How Leaders Can Save Their Businesses And Avoid Burnout At The Same Time

May 28, 2020

The current pandemic has seriously strained international healthcare systems and burnout threatens doctors and nurses on the frontlines. Business leaders are at similar risk. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of small businesses in the U.S. – one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 – may close permanently if shutdowns and strict social distancing regulations persist for five months. 

Surviving the five-month mark is just the first step. As a senior executive coach, I’ve had many conversations with business leaders about how they’re navigating COVID-19. Recently, one executive told me he feels like he’s climbed to the top of a mountain – only there are more mountains to climb. 

Executives have done amazing adaptive work during the first eight weeks of the pandemic, but the process of learning to thrive in the new normal is going to take at least 18 months. Leaders who have been burning the candle at both ends will have to take a step back and reevaluate how to allocate their time and energy in a more sustainable way.

My team recently hosted a series of targeted discussions with global leaders across a variety of industries. We talked about the most important implications for leadership as this new normal unfolds. We found that leaders shared many of the same thoughts, opinions and experiences, even as their businesses were at different levels of operation and revenue growth.

Based on this insight, here are some valuable strategies all leaders can implement to ease burnout and revitalize their businesses for the long haul.

Increase your bandwidth.

Not only do leaders have to reengineer their business models for a post-pandemic world; each of their employees is reengineering their professional and personal lives, too. There are a number of variables influencing how employees return to work and even whether they return at all. Having these personal conversations with each employee is a daunting and time-consuming task.

Even leaders who work with a business coach might not be fully utilizing their coach’s potential. Engaging a coach can substantially increase a leader’s bandwidth during this complex and chaotic time. Not only can a team of coaches facilitate employee conversations; they can also help executives formulate a new business plan based on their employees’ outlook.

If 50% of your workforce isn’t able or willing to return to work, a coach can be an objective liaison who helps reconfigure your future office or facility. Because coaches work with a diverse range of businesses and industries, they have critical perspective for navigating this previously uncharted territory. Meanwhile, leaders should focus on big picture strategic changes that will help their business tackle new terrain. 

Adjust (and readjust) expectations.

In the initial weeks and months of the pandemic, leaders worked more closely with individual employees with a greater focus on empathy and personal connection. Employees have appreciated this initiative so much that leaders may find it hard to step back. But, for the long-term success of the business, leaders will have to adjust employee expectations.  

How can leaders return to managing the business while employees continue to receive the personal attention that allows them to optimize their talents and abilities? A good way to begin is by getting deliberate about how different facets of your organization use specific pieces of technology. Leaders don’t have to deliver every memo in a video Zoom meeting, for example – but colleagues may continue to benefit from more personal digital correspondence. 

The important thing is to clearly establish expectations and readjust those expectations as the market changes. Employee input can help leadership objectively evaluate which channels of communication should remain permanently virtual and which should revert to in-person interactions. 

Delegate with autonomy.

Now is the time for organizations to divide and conquer. Leaders need to get clear about where their business is heading and then deliberately leverage their teams to accomplish those objectives. A huge asset to this process is the fact that many teams and individuals are more productive now than ever before. Many of the companies I work with have recently been able to complete projects in weeks that would have taken years before.  

It’s true, for both executives and employees, that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re under the wire and you have to perform to survive. Employees have never been more highly motivated; they have increased stake in their companies, because they have assumed the role of essential workers. 

Leaders are discovering that employees don’t need to be micromanaged to be motivated. In fact, the opposite is often the case. For many employees, motivation stems from autonomy. When employees feel like their work provides real value, they are empowered to do their best work with little or no direction. Executives should seize this opportunity to save precious time by delegating more responsibilities. 

It’s easy to underestimate how much stress people are dealing with right now. More than a few leaders have told me they’re currently feeling a low level of anxiety all of the time. This is completely normal; if you have to change almost everything about your business, that’s a lot to work on. But there is good news. As the volume and complexity of this work increases, so will the number of people who step up to the plate. The best leaders will empower their teams to pull through. 

Originally posted at Forbes.com.

Impact Coaches – Sandra Oliver – Forbes Coaches Council

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