A Bandaid on a Broken Arm

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

Well, it finally happened! And it has been awful, horrible, and over the top frustrating.

My whole leadership team requested a Zoom conference call and said they were ready to walk out, quit, leave, go away, and never come back.

I felt like I had been hit by a huge truck or even worse.

No one, and I mean no one, gave me a heads up or a tap on the shoulder to say “Beware.”

They had as their spokesperson, as fate would have it, the individual who is the biggest rabble-rouser, the one who never keeps their mouth shut, and always wants to stir up trouble. 

I will keep what I write in the third person since it is not at all about gender or race. It’s about my leadership (or lack thereof) and what I should do.

I need help FAST!

They had a grievance about the workload and said it was impossible to complete all the demands. They said it made no sense to be planning for the next five years when they have no idea what the next five months will hold.

They nodded their heads and grumbled as their rebel leader read the list of upsets.

I must admit, after they left and I sat and stared at the autumn leaves falling from the tree outside of my home office, I thought maybe I just don’t have the smarts or the energy to lead.

I kept pushing them to do more, to be more, to create more. 

I thought that would keep them from letting the fear of lower sales and a dreadful distribution cycle keep them upbeat and happy.

Was I ever wrong!

Okay, enough of my victim response. 

What advice do you have?

Please get it to me fast. 

Thanks,

Miserable 

Dear Miserable,

You are not alone. Now, I know that is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm.

However, it’s true.

So many leaders are busy pumping up the troops by planning beyond this complex and uncertain time.

On one level, this is good. 

However, on another, it’s missing the human elements of the present moments.

Here are some thoughts just for you as you sort out what can be done now, what needs to be included regarding the future, and how to maintain your own personal mental and physical health right here and right now.

When you lead under pressure the first thing I advise is:

  • Keep your expectations real: Don’t let your fear rule. Be like a Buddhist Monk and live in the present moment.  Stay focused on what is right in front of you. This is not a time for a five- year plan or even a three- year plan. Think about how to make sure your staff has the resources to get through today and tomorrow and the next day.
  • Rethink your “why”: Are you in business to make money (of course you are). However, this is not a time to prove to the world how much you can put in the bank. Just make sure you can pay your employees and not have to furlough or lay off people. Stay in the zone of today. I believe your “why”could be more about helping those who work with you feel as much psychological safety as possible. Remember, during these days everyone is getting indigestion or insomnia so don’t add to this.
  • Pivot and breathe: When you meet with your staff ask for suggestions that may not be part of your traditional business plan. Have a meeting and do some good, old-fashioned brainstorming.  You never know who will say “Hey, here’s another way to look at what is going on that may just, make a big positive difference. Don’t tell, ask, and…..include!
  • Keep priorities short and yes, simple: You need to have a list of maybe four or five key areas to look at that are achievable now. Your team needs to have some wins that will keep them from burning out or from burning up. 

I suggest you call another ZOOM meeting and thank them for their courage to speak out. Let them know the way they did it was tough on you. Also, let them know they were heard. 

They came to you to let you know they are exhausted more than they are disgusted. If they were that disgusted, you would have heard from HR or lawyers about a hostile work setting.

PLEASE, look at the great work of Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School about psychological safety and spend some time with your team discussing this. 

Also, please consider reading especially the very last chapter of my book “Don’t Bring It to Work” about how a team can transform conflict into working together.

Stay strong and you will come out of this with some great learning about yourself, others, and the real meaning of resilience.

To your success,

Sylvia

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Sylvia Lafair

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