaders must show Empathy and Compassion, while providing Stability              

Deloitte’s recent 2020 CPO Flash Survey stated that 80% of Chief Procurement Officers found that employee well-being is important to their success in the next 12-18 months. For the reasons covered before and more, leaders need to not only care for their employees’ mental health and show empathy, but also for their own mental wellness. A great way to do this is for leaders to share their own issues and connect with employees through compassion. That said, this must be balanced with the steadying presence of stability. Stability, the article states, comes from setting limits/boundaries, applying the right amount of pressure and ensuring we don’t fall into cycles of self-pity (or quickly rebound from it, if we do). Rather, channel these emotions to become a more productive team!

Keep your team Energized!

Rah-rah speeches don’t cut it anymore, leaders need to find new ways to inspire and energize. Simply put, the key to generating energy to push through “pandemic fatigue” is by keeping work from getting stale and boring! This is where leaders can hone their creativity and earn their keep; HBR lists a few ideas like shortening lengthy video meetings, allowing truthful feedback, developing competitions and celebrating successes. Giving employees the ability to focus on strategic work or brainstorm big ideas will be rewarded with higher engagement.

We are all tired, but that doesn’t mean we can’t persevere through these trying times. With a little rewiring and resiliency, leaders can be successful in building up the stamina required to accomplish their goals while approaching the light at the end of the tunnel!