100% Jodi: What to Do When You Are Struggling as a Leader

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The last episode of Women Taking the Lead was a celebration of 5 years of the Women Taking the Lead podcast and, in that episode, I also covered some ways to begin to relieve the stress you are likely experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You are dealing with the work and lifestyle changes, as well as the uncertainty around your future health and finances.

It’s a lot.

It’s a lot, and for some of you, you need to face that fact that you’re not going to have the same level of focus and productivity. Not without making some changes.

Stress weighs on you and, from what I’ve seen and talked about with my clients, most of the stress you experience goes unacknowledged.

Try this stress test

Time yourself walking or running a half a mile. Once you are finished, note your time and take your pulse. Notice the pace of your breath and how much you are sweating. On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel after doing that half mile? Note how long it takes for your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

Now pick up a 15-pound weight and time yourself repeating whatever you just completed, the half mile walk or run. Once you are finished, note your time and take your pulse. Notice the pace of your breath and how much you are sweating. On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel this time? Note how long it takes for your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

The difference between the first and second half mile walk/run is the impact COVID-19 is having on you. It is like carrying around an extra 15 pounds on your shoulders.

And yet, if you’re like a lot of leaders I’ve been talking to lately, you’re aghast at how tired and unfocused you are about midway through the day.

It’s no wonder, you’re carry extra weight around with you, all day!

But what if you’ve been training and conditioning yourself to carry around an extra 15 pounds all day, even if you didn’t have to?

That’s what people who want to stay in peak physical shape do? They educate, develop and train themselves to endure more physical stress than they would experience on a day-to-day basis. As a result, when they are required to do more physical labor they perform and recover more quickly than those who have not been training.

The same goes for mental and emotional stress. If you have been educating, training and developing yourself to handle more stress than you would typically encounter on a day-to-day basis, when something like a pandemic comes your way, you are better able to handle it.  

Crisis Leadership Assessment

I’m now going to focus on leaders and the conditioning of leaders. There’s a lot you can learn from this current crisis to improve your leadership skills and the skills of those that you lead as well.

I want you to ask yourself honestly, how prepared were you to handle this crisis?

For those of you who lead leaders, how prepared were your leaders to handle this crisis?

I hope once you’ve gotten past survival and recovery modes you and your organization take the opportunity to analyze the performance of your leadership and identify where the gaps are, so you can identify who needs more training and coaching.

This is not to come from a place of judgment, we’ve all had our own leadership missteps as we were developing as leaders. The information I’m about to give is to make it easier to identify those who may be crying for help but can’t bring themselves to speak the words. That person might be you or someone you know.

Here are some of the symptoms of a leader who is not prepared for a current crisis.

They stopped communicating.

  • They ignored messages they found too overwhelming to deal with and only responded when prompted a second or third time.
  • They also may not be responding because everything feels urgent and they are unable to rank what needs to be done in order of importance. Most leaders ready for a crisis will typically have a template response such as, “I have received your email and I am currently working on a plan to respond to our current situation. I will have more information for you by X, Y, Z.” This at least let’s the sender know their email was received, and is important if not the priority.
  • They cancel or postpone important meetings rather than see the meeting as an opportunity to take the pulse of their people or to get everyone on the same page. A leader ready for a crisis knows the purpose and the structure of the meeting may change but it’s still important to connect with and reassure their people that steps are being taken to (assess the situation, come up with solutions, create a plan, or execute the plan).

Their communications became unclear.

  • One message says we’re meeting at this time, another message says something different.
  • Procedures have been updated several times but not everyone has the latest version.
  • After reading this leader’s email you’re still not certain what’s going on.
  • They contradict themselves in the same conversation because they can’t keep their thoughts straight.

They are disorganized.

  • They can’t find the email, the printout, or the glasses that are on their head
  • They have an agenda but the meeting goes off the rails because they can’t stay focused.
  • They start a conversation with, “Why were we meeting?” or, “What was I going to say to you?”

They are unprepared.

  • It becomes apparent by what they are saying and doing that they didn’t do the research, didn’t read the email, or didn’t read the manual.
  • There is no agenda for the meeting and it becomes clear they are “winging it”.

They began making a lot of excuses.

  • They know they are not fulfilling their role; it may be that they cannot fulfill their role for whatever reason, however, instead of owning it and seeking help they offer excuses for why it’s not their fault.

Explanations vs. Excuses

This is a good segue to distinguish between an explanation and an excuse.  

An explanation is an accounting to make something clear. When a leader is providing an explanation, they are taking accountability and ownership.

Taking accountability and ownership is not the same as taking blame. Typically, in this type of conversation there is a discussion of how to prevent the same thing from happening in the future, or if it cannot be prevented, how a similar situation will be handled in the future. A well-trained leader does not take things personally, they take responsibility or ownership of the solution.

An excuse may look similar to an explanation because it also assigns a reason, but when someone is making an excuse, they are not taking ownership of the problem or the solution. You will know what you are getting is an excuse when the individual refuses to own the problem or the solution. There is an attitude of, “it’s not my fault, there’s nothing I can do.”  

Here’s what it sounds like in real life:

Two people are late for a meeting both sighting traffic on the highway as the reason.

The person giving an excuse might say, “Sorry I’m late, the highway was backed up. Traffic” There might be a sigh, eye roll, or shoulder shrug.

The person giving an explanation might say, “Sorry I’m, the highway was backed up. In the future I’m going to leave 15 minutes early to make sure I’m on time.”

A well-trained, conditioned leader does not assign blame, they own where they have power and they take responsibility for it.

Mentality of a well-trained leader

In full disclosure, I’m not sitting here sparkling clean saying to myself, “Boy, these other people need to pull it together.” In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had my moments too.

I almost went into leading a meeting without a very clear agenda that had a purpose and expected outcomes. Another gracious and well-trained leader gave me some very kind counsel and direction, we put the missing pieces in place and the meeting well.

In my own training as a leader I’ve learned to let go of my ego and accept help when help is offered and is needed. In that situation, I clearly needed support and I am so grateful for it.

If you’ve developed your leadership skills and mindset, you’re likely feeling the change in your routine and recognizing these are extraordinary times, priorities need to shift and there’s a lot of work to do, but for the most part you are on top of thing and getting a lot done.

I will say before I sign off, these are extraordinary times. Be kind to yourself if you have found yourself not fully prepared to deal with everything that started coming at you recently.

Take on the mentality of a well-trained, conditioned leader. They would acknowledge that extraordinary events combined with a lack of preparation have given them their current results and state of being. Then they would ask, what can I do to prepare should this happen again? What was missing? What needs to change? Who can help me?

In next week’s episode I’m going to talk about some of those things and we are going to kick off with self-awareness; your self-awareness as a person and as a leader. How I create that with my clients is the Energy Leadership Assessment.

Forbes magazine listed the Energy Leadership Assessment as One of the Top 11 Assessments Every Executive Should Take.

If you would like to explore the Energy Leadership Assessment you can go to womentakingthelead.com/assessment to find out more and purchase it if that feels right for you at this time.

For those of you in leadership, I thank you for your contribution. We need well-trained leaders more than ever.

I hope this was of value to you and here’s to your success!

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