As someone who studies, writes, coaches and speaks about how to develop exceptional leaders, I have seen how a crisis can distinguish the best leaders from the rest.
Never are strong leaders needed more than amid crisis. This is also when it is hardest to be an exceptional leader.
In crisis is where the ‘rubber hits the road’ when it comes to leadership. This is when a leaders proclaimed values are tested. It is much easier to be a good leader when everything is going well. But that’s not when we need leadership. Leadership is tested in the tough times – when the tide goes out.
Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked. ~Warren Buffet
Earlier this week, I had a coaching client who was distraught about a decision that needed to be made about letting people go.
I have heard some of the most beautiful and compassionate stories of how companies have executed this hard decision. Unfortunately, I have also heard other examples that I’ve had a hard time understanding.
Today, I would like to say thank you to all of the leaders who’ve lost sleep trying to figure out how to save businesses and jobs;
Who are sacrificing just as much as they are asking their people to sacrifice;
Who showed up and engaged human to human, even though most were forced to communicate these difficult messages through screens;
Who made sure their people understood the contribution they had made to the company’s success;
Who pushed for their people to be able to say goodbye to colleagues and clients because the decision was due to circumstance not performance;
Ultimately, those who put people over process and did it with care, kindness, and compassion.
In crisis, the majority will over-focus on what needs to be done and under-focus on how they will do it.
It is these leaders, who focus on how to demonstrate their values, who take ownership of their impact, who will make the hard decisions but communicate them in a way where people feel seen, heard and valued; these are the leaders whose positive legacy will stay with us long after the crisis is behind us.
Following our call, my client realized he had been fighting the wrong battle – the decision that had to be made.
Accepting it was leadership of the business.
But his leadership was on full display when he started fighting for how he was going to communicate it – that is the leadership of people…even after the tide goes out!
my computer, you’ll find a folder called “File of Funnies.”
is what the actual file is called. As you might expect, this is where I keep
videos, pictures, memes, stories, and basically anything that I find funny.
Some are just for me and others I share.
you have ever been in one of my audiences, you know that I love to use a funny
video, first to make people smile but also because I believe that when we
laugh, we let the learning in.
turns out the science would back this up. Laughter raises our overall
Increasing perspective and creativity.
Decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol.
Triggering the release of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
In fact, my research on exceptional leaders and what differentiates the people that experience higher levels of Leadership Vitality versus Leadership Fatigue, (appropriate) humor and laughter are consistent contributors.
This makes sense as laughter inspires hope, it strengthens relationships, it is grounding in the midst of chaos, and it can lessen our burdens, even if only for a short time.
I’ve seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. ~Bob Hope
I have been filling up my “File of Funnies” lately, not just because there is a lot of funny things being shared, but because with the accumulating impact of social isolating, I need to go into the file a little more often.
Every time I scroll through, I am reminded never to underestimate the power of humor.
With all of the uncertainty everyone is facing, there are three guarantees that you should expect :
1. Everything will take longer. Conferencing everyone in, trying to call into a customer service center, or waiting in line at the grocery store, expect everything to take longer.
2. Emotions will be running high. Everyone is facing uncertainty, but each person’s circumstances are different. It serves us to remember that as empathy is often the first causality in stressful situations. Even if you can’t see emotions, they are there and will influence people’s effectiveness and productivity, hence point number one.
3. Your colleagues, employees, and direct reports are TRUSTWORTHY. Please don’t make people earn your trust – start by giving it. Even if you can’t see them at their desk, even if they don’t respond immediately to your email, assume that points one and two are contributing to any delays, not that they are slacking off, untrustworthy, and lacking commitment.
It’s natural when dealing with sudden change and uncertainty for our brain to look for shortcuts via assumptions and expectations.
Shift these positively to strengthen relationships and help people be at their best.
How to stop to them from filling your day and draining your energy
I once read a story of a college professor who
became stranded in the desert after Google Maps directed him to turn left –
onto a non-existent road. He obediently followed and ended up stuck; for 11
days. This was a professor! I’m guessing that those reading this are thinking,
You’d never do that, right?
Maybe not with Google Maps, but what about meetings?
Have you ever blindly accepted a meeting invite?
At the start of a workshop a couple of years ago, I
opened by asking what had brought the attendees there that morning. One woman
joked “my calendar!”, which was followed by knowing laughs from her colleagues.
