Leadership is shouldering the responsibility for more than your own share of the load. Leadership means others look to you to make decisions, to provide guidance, to inspire and to make the tough calls. It’s a complicated and often heavy burden to bear. Leading through a global pandemic? It’s unlikely that particular job advert would have garnered many responses. But here you are and you need to do the best you can. Leading through uncertainty, unknowns, unpredictability – basically anything beginning with an ‘un’ is adding to the complexity of the changes and adjustments we are all trying to make. So, how do we do it?
People often talk about change fatigue and the pace of change and no matter how good you are at leading change the challenges we are facing are about not knowing. You may be competent and willing to apply the principles of change management but the problem is that we don’t necessarily know what the change is. The pace of change is faster than we have ever experienced before. We have no point of reference. We have no-one to call upon and draw experience from. Change is happening daily, we are overwhelmed with ambiguity plus there are no concrete endpoints. The goal posts keep moving.
When this isn’t the job you signed up for
Unknowns trigger the stress response. If you’ve noticed a lack of concentration or you’ve been particularly tired recently this is the brain reacting and instinctively going into survival mode. There is a physiological response that happens such as a rise or fall in adrenaline and cortisol levels. We may not consciously feel stressed but all of this is happening in the background and the ripple effect is becoming too much for some.
Lots of sales teams are really struggling. This is not the job they signed up for. Many are accepting that they are going to be in a virtual selling mode for the foreseeable future. But many teams are hanging onto a ‘if I just knew how long this would go on for then I would be able to cope’ mentality. There is definitely a common theme about needing to have certainty. If only we could see the finishing line! Unfortunately we can’t and we need to come to terms with that.
Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable
As a global community we have just been through a societal, environmental and economic trauma. It’s worth looking at the cycle of recovery after trauma to illustrate just how big an impact this global pandemic is having. Just in case you were trying to kid yourself or you were in denial. The first stage of life after trauma is safety and stabilisation. Lockdown ended in July and some aspects of life began to return to normal. Fast forward to September, the government announces we are in the worst recession ever and local areas are going back into local lockdowns. There is no safety or stabilisation. Some of us spent lockdown in the second stage, remembrance and mourning. We missed our families, our friends, our lives. The final stage is reconnection and integration. Some businesses are trying to reconnect. Zoom has become a major feature of daily life. We are mentally fatigued and emotionally exhausted.
Many chime about controlling the controllables but if that is your only strategy you can quickly fall into unhealthy behaviours and start trying to control everything including the uncontrollables.
Making friends with uncertainty
When you’re leading other people it’s important to check in with how you’re feeling and deal with this first. Here’s how you can get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
- Self awareness – Get to know yourself and your fear triggers. What specifically are you fearful about? What are the stories you are telling yourself?
- Stay in the messy bit in the middle and practise equanimity. Life isn’t black and white and the 50 shades of grey can be a great lesson for adapting to change.
- Why is this happening for me and not to me? is a great way to reframe if you slip into a poor me mindset? How can you find the growth in the situation? It may not have been your chosen lesson, it’s here all the same.
- Sit with the struggle and know you’ve got this. You have dealt with (and survived) uncertainty and unknowns before and you are still here. What can you draw upon to encourage and coach yourself through this phase?
- Look at what has remained the same. In times like this it is easier to spiral into focussing on everything that has changed when actually there are so many things that remain unchanged. This can help to anchor you to find a way forward.
- Self compassion is key. Despite looking at some of the ways through, it is also important to acknowledge that what you are feeling is real for you. And it’s OK.
What can you do to be a better leader?
A better leader in this context means a leader who isn’t burying their head in the sand. They are noticing how they feel. They are taking care of their own stuff. They are not nose diving into burnout. If you’re a leader you first have to be fit to lead.
Is it clear that your team isn’t coping? Are they struggling to process the constant change and uncertainty? Are they looking to you, their leader, for clarity, to ‘make it better’ but you can’t or don’t know how?
Maybe you don’t have anywhere to take your own fears about the obvious challenges and you find yourself inadvertently passing on/projecting your own fears. Do you feel like you should have all the answers? Are you worried you don’t have the skills or capabilities to lead with the ‘not knowing’?
No-one should underestimate how difficult things are for leaders, least of all the leaders themselves. As well as having to process all your own stuff, you are experiencing everything your teams are worried about, the future, the targets you need to hit, the security of your job. I could go on. That’s a huge burden to bear alone. If you have any hope of helping your team you need to help yourself first. Like they tell you on the aeroplane, put your own oxygen mask on first before you attempt to help anyone else. What’s your oxygen mask?
The goal posts just moved again….
At time of writing the goalposts just moved again. More layers of uncertainty and confusion. I can help you help yourself so that you can look after both yourself and your team. 1:2:1 coaching can help you sort through your own stresses and worries. I provide a safe place for you to process all your own stuff. I will ‘hold the space’ for you to take a breather, refuel and restore so that you can go on and be the leader you know you can be.