Hitting the wall – and how to get through it. 

In the last week many of the leaders we work with have described just how weary they are getting. Unfamiliar work routines, long hours in front of a screen and continuing uncertainty about the future, all take their toll. A few weeks back we used the phrase ‘a marathon not a sprint’ to describe the challenges leaders were facing – but the marathon analogy, although helpful, doesn’t always work. So, what does it mean in week 6 of lockdown to feel like you’re ‘hitting the wall’?

Running out of energy – and how to refuel

Running a marathon is shockingly hard. Runners often report that about 20 miles in, their bodies start shutting down. The glycogen in their muscles is used up, basically there’s nothing left in the tank and they have to refuel. But what we are all facing today is not a marathon with a clear finish line. It is a leadership challenge of unknown duration – and uncertain destination. What is also clear is that without refuelling yourself as you go through these weeks of lockdown, you will run out of energy. So, if it feels like you are hitting the wall, what can you do to refuel? And who will get you to the nearest refuelling station if you need help?

  • Do whatever it is that rebuilds energy for you. Take time out for exercise, sleep, listening to music, cooking or reading – do this before you hit the wall.
  • And then work out how you can build regular refuelling stops into your routine and, just as importantly, into the new routines that you are building with your team. Perhaps we could get back to weekends with a different rhythm and more time for recreation!
  • Make sure that you have a deputy to share the load – and that members of your team have a nominated deputy to share their load too.
  • Check that you are moving away from exclusively reacting to events, refocus a portion of your time for reflection and looking ahead.

 Maintaining motivation – for yourself and others

At this point in this pandemic where there is no end in sight, maintaining motivation for yourself and your team is just as important as maintaining energy. Unlike a marathon, there are no mile markers to celebrate how far you’ve gone and help you to prepare for how far you’ve still got to go. Without signs of progress motivation can drain away, but you can create some markers of your own.

  • Set short-term, weekly objectives with your team, that have both operational components and elements that build new tools or team infrastructure.  This will give you something to look back on and to celebrate – while also showing the team progress week on week
  • Cheerleading, or unfounded optimism does NOT work as lasting motivation, but confident action does. Taking small and visible leadership steps into new ways of working will help others to do likewise.
  • You may not be able to give your team a sense of what the future will look like, but you probably can be confident of some of the skills, resources, and tools that will be useful to you all during this extended transition period and beyond.
  • Encourage people to use their current skills and learn new ones in the service of the team. This is a great way to build motivation and well-being.
  • And no-one has to do this on their own. Set up cross-team groups where people can share what they’ve learned in the last week, and work on challenges together. This can have the additional benefit of building new relationships as well as building new tools that are useful to the team today and might have lasting value to the organisation in future.