“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu
One of the things that we’ve been reminded of over the past nine months is that, when subjected to stress and uncertainty for long periods of time, people wear down. Last week in this space we talked about energy, and how important a thing it is to protect. Without it, everything becomes a struggle and you won’t function at your highest level.
That’s applies not only to you as the leader, but also to everyone who’s part of your organization. During normal times, we have a tendency to assume that unless we hear from people, they must be doing OK. It’s not a good assumption, but usually we get away with it because even if people aren’t exactly OK, they still manage to keep things together, however precariously.
These days, though, you better not count on being so lucky. People are under strain in a way that most of them never have been before, and mental health has become a nearly universal issue (it may have been already, but that’s a different blog post). They’re stressed out and worn down and, in some cases, nearing the end of their rope.
Your job as leader isn’t just to look at a set of reports, or facilitate management team meetings, or whatever other daily things you do. Part of your responsibility is to care about and be aware of how people are doing mentally, and then to act on that if necessary. You have to engage enough to understand how they’re feeling, now more than ever.
Are you available? If one of your people is struggling and needs somebody to listen, are you willing to be that person? Are you able to demonstrate empathy? Are you willing to be authentic, and to make sure they know that you’re feeling some of the same things? Are you willing to be honest about whatever struggles you may be having, and not just fake it because “that’s what the leader’s supposed to do”?
You may have read the last two sentences and thought that maybe they weren’t relevant because you’re not feeling those same stresses, and you’re not struggling at all. Which brings up maybe the most important part of this. You have to understand yourself, and where you are mentally.
Right now, one of your most important jobs as a leader is supporting people who are struggling through tough times, and that’s next to impossible if you’re in denial about your own situation. Take some time to be honest with yourself about all of this. I see leaders every day who are clearly on the edge but talk as though everything’s fine. It’s not fine, and it doesn’t have to be fine.
Make sure you understand your own self and what you need to be healthy. Only when you’ve got that figured out can you help everybody else. And they need it now more than ever.