Looking back to pre-2020, I’m sure I recognised the concept of crisis as a potential aspect of my role, but honestly, I’m not sure I’d really thought much about it. Fast forward to mid-2021, and I think most of us, regardless of our position, have resigned to the fact that navigating a crisis has become a part of our modern existence.
For organisational leaders, the types of crises we’ve been dealing with of late certainly go far beyond what many of us may have considered a crisis pre-COVID: flaky suppliers, crashing websites, absent staff, missed deadlines, the list goes on. BUT, the thing is, none of these things have disappeared – they’ve simply been outshadowed by newer, scarier things: being confined to our homes, the looming threat of illness and loss, the pressure of homeschooling our children, isolation, lost customers, business closures, redundancy and financial instability.
I’m getting off to a really bright start here, huh? If you haven’t walked away from your screen in total despair, then please stick with me. My point is not to dwell on the negatives, but to honour what a bloody tough time most of us have had, and to remind us all that maybe our self-care requirements are a little greater than when our biggest worry was a missed delivery. So, when a long lunch and massage aren’t going to cut it, how do we truly look after ourselves in times of great crisis?
Not how, but why?
The worst decisions I’ve ever made? The silliest arguments I’ve ever had? The stupidest mistakes I have ever made? ALL came from a place of physical or emotional burnout [usually both, tbh]. It’s one thing to inflict the implications of your self-neglect on your partner/pets/houseplants, but quite another to allow your burnout to seep into your workplace and permeate the culture.
Organisational leadership is about more than hiring and firing and watching the bottom line. True leadership is about achieving success in partnership with an engaged, motivated and happy team – something that’s impossible to achieve if you’re not able to count yourself amongst them. So that leads us to how…
You can do hard things [but not all at once]
This is a lesson I have only recently begun to learn, and I’m popping it right up top here in case you skim the rest [and if you do, power to you, because prioritising where your time goes is excellent self care!]. I’ve often felt that being in a position of senior leadership means that you can never shy away from difficult tasks or conversations, and in some cases this is certainly true. Often, you can’t control what challenges you’ll face, but you can [usually] have a say in when and how you deal with them.
If you know that you have more than a couple of particularly gnarly issues to deal with on a Monday morning, I highly recommend taking another look at just how urgent they are. Sure, you’ll have to deal with them, but keep in mind that you’re a human person who only has the capacity for so many difficult tasks at one time. Treat yourself with the compassion that you would a stressed team member and try to break the stressful things into more palatable bites. Sometimes you don’t have to eat the whole frog. Make like the French and take it one leg at a time.
Know when to call it
Leading through adversity isn’t always about when ploughing through when things are hard. Determination and grit absolutely help when faced with challenging situations, but equally valuable is the ability to understand when to, well, give up. We’ve heard the P word an inordinate amount over the last year or so, but if 2020 taught us anything it’s that sometimes we can’t avoid the pivot. Sometimes [like uh, during a global pandemic, perhaps], the thing that always worked just stops working, and we’re forced to head in another direction.
The thing to remember about pivoting is that you’re not just heading towards something new, but also turning your back on something old. It can be scary to leave behind something that has served you well in the past, but clinging to what no longer works can do nothing but hurt you. Do yourself a favour and remember that walking away isn’t failing; it’s self-preservation, and you deserve it.
Accept the limit of your influence
It is a great irony of leadership that as we progress higher up the ranks, we are more responsible for outcomes but less able to actually control them. This is something I have felt acutely since being at the helm at TDP through periods of rapid growth. When I first started, we were a teeny tiny team and I was hands on with almost every aspect of the business. Of course, as TDP grew, so did my areas of responsibility, meaning that it was physically impossible to have full ownership of every detail anymore. I fought against it for a while, but in the end it didn’t serve me, or the business, so I let go and I put my trust in our team.
The same goes for crises. When you feel that you’re wading through endless challenges, tackle the things you can change and accept what you cannot. Know that you can’t be all the things to all the people, and that you won’t have the answers to all questions.
Set your boundaries [and STICK to them]
I know, I know – the emails keep coming, the phone keeps ringing and the problems don’t give a flying %$^@ about your boundaries. When things are fraught, it feels impossible to set and stick to boundaries that might usually feel reasonable. The thing is though, when you’re steering the ship through particularly tumultuous waters, the crew is watching you more closely than ever. If you start letting your own boundaries slip, then those around you will follow suit. Sure, there may be moments when you’re all required to muck in a little more than usual and where balance isn’t prioritised, but don’t let this be the norm.
Healthy boundaries are an essential part of self-care, and if you don’t look after yourself in this way, how can you expect your team to? So, put your phone away at a set time each night, take a walk, don’t check emails on your days off, and stop putting your self-care to the bottom of your to-do list.
Please tell us – how do you look after yourself during times of crisis? Let us know in the comments.