How Should Leaders Lead When The World Seems Upside Down?

Life’s Trials and Tribulations

The last couple of weeks have been rather challenging.  Sometimes in moments of jarring clarity, we suddenly see things in a brand new light – things that were right in front of us and yet hidden from view. When this happens, we’re forced to rethink what we thought we knew. The transition can be confusing and disorienting.  But such are the dynamics of the human experience. And I know this won’t be the last time I say this!

It would be easy to drift into a melancholy monologue about the trials and tribulations of life…because if I’m completely honest, that’s how I’m feeling. Instead, I’d like to turn the tables and look at the very human side of leadership. Specifically, how should leaders lead when the world seems upside down?

A Tricky Dilemma

It’s a tricky dilemma. When there is turmoil in our personal lives, it’s almost impossible to hide our emotion with people who know us well. And if you’re a leader of people, your staff undoubtedly watches you quite closely. Even fairly imperceptive people will pick up on subtle changes in your mood and behaviour. And yet, we don’t want our personal challenges to negatively impact the mindset of our teams. What’s the right thing to do?

Like any thorny dilemma, the answers aren’t black and white. But here are some thoughts that might help you choose the most authentic combination of solutions for you.

1) Take a Personal Day or Two (Preferably Not During a Teacher’s Strike!)

Sometimes a little quiet time to do something purely for ourselves can be highly therapeutic. Consider taking a couple of personal days and fill your boots with whatever you want to do.  Whether it’s a day of skiing, binge-watching Netlflix, a spa day or puttering in your backyard, it doesn’t matter. The point is to divert your attention and do something cleansing to your soul. Just one rule here…PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY!

2) Exercise Self-Compassion

Whatever combination of factors work for us, self-compassion should be at the top of that list. When the world has us reeling for whatever reason, it’s enough to deal with. It’s infinitely worse when we beat ourselves up for feeling down. I call this the second derivative of pain. Things are so much easier when we give ourselves permission to feel like a sac of hammers for however long it takes to ride it out. This not only lessens the heaviness of our mindset, but it also shortens the duration.

3) Slow Things Down

When we’re in that “sac of hammers” mindset, the world can become overwhelming quickly. Trying to “push through” can often make us feel worse. If possible, it’s best not to undertake or continue any mentally taxing projects until the mindset lifts.

4) Be Honest

There’s nothing wrong with telling our employees that we’re going through a difficult time personally. We don’t have to reveal all the ugly details, but sometimes just admitting that we’re not ourselves can take a fair bit of pressure off.

5) Focus on Helping Others

As my good friend, Chris MacLeod said, “It’s impossible to be in your own rabbit hole when you’re helping others.” There is such incredible truth in this statement. One of the best antidotes for angst is to take the focus off of ourselves and use our mental energy to help someone else. The therapeutic effects are difficult to describe

6) Get Outside

I could do an entire blog post on this point but I’ll sum it up quickly here. We all have a connection to this earth that is difficult to explain. It’s strongest when we’re completely alone in nature without the slightest hint of civilization. But if wilderness camping isn’t your thing, just going for a walk through a forested park can have dramatic effects on our mindset. And morning is always the best time to set the right tone for the day.

Lighten Your Load

As humans, we all bleed red and we all go through challenging periods in life. Trying to exude an image of unflappability when we have a storm raging inside not only comes off as inauthentic, it can also strengthen the storm. If you’re wound up into a ball of emotion like I have been this week, hopefully at least one of these ideas can lighten your load. And with this post complete, I think I’ll head outside for a walk!


30 Minutes

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Brent C. Wagner