Following a hunch, I asked how many other people had automatically accepted the
meeting invite to be there that morning. Hesitantly, nearly half of the people
put up their hands.
Much like the professor who blindly followed the
Google Maps directions, these intelligent, busy, senior leaders automatically
accepted a two-hour meeting invitation simply because it was in their inbox. This
example isn’t an isolated incident.
Excessive meetings are consistently named as one of
the most prominent organizational vitality drainers. Studies suggest as high
as 73% of
people say that they attend too many meetings too often.
In our research at BrainAMPED, we have found that
there are two primary reasons people automatically accept meetings.
Or secondly, they feel they don’t
have the time to make a different choiceat
the moment, so they default to automatically accepting the meeting. Put another
way, people believe that it would take too much time and effort to decline or
negotiate their attendance, so they make the most straightforward choice available at that moment,
which means simply saying yes.
Though understandable, each of these tendencies will
leave you spinning in a self-created, negatively reinforcing meeting vortex.
More meetings leave you with less time. Less time leaves you feeling like you
have less choice. Less choice and less time will drive you to automatically
accept more meetings – spin and spin.
So how do you ensure you don’t
get stranded in the meeting desert even when your calendar is trying to divert
you that way? Here are two strategies to break out of the meeting
When you feel like you don’t have a choice, turn on your high beams.
Typically, your car’s automatic daytime running
lights are designed to show the objects on the road in front of you. When you
turn on your high beams, it illuminates the objects around you.
Depending on your company culture or role, there are
undeniably specific meetings that you are expected to attend. That is the road
in front of you.
However, what possibilities on the periphery do you
have some discretion to make decisions around? If declining a meeting isn’t an
option, then take control of how you manage your energy, actions, and time
around those meetings.
Perhaps, you go in and block the hour following a
group of back-to-back meetings. This predetermined time block ensures you can
address follow-ups while things are fresh in your mind. Or maybe you pre-plan
some portable snacks to take to meetings to keep your energy up.
I like to put my favorite kickboxing class on my
calendar at the end of a day filled with meetings. This commitment forces me to
leave my work and helps me clear my mind. I am always more efficient the
following day or if need be, later that evening, if something urgently needs to
Push back on the feelings of
meeting overwhelm by turning on your high beams to see where you can take
deliberate control of your choices around future meetings.
When you feel like it’s easier just to accept, create a fork in the road.
This strategy is meant to force you to slow down,
analyze the terrain ahead, and make a thoughtful choice before automatically
accepting a meeting invite.
The decision fork is derived by asking yourself a
series of questions before accepting the meeting. Examples of the ones we use
at BrainAMPED when helping our clients deal with meeting depletion include:
Are you clear on the purpose and what is expected of you in this meeting?
Do you have the physical time and energy to be fully present and effectively contribute?
How will attending this meeting impact on your productivity and critical priorities?
The goal of the
first question is to help you take personal accountability in collecting
Too often, people complain about meetings without
taking action to change them.If you don’t have these necessary details,
graciously ask for them before accepting it.
Remember, the meeting organizer has included you;
assume they see you as a valued attendee. In your request for details,
acknowledge that and let them know that your questions are to ensure you can
contribute best to the success of their meeting.
The goal of the
second question is to push you to be proactive with your time and energy
Take a step back and look at where this meeting
falls within your calendar. Consider both that day of the meeting and perhaps
that entire week. How many meetings do you have?
For example, maybe you need to let a meeting
organizer know that you are in back-to-back meetings in different locations, so
you will be late or may need to leave early. This clarification can help them
proactively adjust the agenda so that you can still contribute or be present
for decisions critical to your work.
I often choose a different location to take a
conference call to decrease distractions. Challenging yourself with these
considerations motivates you to manage your time and energy.
The goal of the
third question is to help you to think about goals and workflow more
If the answers to these questions suggest that your
attendance isn’t ideal from a business perspective, now you have a thoughtful
conversation template to have with the appropriate people.
And if it turns out you still need to attend, go
back to strategy number one and turn on your high beams.
Reframe the first part of the question to “What can
I do to ensure”…I am clear, I have the time, and it has the best
impact possible on my productivity and priorities. You will be surprised how
creative you can be when you make intentional decisions.
