Written by: Iliana Rocha, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise
Over the last couple of months, we’ve all had to make adjustments to our daily lives: from how we manage our personal relationships in the age of COVID, to how we lead our teams in these uncertain times. Many believe that leadership is something you are born with; I believe in a growth mindset – that is, you can learn to be the best leader you possibly can be. And therefore, you can learn how to lead your teams in this ever-challenging business environment. Below are three tips on how you can navigate the mid-pandemic leadership world:
1. Lead yourself! You can’t pour from an empty glass, so you need to first learn how to be kind to and lead yourself, or you will burn out trying to support your team. It all starts with assessing your own emotions and reactions to the uncertainties you are facing these days. When you feel less-than-resilient or depleted, pushing through only works for so long. Acknowledge your emotions, but don’t let them get the best of you. One way to do that is to imagine that someone else is listening in on your internal conversation. What would they tell you or advise you to do? Considering this outward perspective allows you to look at the situation more clinically and feel less overwhelmed by your (understandable) feelings.
Use this inner monologue to create a plan of action. Some things to consider:
How can you manage these feelings going forward? You can’t ignore them and the thoughts they bring about. You can, however, learn to manage them. The next time you feel that panic or overwhelm build, recognize it, acknowledge the thought, but rather than dwelling on it, find a constructive activity to replace it with. You have to take the time to destress, whatever that looks like for you, whether it is reading a book, going for a walk, or playing with your child or pet.
How will you make sure you remain productive? You are a leader, and it is very difficult for leaders to disconnect from the job demands fully. Despite the fact that we are all aware of the detrimental effects of these uncertain times on productivity, our bosses and bosses’ bosses still have certain expectations and deliverables. Therefore, when feeling overwhelmed, focus on the highest value items that you need to deliver. A sense of accomplishment will improve your sense of well-being. Work with your own leader to moderate expectations and negotiate more realistic deadlines when necessary.
How will you maintain a consistent schedule? Humans, by and large, are creatures of habit, and predictability gives us a sense of comfort. Try as best as you can to maintain a consistent schedule, which will bring back a sense of normalcy.
2. Lead your team! If you have established good working and interpersonal relationships with your team members, they will likely lean on and confide in you about the challenges that they are facing. Realizing that the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing are likely similar to those, your team members are experiencing can lead to a certain sense of camaraderie. Below are some suggestions of how you can build on this:
Be open with them about how you are feeling and share how you take care of yourself to maintain resiliency.
Work with your team members to identify strategies and tactics that can help them do the same.
Encourage team members to provide support to other team members as well. You don’t need to be the sole owner of the team’s well-being. Openly sharing different approaches would generate ideas that one person simply cannot generate on their own.
And most importantly, listen to them and adjust. There will be some who will be very open about their struggles and would openly discuss them and solicit advice. Others will be more private and keep their challenges to themselves. You need to understand each team member's needs and provide tailored support and leadership to see them through this.
3. Take small steps! You can help minimize the uncertainty and fear of failure at work. The reality is that, in times of uncertainty, people have a hard time planning for the future, feel overwhelmed when they have to look to the distant horizon, and the fear of failure becomes amplified. You can’t control everything, but you can control how you approach your team’s work. Here are some tips that you can leverage to do just that:
Wherever possible, don’t ask your teams to plan out work for the medium and long term. That doesn’t mean that you can’t set targets for major deliverables months out. However, don’t ask for a commitment to a plan right now. Help team members identify the first couple of steps and assign timelines for them. This will make the task feel more manageable. Let them know that once these first steps are completed, together, you can evaluate the progress, and adjust accordingly for the next incremental deliverables.
Explicitly prioritize the overall work of your team. Remember, there will be days when productivity will suffer. Making it easier for the team to know what the highest value items are removed a major stressor from their plates. That way, they don’t have to think about how to add value on days when they feel overwhelmed.
Now, more than ever, you have to be consistently there for your team members. I used to be very busy at work and quite often had to move one-on-ones and other meetings. I am much stricter with myself these days to make sure I am there for my team. It is important for them to know they can rely on you, especially if the meetings were to answer questions they have on how to move their work forward. However, if you are having a “bad” day when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, be honest! Let them know how you are feeling and ask them if there is another way to help them out until you are ready to meet. For example, can they send you their questions in an email format that you can respond at your own pace and on your own time?
So, here are the major takeaways - if you are in a constant state of burnout, it is likely your employees will interpret your behavior in a way that implies that overworking = being successful. And then they will also be burnt out, and a team of burnt-out people won’t get you very far. You need to model behaviors that demonstrate a focus on working smartly and taking care of your physical and mental health.
I know this sounds difficult. You are likely reading this because you are facing challenges in your business, and as a business owner or leader, you are struggling with how to address those. Our instincts are usually to persevere and just keep at it, hoping for different results, but that is not going to work. More often than not, taking a break, looking for information and expertise on solving challenges, inviting team feedback, and trying out different ways of doing things is how you get past the hurdle.
Iliana Rocha, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Iliana Rocha is a senior business leader with extensive consulting and coaching experience in all things business. Iliana has been working hand-in-hand with businesses in optimizing their strategy and operations, and is now President & Lead Coach at Clubnet Solutions Inc. Her focus is on working with entrepreneurs and small business owners on scaling and transforming their businesses profitably. She is in the process of publishing her first book: Level Up! Low Hanging Fruit to Instantly Improve Your Small Business. Iliana holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Ryerson University, a post-graduate certificate in Strategic Relationship Management from George Brown College, and a Bachelor of Commerce and Finance, with a Major in Economics from the University of Toronto. She is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), a certified Agile Coach (ICP-ACC), and is in the process of receiving an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certification as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC).