The pandemic has taken its toll on societies all over the world. Those in leadership positions, who have had to lead organisations through the worst uncertainty this generation has ever had to face, have seen more than their fair share of calamities. Having to make difficult decisions around keeping the organisation afloat, while looking after the wellbeing of a battered staff is not an easy task, at best. Many leaders have also found themselves in the unenviable position of dealing with bereavement in their spheres of influence. Some more than others.
Then there is the collective pain of the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is difficult to not feel the weight of the dark clouds the pandemic brought with it. Constant news of people battling for their lives and many succumbing to the virus is bound to affect us, whether we recognise it or not. Somehow, we do feel the pain in the ether. For some it is buried deeper in the subconscious, but it is there, always gnawing. It is therefore no surprise that the inevitable spikes in levels of depression and the like have become more prominent. Everyone is taking strain, but leaders do not only have to look after themselves, they also have to concern themselves with the wellbeing of those they have to lead.
The result of having to lead uphill, is that many of us tend to set our own needs aside and focus on what must be done. We must soldier on, a noble quest. Fighting for survival in an upside-down world. If not us, then who? In the process we tend to miss the signs that tell us that we are in trouble, at risk of running our own immune systems into the ground. And, in turn, increasing the chances that we are becoming walking risks ourselves. You are no good to the organisation when you are no longer your healthy self.
When we run on adrenaline, it is very easy to miss those subtle signs that tell us we’re rushing toward our own spot of trouble – until it is too late. We know that it is common sense, yet in the heat of the moment we forget the simple principle of looking after ourselves so that we can remain in a position to serve the greater good. We may even tell others that they should look after themselves, while we know deep down inside that we are neglecting ourselves, hoping that we will escape the inevitable bullet that comes with the neglect. Whether our immune systems betray us in the middle of the heat, or we only see the effects on our bodies, our minds in our relationships later, the bullet is not escapable.
It is therefore important that leaders regularly check-in with themselves and proactively look for those tell-tale signs that all is not ok. The signs are always there. We just choose to ignore them. Sometimes the signs ask us to take time out and breathe. Sometimes the signs tell us that we need to seek professional help before we are so deep in it that we are forced to rest. When we are running on fumes it is easy to tell ourselves that we are running with some fuel in the tank. Intuitively, we soldier on because we fear that things may fall apart if we stop marching.
That self-deception could cost us dearly, but also those who rely on us. Smart leaders know this and take the counterintuitive route. The more the heat is on, the more one should ensure that you have measures in place to help you to disconnect from the heat so that you can find your equilibrium. In the heat some of the subtle, and not-so-subtle signs include, inter alia:
- Aggression or withdrawal.
- Overreactions, irritability, outburst or mood swings.
- Poor concentration, memory lapses, confusion, poor decision making, mental fogginess, or being easily distracted.
- Fatigue, significant weight changes.
- Increase in use of substances such as cigarettes and alcohol.
If you can tick any of those signs as something you have observed in the last number of months, your system is telling you to that you are heading for trouble. Find ways to take time out and do something that helps you relax. Importantly, ensure that you increase your nutrient intake and take supplements and vitamins to help you keep your immune system strong. Do not underestimate the long-term effects of stress on your body. This is especially important if you are having to deal with stress and loss in your personal life too. In organisations people often dehumanise leaders, and its easy to fall into the trap of brushing your personal trauma off, in the interest of serving the organisation’s needs.
One should also have the courage to admit to yourself that you need professional help when there are signs that you may have reached a stage that is beyond just not being ok. Signs indicating that it is time to seek help include, inter alia:
- Heaviness in the chest
- Deep depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse to cope with stress
- Unable to control anger outbursts
- Harming self or others
One of the most difficult things for strong people to do is to recognise that they need help. A wise woman once told me that strong people do not bend, they break. She was trying to teach me that strong people who do not see that they must at times bend and seek help, do not survive. The last thing you want to happen is to find yourself incapacitated by burn-out or beaten by a virus, because you allowed your immune system to be run into the ground. What good will you be then?