I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
Last month on a team call, I noticed that my typically upbeat and productive colleagues were a bit sluggish and uninspired for the second month in a row. We hadn’t achieved a couple of the goals and tasks we’d set for ourselves. What is usually a lively 90 minutes discussing ideas and setting plans into action, felt like an achy slog.
As the team leader, I felt responsible for energizing the group and getting us back on track. But I was feeling the same funk as my team… like a soggy moss crept over my creative and constructive leader brain. How can I rally my team when I’m feeling burned out myself?
I usually try to lead with a positive mindset and troubleshoot any setbacks with a silver lining and collaboration. But this call was different. As other people admitted to feeling low energy and not accomplishing as much as they’d hoped, I admitted it too. We spent the first few minutes of the meeting essentially lamenting how lame we’d been the past month.
You know what? It worked.
By giving the team, and myself, a bit of space to talk about how we honestly felt – the burnout we were feeling – it tampered the sting of failure. By acknowledging the tasks we let slip, we removed shame and replaced it with a productive conversation.
As a result of this honest conversation (that felt like a complete downer at the time), we redistributed a few of the responsibilities. For example, a team member offered to take on a task that was weighing me down. As a result, it cleared my energy to tackle a big project that had been sitting on my to-do list for a couple of months. That not only felt great and productive, but it also cleared the moss and renewed my perspective for other projects in the pipeline.
And the colleague who took over the other task – she is doing an amazing job. I think she’s gathered some energy from the new responsibility.
So when you sense that the creeping moss of burnout has covered most of your team, think about tackling it together.
- Show compassion for your colleagues and yourself. High performance is essential but striving for constant perfection is debilitating.
- As a leader, don’t be afraid to show your humanness. Lead by example. There are times to push for performance and times to take a breath. By allowing for personal expression, people will feel seen, heard, and respected therefor rallying to perform better.
- Discover the why. My team is typically awesome so there were no performance issues to address. In hindsight, it was just the time of year. Most of us live in the Midwest where the cold, wet, dreary weather carries on too long. Additionally, this is a time of less interesting project work – management and maintenance instead of the creative strategy building, which is most energizing.
- Check the workload. It may be that one or two people have too many responsibilities. Maybe someone needs fresh challenges. Or perhaps it’s time to consider the consequence of diminishing returns and go to bat for your team – advocate a lesser workload with leadership.
- Acknowledge accomplishments. It’s OK to occasionally express your own burnout. But if a team looks to you for leadership, it’s important to set a positive and productive tone. Celebrate wins and look for ways to infuse greater peace and happiness into everyday interactions.
Jamie Barnes is a consulting partner with Workforce Communication. With a focus on change management communications, her approach is rooted in proven practices. She has worked in global firms and creative agencies, and she studied behavior change with behavioral scientist BJ Fogg PhD, the neuroscience of learning with the NeuroLeadership Institute, and change management with Prosci. Jamie studied organizational communications at the University of Chicago and has a BA in social science from National Louis University.
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