Was that me who just reacted like that?
Some leaders are really feeling the impact of this new virtual way of working, and it is causing them stress and disintegration in their team. Even seemingly small outbursts or the occasional misstep can unravel safety, trust and motivation and send team members into defensiveness and anxiety.
Are any of the reactions below familiar? If so, you are not alone, and there are simple adaptations that can help you get back to being the awesome leader you know you are.
- You snapped at Kim who missed a deadline
- After giving Bob yet another second chance, he disappointed again, and you could no longer hide your exasperation and, with gritted teeth, you provided some harsh feedback.
- On a Zoom call you groaned and put your head in your hands expressing frustration with the team’s results.
- You raised your voice and called out Sam for forgetting a key item on the proposal while in a team call.
- You found yourself saying too many times - But I told you, But it was in the email, But we did it this way last time how could you forget!!??
- You yelled in an email with ALL CAPS and lots of explanation marks
- You made a sarcastic remark that had full intent to criticize
- You yelled at the car ahead of you, the dog, your kid, your spouse
- You cursed the broken printer, the internet provider, your cell phone bars, or the neighbor using his leaf blower during your presentation.
If you can relate, you are human, you are exhibit stress. As we live in these ‘unprecedented times’ what worked for you before like walking around, connecting with people, informally checking in, talking face to face, acknowledging people, expressing small appreciations, is all hard to do when everyone is at home on a computer screen. The goodwill and camaraderie of the team might be starting to wain as our relationship buckets run low from Zoom fatigue and email misunderstandings.
As a result, you are trying to adapt, find alternatives, and pivot but it is not easy. It is bumpy and awkward, and you have acted, on occasion, in ways you wish you could take it back.
Let me assure you that you can do a reset and get back on track and, most likely, come out even stronger as a team.
Step 1 – Recognize that negative reactions are stress behaviors and this is not who you are. Take some time to identify what is really causing you the stress or anxiety – no blaming; look inside and take ownership. What did you used to do that was important to managing your stress? Maybe you walked around during the day helping to dissipate your naturally high energy levels. Maybe you had daily concentration-time but with 24x7 kids this is gone. Are you missing a daily routine like a meditative time at lunch or music in the car ride home? Recreate whatever relaxing, focused, downtime is important to you. Learn more about what you need to remain calm and aware of your state and others.
Step 2 – Talk about it. Express your regret for any poor behavior and apologize – take full ownership for your behavior. Your team is experiencing this situation too so being open about it and the impact on you will encourage everyone to be more open about their own stressors, mistakes, and words they wish they hadn’t said. Once acknowledged the team is in a better place to start sharing ideas and solutions to help team communication and collaboration work better.
Let your team know what your intention is, how important they are to you, and that you want to be understanding, helpful and supportive. Have them hold you accountable and give them permission to call you out on reactions that only serve to increase the stress of the team or an individual.
Step 3 – Decide to pause before reacting and get curious before letting anxiety run your mouth or typing. Shift to asking questions. Seek to understand why a deadline was missed, or proposal mistake made. Then focus on ‘What for’ did this happen - what can we learn and how can we move forward.
Step 4 – Step up to being a Leader and be a great coach. Your team is just as stressed and has just as many challenging home situations. Your job as a leader is to help them move into a positive mindset – one of possibility and hope and a mindset of confidence in their capacity. Helping your team move into the para-sympathetic brain allows them to be resourceful, empowered, and creative.
If your team stays in a reactive, defensive state they will be in the sympathetic system, flooded with hormones that shut down the creative and resourceful executive brain. Limiting beliefs will only increase along with errors and reduced productivity.
We all need to support and encourage each other to stay in a mindset of ‘we got this’, we have succeeded before and will do so again. We have the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and grit. There are solutions. We have won before, we are skilled and capable, and so we will win again.