Whether Google Maps or meeting invites, you always
have some choice, so double-check before proceeding. It will surely help ensure
you don’t end up stuck somewhere you shouldn’t be!
Three questions to help busy managers lighten their load while developing their people
As a manager you know there is never a shortage of problems that
need fixing. Consider how many times this occurs in a typical day; someone
knocks on your door with a problem, a complaint, a request, or an idea that
they want your help addressing.
Who should be the first to offer a solution in these typical
types of conversations?
When I ask this of audiences, the room is always quick to
pipe-up with a communal “THEY SHOULD!” My follow-up question is always, “who
usually offers a solution first?” With much less enthusiasm, some of the braver
soles in the audience admit “we do.”
There are very good reasons why managers tend to be the first to
offer solutions and advice to other people’s problems, even if a little too
quickly or a little too often.
For starters having the answers, figuring things out, and
solving problems are precisely the skills that have helped many smart and
accomplished people achieve their success. Not to mention most managers that my
firm works with are genuinely just trying to be helpful.
On the other side are a whole host of workplace frustrations
that leave managers feeling like the only way to survive the day and protect their
energy and sanity is to solve things as quickly as possible and move to the
Do any of the following
scenarios sound familiar?
It feels like people are constantly dumping their problems on you to fix?
It feels like you keep having the same conversations again and again?
It feels like people are continually complaining about problems instead of bringing solutions forward ?
It feels like your job description should also include workplace firefighter, or worse, babysitter?
That to save time and ensure things are done correctly, it feels easier to just do it yourself?
If you find yourself nodding along in agreement to three or more
of the scenarios, chances are, you are at risk of what I call
This is a form of decision fatigue,
which refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual
after an extended period of decision making. The consequence of decision
fatigue may be the tendency to go for takeout over a healthy salad or skip the
gym for a Netflix binge following an intense day of decision making.
Fixer-Fatigue can be thought of as the deteriorating quality of solution-seeking conversations led by people dealing with a high volume of problems.
As a result, many managers stop asking questions and instead find themselves diving directly into fix-it mode, problem-solving and advice-giving.
Whether you want to develop your team to become more
self-reliant problem solvers, or you are tired of other people’s problems
suddenly becoming your problems to fix, there are three questions that when
asked consistently, will help decrease the potential of Fixer-Fatigue.
Take two; someone knocks on your door with a problem, complaint, request or idea. Instead of jumping into solutions, advice and fix-it mode, start by asking the following questions:
Question #1: What have you tried
This may seem like an obvious question but is surprisingly
under-asked. The benefit of opening with this question is that it immediately
starts you from their perspective and establishes a two-way dialogue.
Unfortunately, managers suffering from fixer-fatigue often respond
by stating the most obvious solution. Rarely is it helpful and instead, often
shuts people down.
I have witnessed the most well-intentioned people fall into this
trap (myself included). Liz Wiseman, the author of the New York Times Bestseller:
calls these leaders the “accidental diminishers.” This is because they
accidentally shut down the conversation, the intelligence, and the ideas of
others by taking-over the problem at hand.
The power of starting with the simple “what have you tried so
far?” has a two-fold advantage. First, asking it shows that you respect the
person and their abilities, especially if they are skilled and experienced in
the area they are bringing to you. Secondly, their response establishes a
starting point. This is true even if their answer is, “I haven’t tried
Especially in the latter case, it is critical to resist jumping
to solutions or offering your ideas as it will only reinforce the expectation
that you will fix the problem for them. Instead, look to challenge them to
think about their problem more deeply. Questions could include: What ideas do you
have? What has stopped you from acting on them?
If you consistently have people showing up at your door with the
expectation that you will solve their problem, it should raise a red flag.
Instead of getting angry and judging others for a lack of initiative or
motivation, use it to prompt your curiosity.
Why do people feel like they need permission to make a decision?
Look internally, what might you, as their manager, be doing to promote this
If you habitually fall into the advice trap and default to
solving other people’s problems, you may inadvertently be training people to
drop their problems on your desk.
Question #2: What else would be
helpful for me to understand about this situation?
This is a personal favorite of mine because this question helps
bring to light the periphery information. It also challenges people to think
more broadly and empathetically about their problem and the different
perspectives others may have about the same situation.
