In most businesses I deal and work with I am seeing evident signs of fatigue. This is to be expected. In 2020 many businesses faced unprecedented levels of economic uncertainty and change. Maybe its my positive side that is speaking out, but I always reply that the pandemic provided business leaders with a unique opportunity to be bold and to reinvent and transform the business—a chance to infuse new hope and energy into the organisation.
Many business leaders I talk too say that their people—especially their top talent—are working more hours; they’re taking fewer breaks and that their teams are outright exhausted. Their people have been going from one sprint to the next, thinking, OK, we’ll get to steady state soon. It may not be normal, but it will be a steady state. I keep repeating that this is a wrong mindset (its a marathon not a sprint). Leaders need to move to a mindset that’s focused not only on landing at a new normal, but also toward a mindset that recognizes that this is where we are for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to predict when conditions will change and so success depends on managing the energy we have and conserving it for the long haul. The stakes are really high and when the stakes are high, many leaders naturally tend to feel they have to be there all the time, to make all the decisions. But if you can’t conserve your energy, you’re in trouble. That’s when you start making big mistakes.
So the question is how do you avoid that as a leader?
Ultimately, leaders must not only manage and conserve their own energy, but also focus on managing their teams’ overall energy. They must balance the load, structuring teams so that the right expertise and capacity are distributed. Each level of the business organization should have a good sense of the capabilities, strengths and limitations of their team. This allows a leader to structure for long-term performance and resilience. You’re going to need people who can step in while others get some recovery time. Who are those trusted people? Sooner or later, everyone needs a break, time to refresh.
Which leads to another point. Even business leaders end up exhausted…and to make it worse many resist taking a break. All the research in the world clearly shows that recovering one’s energies is essential to remain your effectiveness. That must include both taking time off to re-energise and to have the team and structure in place so that this time off can be protected and work can be done by someone else (which is why micromanagers normally run the risk of burning out completely). Without these breaks, fatigue sets in, decisions deteriorate, inefficiency increases and performance drops. Hence the need for a more sustainable approach.
I do recognise this can be hard and that what I saying now isn’t ranking top of the agenda of businesses that are confronted with a crisis like the one created by the pandemic. It’s hard to step back and recognise the situation you’re in—let alone restructure your team and the way you work. However if your teams are exhausted, you cannot keep flogging a dead horse.
Another question that I am forwarded with frequently is with regards how any business leader can realise that his or her team is facing problems and what they can do about it.
As a leader you need to make a point of being present, being attuned to your team and really talking to them and learning about what they’re going through. Empathy matters a lot too: an approachable, empathetic leader has a special kind of magic. It is also a 360-degree approach (the culture): all team members can contribute to a clearer understanding of how things are going. Keep in mind that there is tremendous strength in team values when setting and achieving goals under stress – the so called shared values. Such shared values are particularly important in times of uncertainty—they can unite and strengthen teams and provide something that we can be certain about.
One final question, that I am frequently forwarded with is, if planning and setting goals in such uncertain times is adding stress and fatigue, for nothing. My answer is a plain NO.
I believe that there’s a lot of value in setting goals and establishing a plan to achieve those goals. The routine and discipline necessary to achieve them builds resilience—and goals lend a structure and sanity to an environment that could be highly unstructured, even chaotic. Setting goals works equally well for individuals and for teams. One thing that goals allow is a sense of control.
So my final message is – it is normal to feel exhausted as we nearing the end of a very trying year. Ignoring the fatigue you are feeling is a very dangerous way to go about things. You need to recharge your batteries so that you can face yet another challenging year. Things will not magically get sorted in 2021.