Leading Through The Last Mile

Recently, for the first time in my life I experienced daily headaches. They were weird, always in the same location at the back of my head. They weren’t extremely painful or disruptive, but they were chronic. It’s unsettling to neurological issues, I was concerned enough that I made an appointment with a neurologist. She was very good, very thorough, and in her opinion, my headaches were brought on by stress. I wasn’t surprised. The last year or so has been up there with the highest levels of stress I have ever experienced. When I mention my headache issue with friends or family, I received a number of responses that they too were experiencing headaches.

As of writing we’re about a year and a half into the Pandemic. For a large number of individuals Covid-19 is by far the greatest stressor they will ever experience, and with chronic stress comes exhaustion. It becomes a chore to do anything when you’re tired, you barely have enough energy to do things for yourself, yet alone others. So how do leaders dig deep, in year two of a Global Pandemic, to keep their teams and organizations on track? Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg outlines in her article for Harvard Business Review that “The essential task is to identify your biggest challenges over the next year and then tap the psychological stamina you and your team needs to get there”

Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg goes on to state that there are three steps which can serve as a framework to help you keep your team heading in the right direction, she lists: “understanding the difference between urgency and importance; balancing comfort with containment; and finding new ways to energize yourself and others.” Here are our take-aways from the three steps:

Urgency Vs. Importance

Urgency has been heightened due to the Pandemic. It’s easy to lose sight of long term goals, both individual and organizational when you feel the need to react quickly, moreover when you do gain a win under pressure or a tight deadline there is the temptation to rest on your laurels. Of course it’s well deserved to appreciate a job well done, you have to be forward thinking and be looking towards what’s next, how can you take advantage of your advantage. Don’t ignore tasks or goals that are important but not urgent.

Balancing Compassion and Containment

As we have previously highlighted, mental health is suffering at the hands of Coronavirus. As a leader you need to show abundant compassion to those around you and be aware that the Pandemic is a pressure cooker, everything is heightened, uncertainty is rampant and it’s relentless. However, as Dr. Wedell-Wedellsborg points out compassion “must be balanced with containment. Containment is described by IMD professor Anand Narasimhan as “the ability to observe and absorb what is going on around you, but to provide a sense of stability.” Stability comes from setting limits, raising the bar, keeping the pressure at the optimal level, and helping each other snap out of self-pity and moodiness.” In other words be kind, but also elevate people. Sometimes people need a metaphorical slap, or perhaps a better metaphor would be guiding hand. Don’t let others get down in that hole, but also don’t let them pull you into said hole.

Energize Everyone, Every Day

We love this line: “Energy is not a given and must be generated and channeled internally” from Dr. Wedell-Wedellsborg. It seems so simple, energy does indeed not just manifest, it has to come from somewhere, it has to be manifested. Leaders must thoroughly understand that one of their most fundamental tasks is to energize, if you’re not energizing those around you, you might as well pack it in. Countless studies have confirmed that authoritative, harsh leadership styles are not enduring. Sure, short term they may yield results, however long term they will lead to burnout, resentment, and a team that probably hates you. It can’t be stressed enough, that during times of burnout, extreme exhaustion, chronic stress, leading via energy and excitement will not only fuel you, it will fuel your organization. Dr. Wedell-Wedellsborg suggests “Sharing success stories, setting up competitions, dividing long projects into sprints, communicating. But also shortening endless zoom meetings, cutting tumbleweed projects, and allowing constructive conflicts and honest feedback in your teams” as ways to energize those around you.

It’s a monumental task to stay motivated at the moment. The entire world is suffering a global headache the likes of which many of us have never felt before. For me personally, it’s very helpful to be aware of what is going on, how the situation is effecting me, and how to stay out of the abundant holes that are seemingly everywhere. If we all remember to be aware of what’s important, be compassionate but practice containment, and generate energy for ourselves and those around us, we can all continue to be the leaders that those around us deserve.