Additionally, it helps you avoid the trap of escalating a
problem with the intention of helping someone only to learn additional context
that would have changed your approach or your stance altogether.
People naturally tend to start from their perspective, remembering
and sharing information selectively to help build their side and justify their
actions. Your job is to make doing so more difficult and thereby challenging
them to think more broadly.
Other variations of the question include: What might this
problem look like from the outside?
What would the other side say is the most important thing for us
to understand? Or finally, what else could be contributing to complicate this
By committing yourself to ask this question, and the initiator
to consider their answers, you both get a fuller view of the situation and
ensure neither succumb to confirmation bias or
move forward on too narrow of a view.
Question #3: How are you looking for to move this forward?
This final question puts the accountability directly on the person
bringing the problem. It engages them to think about how they see things moving
forward and what (if any), help they need in the process.
Often this question is phrased as, how can I help? Or, what do
you need from me? As helpful as they
seem, they often initiate unintended consequences. Challenge yourself to frame
the question in a way that doesn’t automatically insinuate that you need to be
involved. If they need your help or support, they will ask. And if you can
support, now you know the best way to offer it.
Surprisingly, even though many managers say they are frustrated
with dealing with the constant barrage of crisis crossing their desks, it can
also be rewarding, especially if you can save the day. Be careful not to react
by rescuing people or interjecting yourself into a solution to make yourself
feel valuable. Instead, refocus on developing people to need you less and
trust themselves more.
Asking these three questions will undoubtedly save you time,
frustration and energy. Not only that, but simultaneously they will ensure you solve
the right problem when necessary, stay involved where needed, and step
back more often.
Besides, people are almost always more motivated to act on their
own ideas versus advice from others, no matter how good your solution is!
These 3 simple (research-backed) changes to the order of your evening is all it takes.
8:00 am: Get to work – Too tired to think.
1:00 pm: Go to a meeting – Too tired to think.
6:00 pm: Make dinner – Too tired to think.
11:00 pm: Go to bed – How do dragons blow out candles?
Sound familiar? This was a post a friend sent me a few months ago with the comment, “Why does this have to be so true?!” Variations of this made the rounds of social media sites simply because it reflects the frustrating reality that so many people deal with when it comes to falling asleep.
It turns out that just because you’ve decided it’s time to sleep, doesn’t mean your brain or body are on the same schedule!
If this is something that affects you, you’re not alone. Studies spanning the last two decades have indicated a steady rise in people, particularly women, having a harder time falling asleep.
This sentiment is shared by many of the clients that come to my company to help them raise their Work Vitality Quotient (WVQ). Inevitably, the discussion of sleep and the impact it has on their performance, leadership, and life satisfaction always comes up.
Clients will often say that because of things such as shift work, family commitments, client emails, or early morning commutes; going to bed earlier or getting up later isn’t an option. This makes falling asleep quickly a priority. Unfortunately for many of us, this just isn’t happening.
While numerous things may delay the onset of sleep, one factor that is undeniably having an impact is our tendency to push all day long in hyper-drive go-mode. By aiming to squeeze in as much as possible during the day, many people have inadvertently left little time to transition out of go-mode and into slowing sleep-mode.
“We get ready for everything. We need to shift our mindset around sleep from something we do to something we get ready to do.”
If you’re thinking, “I’m already too busy, I won’t have time for this,” fear not! This strategy isn’t about adding to your day; it is about changing the order of your evening.
With a few small, but intentional adjustments to your evening activities, you can establish a wind down routine that helps you to both relax, as well as craft the necessary transitionary time to make falling asleep easier.
A simple method that I have been using with clients as well as personally is what I call the 3-2-1 Sleep ‘E’ Routine. The goal of the approach is to create congruence between your desire to sleep and your brain and body’s readiness to sleep – yes, to help make you sleepy. The shift in your evening activities goes like this:
3 hours before bed – Limit Eating and intense exercise
2 hours before bed – Limit Emailing & work
1 hour before bed – Limit Electronics & screens
What does this look like in real life? Let’s say you plan to be in Zzz-land by 10:00 pm, this would be your approach to winding down.
3 Hours Before Bed (7:00 pm). Wind down EATING and exercise.
First step is to address eating, especially heavy meals. Your body requires time to metabolize and getting the majority of this done before bed not only results in a night of much better sleep but also decreases the chance of heartburn and indigestion, both of which makes falling asleep much more difficult. Unfortunately after the age of 30, this often increases when you lay down following a big meal.
