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Leading Through Exhaustion

As we begin a new year, many people are ready to put 2020 and the pandemic behind us. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. While a vaccine is currently in distribution, the pandemic will continue to impact businesses for the foreseeable future. While some expected to flip a switch on January 1st and go back to living life like before the pandemic, there is still more work to be done.

At this point, it is expected for leaders and employees to feel drained. The energy that came with fighting the first wave has faded. We must continue to endure despite these feelings. How can you continue to lead when everyone is exhausted?

A recent Harvard Business Review article identifies strategies for continuing to navigate the pandemic and remain resilient through the next wave.

To persevere through the next wave of the pandemic, Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg identifies three key steps to cultivate resilience and psychological stamina.

3 Key Steps

  1. Understand Urgency vs. Importance.

During a crisis, it is common to focus only on the most urgent matters. Focusing on short-term wins can help in times of uncertainty, but it is also important to consider how the organization will navigate the aftermath of the pandemic.

Questions to consider:

  • How can we turn short-term momentum into a long-term advantage?
  • Are we prepared for the frenzy that will occur in the wake of the vaccine?
  • Are we doing all we can to emerge stronger from the crisis?
  1. Balance Compassion and Containment.

Compassion from leadership can help normalize feelings of depression and anxiety that many can face in times of uncertainty. Consider using team meetings to share your own insecurities or feelings of discomfort and listen to the issues of others. For example, “working from home and facilitating virtual school for your kids is a lot to take on. What has worked well for you? How can we support you in accomplishing these goals?” However, too much compassion can make it difficult for employees to work without support from others. Compassion should lift people up, not coddle them. 

Compassion should be balanced with containment. Containment helps provide others with a sense of stability. This includes setting conditions for success and keeping up the pressure to motivate others to succeed. You can show empathy and validate your employee’s experience while holding them accountable. This can fend off complacence by challenging employees to raise the bar.

  1. Energize Everyone, Every Day.

Continuing to energize the workforce will be a big challenge moving forward since there isn’t a predetermined “end date” for this crisis. Without a definitive finish line, energizing employees will be especially important to keep them motivated through exhaustion.

Energizing yourself and others must be done purposefully, especially during a crisis, where people can be left feeling stuck in a rut. Employees can be energized by prioritizing communication and adding variation to video meetings to avoid repetition and boredom. You can also make meeting times shorter, take time to celebrate successes, create friendly competitions, and promote honest discussion within the team. Look for other ways to energize employees by breaking-up long projects into smaller chunks or eliminating/postponing projects that seem to be going nowhere.

By: Sam McCullough, M.A.