ARE YOU INSPIRING OTHERS WHEN YOU ARE OVERWHELMED?
I raced out of a meeting at 10:40 a.m. dialing the number of the person I was scheduled to talk to at 10:30 a.m. I drove to my office only partially focused on the conversation I was having so I could check that off my list and move onto the next “to do”. For the next five hours I bounced between phone calls, emails and my looming list of “priority” actions. At 3:15 p.m. I hung up the phone and took a breath – maybe the first one all day. I could feel the anxiety coursing through my body.
I want to tell you that this is unique for me, but recently this has been the rhythm of my days. Admitting this is humbling since I have had countless coaching conversations with leaders about “time management” and how to achieve more “work/life balance.” When I finally slowed down I wondered, “How can I coach and inspire other leaders when I feel stressed and overwhelmed? More importantly, how can I do this without feeling like a total fraud?”
Instead of figuring out how to do more and motivate others to do more (again) – there may be another answer.
This was exactly the question asked recently, when I was on a call with a group of leaders talking about how to inspire the best in others. One leader courageously began the conversation by saying, “I’m not in a good place to talk about how to inspire others. I’m stressed and overwhelmed and I’m not reacting well.” His courage and authenticity opened a very real conversation among a tired group of leaders (and their tired coach).
Hundreds of coaching conversations before this one told me these leaders were about to have a conversation about doing more, being more productive and “managing their time better.” I was wrong. They didn’t talk about how to get more done. They didn’t talk about how to “get through” this so things could get back to normal - the truth is for many of us, this way of working is normal. They recognized that they could push themselves and their teams harder to get to the proverbial finish line, but the truth is that they were running in so many races that just pushing harder (again) wasn’t the right answer. Instead, they admitted to themselves and each other that both they and their teams are running hard and stressed much of the time. By naming this honestly they were able to have a conversation about how to inspire others while they are overwhelmed. They agreed to be honest, authentic and, dare I say, vulnerable. They would acknowledge to their teams that they are running hard, that they know they’re not always acting in an inspiring way and that, even in those times, they are seeking to do their best. From this authentic place they could work with their team to empower each person to be their best during stressful times rather than just running harder and hoping for the end.
Be real and make it safe for others to do the same
The solution by this group of leaders was right on track. In a recent study on team performance, "What Google Learned From It's Quest to Build the Perfect Team" by Charles Duhigg, Google researchers discovered that a crucial component of the highest performing teams is Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is ‘’a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up’’
By sharing openly and honestly that they too struggle with overwhelm and stress, these leaders created psychological safety and exactly the inspiration their teams needed.
It turns out that getting more done is less about speeding up and pushing harder and more about slowing down and getting real with each other.