Besides, I can’t be the only one that has the strangest and most vivid dreams when I go to bed with a full stomach!
If a nice warm decaffeinated tea relaxes you into the nighttime mode, try to finish this up within an hour of going to sleep. The later these are consumed, the higher the chance of a required middle-of-the-night bathroom break interrupting your sleep. Not to mention, the more times you wake up, the more often you need to fall back to sleep!
Next is exercise, this time allotment allows your elevated heart rate and core temperature, as well as all that energizing adrenaline adequate time to decrease naturally.
There is an abundance of well-researched data that shows exercising early in the morning increases the amount of deep sleep you get the following evening. It is during ‘deep sleep’ that the body repairs itself, and your brain cleans itself up, both of which leave you feeling more rested without sleeping more hours.
If the later evening is the only time you can exercise, consider swapping out your high-energy Spin Class for Yoga. Slower, stretch-focused exercise is widely used to calm your mind and body. To fully feel the benefits, incorporate breathing exercises and meditations. Both of which are proven to be powerful sleep-priming enhancers.
2 Hours Before Bed (8:00 pm). Wind down the emails and other work.
One of the best ways to help your brain disengage from workplace worries is to have a preset, designated time to stop working. The benefit of having this routine is that it signals to your brain that it can stop working, worrying, and thinking.
But it isn’t just about email; it is about mentally disengaging from work as well. In a 2019 survey I conducted most of the work people do in the evenings involved checking, clearing out, and replying to emails. What was most fascinating was that nearly 30% of the respondents commented that they rarely worked before bed – they just kept an eye on email. That is called WORKING!
Even if you disagree with what counts as work, research shows that constantly scanning your email signals to your brain that it needs to stay in alert-mode, ready to jump at the sign of an emergency – even when that emergency is a simple notification indicating a new email is waiting for you. Alert-mode and sleep-mode are not good bed buddies!
If you still find yourself defending your late email checking with the excuse that it helps you feel calmer to know what’s going on, read on.
Everyone knows that email can be triggering. Who hasn’t gotten a late-night crummy email from a colleague or customer? Even if you’re able to manage your fight-flight system and resist firing back an email, your brain stays hooked long after the email is read. To cope, you usually take one of two approaches. Either you try not to think about it, or you overthink it. Unfortunately, both approaches result in excessive cortisol, a potent stress hormone, being dumped into your system making sleep, especially falling asleep, much more difficult.
If the neurochemistry isn’t enough to dissuade you, consider how constantly monitoring your incoming messages and being preoccupied with with work impacts your connection to those most important to you. When you are accessible to work via email 24/7, it means we are inaccessible to the people around you 24/7. Physical connection via talking and spending time with those you love is both a more fulfilling and more relaxing way to ease into a healthier nighttime routine.
1 Hour Before Bed (9:00 pm). Wind down Electronicuse and screens.
Even with the hour before sleep being potentially the most important block of time, many people take a haphazard approach to calming themselves both psychologically and physiologically during this time.
For most of my clients, decreasing screen time before bed is the hardest adjustment to make. So assuming you’ve closed down your laptop, don’t try to trick yourself into believing that reading the day’s news or political headlines on your tablet won’t have an impact on your sleep – it absolutely does.
Just like the work email, news, and other social media all have the potential to trigger the emotional neural networks in your brain and prompting the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. When you have more cortisol, then melatonin (that sleep-inducing hormone) in your system, it chemically communicates to your brain and body to wake-up and take action, counter to your sleep goal!
In this final hour, helping your brain to disconnect from the day and settle down should be a priority. Spend this time relaxing with family, reading a good fiction novel, listening to an audiobook or Podcast, or doing some reflective journaling. It is critical to understand that the thinking brain fatigues, and the constant stimulation of scrolling social media tends to overstimulate the brain, essentially making it over-tired and unable to calm down and settle into sleep.
Before deciding what will or won’t work for you, test and tweak each step to suit you best. The calming power in routines comes from the replication of them. It takes time to get your brain, body, and behaviors on a new schedule.
The 3-2-1 SleepE Routine works with your brain and body’s natural processes so that when the light goes off, sleep is not far behind!