One of the most challenging parts of a leader’s job is putting on a brave face when you feel less than your best. In some cases, you may be managing an entire team of people while you’re job hunting yourself, because you’re just no longer finding fulfillment in your role. But even if you’re less-than-enchanted with your job and have one foot out the door already, it’s still important to rally your employees to maintain morale, productivity and job satisfaction. The truth is, your team will be looking to you for guidance and encouragement no matter what’s going on in your life, and your employer will remember how effective you were as a leader, right up until you part ways.
Yes, the last 18 months have stretched so many of us, but as a leader, it’s important to know that your team’s energy is a reflection of you, explains Deb LaMere, chief human resource officer at DataSite.com. Even in the most stressful or negative of situations, having a sense of empathy, humor, and compassion will go a long way in keeping your workplace a happy one.
If you’re ready to work on your leadership skills for 2022, here’s a look at some effective ways to remain an effective leader, regardless of external factors:
Set a standard of honest and direct communication
You might have heard the career advice ‘fake it until you make it.’ At first glance, this seems like a decent strategy to help you manufacture self-confidence, but if you’re consistently burying your concerns and hiding your stress, it can make your direct reports feel like they’re also expected to push their feelings aside. A better approach is being transparent about when and why you are stressed, and keeping an open-door policy for others to follow, says Ash Beckham, a speaker, equality advocate and author. “Setting a standard of honest and direct communication about not only work challenges but also personal stressors creates trust and empathy as the unshakable foundation that your team can rely on,” she continues.
When anxieties are sky-high, it’s tempting to dial into these emotions and let them dominate your mindset. However, this limits creativity and our ability to be leaders. Instead, challenge yourself to take a step back and recognize your team members’ small joys, wins, and successes, LaMere says.
“Marking achievements can go a long way in letting your team know they are valued,” she says. “I like to do unexpected small things such as sending a handwritten note or calling a member of my team to congratulate them on a project or problem they solved. Of course, there are also many digital tools you can use to acknowledge your team and individual members.”
In addition to inspiring your employees to continue their hard work, it has the added benefit of giving you a dose of endorphins, too, since you brought a smile to another person’s face.
Maintain regular one-on-one meetings
Often when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, Beckham says our time becomes an ever more scarce commodity. You know what it looks like: cutting meetings to streamline our schedule, blocking out all distractions, and guilting ourselves when we still don’t meet self-imposed demands. However, despite our stress, we have to maintain a direct connection with our people since it is critical that they know you are available.
“With regular one-on-one meetings, teammates know that they will have your undivided attention at consistent intervals,” she explains. “If they have concerns or challenges and your availability is less than it used to be, it will be much easier to shelf it if they know they have a meeting with you in the next week. This is not to say you cannot decrease the frequency from time to time, but by prioritizing connecting with your team individually, they will know how important they remain to you.”
Focus on wellbeing
To create a supportive environment, you need to focus on being human. According to LaMere, research shows that three main factors influence worker well-being: job demands, the ability to make decisions, and social support. Ensuring your employees have their wellbeing needs met is the best starting point. “Lead with care by checking in rather than checking up with your team,” LaMere says. An intelligent way to do this is by sourcing activities that help your employees feel more mindful and relaxed, like subscriptions to meditation apps, a free online therapy appointment, a day off that doesn’t count toward their PTO, and so on.
Establish a private ‘stress’ purge
There are some days when no matter how hard you try to put your shoes on the right feet, you’re still out of sorts. It happens. However, you need a way to get out all of those frustrations and feelings without impacting your team. Beckham suggests blocking your calendar, shutting your door, and letting yourself have your ‘stress purge.’ This can be a scheduled block daily on your calendar, weekly, or whenever you feel like you truly need it.
“Whatever you need to do to focus specifically on those concerns: take notes, process possible scenarios, do research, make phone calls, and so on,” she recommends. “When you have time set aside every day to do all the worrying, it is much easier not to be distracted during the non-stress parts of the day by these thoughts. If a worry pops in your head outside of your stress window, take a note and explore that thought during the appropriate time the following day.”