How To Lead When You’re Exhausted And Your Team Is Too

Are you exhausted? When you find yourself overwhelmed with high demands and high expectations, and pressure from too many priorities, it can cause exhaustion. It’s particularly challenging to lead when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And when you see that your team is exhausted as well, it can feel even worse. You want to help them, but you feel so exhausted yourself that you seem incapable of finding a solution. There are times when even the most dedicated and determined leader might feel tempted to give up, no matter how much strength and resilience you usually have.

What can you do about it? How can you get yourself and your team through periods of extreme stress and fatigue?

How to lead when you’re exhausted.

Be a role model. If you are pushing yourself to the absolute limit, your team can see it. They see you are starting work at 6:00 AM and sending emails at 10:00 PM, they notice you working through lunch every day and skipping your normal workouts. And, because they want to help and support you, they may push themselves equally until both you and your team are so exhausted that morale declines, tensions rise, and mistakes happen. Instead, if they see you maintaining a healthy work-life balance, they are more likely to do the same.

Be critical. Take a close and critical look at what you and your team have on your plates. Are there any tasks that can be delegated? Are there any projects that can be declined or delayed? Are there goals you had at the beginning of the year that can be re-evaluated? You may need to take a hard look at targets and numbers you were trying to hit and accept that it might not be possible right now. If you and your team are beyond exhausted, you may find that some of those goals are simply not worth the price you and your team are paying to reach them.

Be vocal. Talk with your organization’s leadership about how you and your team are feeling and explore with them what can be done to lighten the load. Can another team provide some support? Can a timeline be adjusted to give your team a little more breathing room? Can more staff be added, even on a temporary basis? When you raise the issues with leadership, they may recognize the risks to the business in terms of burnout, employee turnover, health, and wellness, and they may help find ways to alleviate some of the pressure.

Be supportive. When you yourself are exhausted and overwhelmed, it may be challenging to find the time and energy to demonstrate empathy, patience, and understanding with your team. But, because they are exhausted too, they may need that from you now more than ever. Let your team know that you see and recognize they are pushing themselves and that you appreciate them. Encourage them to be vocal as well. Let them know they can talk to you about their frustrations, and that you welcome their ideas. Don’t let your team members feel afraid to admit mistakes or bring problems to your attention. Instead, put your heads together and figure out ways to improve. Your team may have suggestions that could streamline or improve a process that could help the whole team. The more you can all pull together during challenging times by supporting one another, the stronger your team can become.

Be thoughtful. Think carefully about what can be done to help reduce stress and exhaustion during this busy time. Talk to your team about it. Would it help for some of them to work from home a bit more, so they aren’t dealing with a long commute and traffic on top of everything else? Would foregoing one or two weekly meetings for a little while help give the team a bit of extra time to focus on the task at hand? Could a meeting be shortened, or part of the agenda replaced with a check-in where you can talk about how you are doing? Think through and talk through what can be done to save even a little time and energy to reduce some of the exhaustion and pressure you are feeling, and to provide each other with additional support.

Be selfish. Self-care is crucial during times of stress and exhaustion. If you and your team don’t take proper care of yourselves, you may start to see an increase in illnesses, which is likely to make matters considerably worse. Try your best to get enough sleep, eat properly, exercise, find ways to relax, and connect with family or friends who can offer support. Encourage your team to do the same.

Be smart. When you’re exhausted, decision making can be affected, and tunnel vision can occur. Try to avoid making hurried decisions. When confronted with an issue, ask yourself if it’s something you can come back to later in the day or sleep on. Try to give yourself a little extra time so that you don’t make the wrong decision. Talk it through with a trusted colleague who might have a different perspective.

Be imperfect. Let go of perfection for a while. While striving for perfection can be admirable, it can also amplify some of the causes of overwork and exhaustion. You may need to adjust your normally high expectations of yourself and your team members. Don’t make perfect the enemy of good.

Be confident. You and your team will get through this challenging time. You’ll learn lessons and gain confidence from it that will help you be stronger, more prepared, and better able to prevent overwhelming exhaustion the next time you and your team are pushed to the brink.

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