The fall of 2021 started with such promise; high vaccination rates, less restrictions, movement to a hybrid workplace, and more person-to-person interaction. We were poised to bounce back, plan for the future, move forward, and get on with it. As leaders, we looked forward to connecting with and re-energizing our teams.
For one brief shining moment, it felt like a fresh start.
“A clearly demarcated fresh start gives us renewed motivation and help us pursue important goals,” says Katy Milkman, author of How to Change. She also notes for most of us, that clear fresh start just hasn’t materialized.
A Fresh Start
We’ve just hit the jackpot of fresh starts —a New Year — but maybe we are still feeling stuck in the mud because the latest wave of COVID is now upon us. The intense uncertainty and jerky motion of starting and stopping is exasperating. Most of us continue to work at home and social interaction, which was already feeling weird and awkward, has retreated once again. We are still feeling physically exhausted and mentally drained and just want this to be over. It’s like running a marathon where at the 26-mile mark they start adding more miles.
This unprecedented period has been described by Amy Cuddy and JillEllen Riley as ‘pandemic flux syndrome’ which refers to the emotional impact that this phase of the pandemic is having on our lives.
And yet, here we are with a clear mandate to lead and inspire our teams to deliver results. And that is not easy given we too may be languishing or experiencing that pandemic-flux-syndrome.
Be the energy source
It always starts with us as leaders. Re-energizing our teams requires us to be the energy source and breathe energy into the team. We can do that by authentically bringing that energy through warmth, enthusiasm, empathy, presence and optimism.
In her HBR article, How to Help Your Team Get Out of a Lull, business psychologist Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg says we should be managing team energy with as much intent and dedication as we manage performance. She encourages us to get in motion “energy ripples” in every interaction rather than pushing for performance, monitoring and correcting, or talking solely about tasks, to-dos, desired outcomes or results.
How can we be the energy source? Here’s four ideas you can lean into:
1. Put on your oxygen mask first
How is your energy? It’s hard to bring energy to your team if yours is depleted. If we want to be helpful to others, we need to ‘protect the asset’, as author Greg McKeown says in his book Essentialism. And we are the asset. Recently, we asked several leaders how they were taking care of themselves and managing their energy. Their responses ran the gamut from regular exercise, meditation, eating well and sleep routines, to taking regular breaks, ruthlessly prioritizing, connecting with others, and taking long-overdue vacation days.
2. Be vulnerable and compassionate
If ever there was a time for leaders to tap into their humanity, vulnerability, compassion, humility, and power up our capacity to lead with empathy, this is it. While the work/task conversations have their place, we need to be concerned about the whole person. If we really want to know how people are doing, where they are struggling and how we can help, we need to first be vulnerable and honest about how we are feeling and where we are struggling. This openness makes it safe for people to be vulnerable back. We also need to show people we care, listen more and reduce their anxiety by authentically recognizing their efforts and contributions to the team.
3. Be clear on the priority
Often exhaustion and burnout come from trying to do too many things at once. It’s overwhelming and anxiety provoking. A leaders role is to help team members prioritize so they can focus their energy on the most important work. By definition, the word priority is singular. It comes from the word prior, which means to come before something else. So when we have many priorities, we are simply not prioritizing. A clear priority and single-tasking (as opposed to multi-tasking) harvests back energy and gives people a sense of accomplishment before moving on to the next priority.
4. Plan for renewal
Research shows that anticipation is such a strong feeling that people are happier in the anticipation of a holiday than in remembering the actual experience. I know this is true for me because when it comes to travel, having a trip on the horizon is completely energizing! So, let’s not waste what the new year offers, a fresh start and renewal for you and your team. What can you do to create anticipation for your team?
- Start with the end in mind. As you kick off a project, envision a successful outcome. What does it feel like? Who are you impacting? What are you learning?
- Facilitate a conversation for what the new year holds for everyone and where they want to grow and learn.
- As a team, start to plan an in-person team building activity for when you can connect come together (when it’s safe to do so).
- Some of our clients are starting the year by investing in a team session on Self-Leadership as a way of setting the tone for the coming year.
The encouragement is to use the start of a new year to reset, plan, envision, and dream a little.
Re-energizing a team in time of turmoil and unpredictability is no easy feat. It takes resolve, resilience and perseverance. And as leaders, we have raging agency to set the tone and be energy source our teams are needing right now. To do that, we need to ensure our tanks are as full as possible, and be intentional and mindful about the energy we are bringing to all our conversations and interactions with the team.
What can you put in place to manage your energy?
What conversations do you need to have as a team to restore energy?
What is your team’s renewal plan to bring energy into 2022?