Becoming a leader isn’t easy. Leaders are held accountable for the performance of each individual employee, but leaders themselves rarely receive the same support. And leading through crisis situations adds another layer of self-doubt. COVID-19 has forced leaders to change, adapt and make tough decisions.
“It presents a lot of challenges for leaders,” says Devin Lemoine, owner and president of Success Labs. “You’re dealing with your own emotions and your employees’ emotions.” Now more than ever, leaders are responsible for meeting more than benchmark goals — leaders feel responsible for their team members’ well-being, too. And that’s a lot of emotional pressure to be under.
Here’s how you can overcome anxiety and prioritize your own journey to become a better leader for others.
Many leaders often experience performance anxiety as the result of a lack of clarity surrounding what’s expected of them, says keynote speaker, author and consultant Jason Lauritsen. Leadership comes with some explicit expectations, but senior leadership or board members often have expectations of mid-level leaders that aren’t explicitly communicated. This leads to friction and anxiety. Candid conversations can bring clarity and minimize performance anxiety.
“Clarity about who the organization is, who you are and what you’re trying to do can help leaders overcome struggles,” Lemoine says. When leaders know their role and what’s expected of them within the organization, taking action becomes easier, whether they’re responding to personal anxieties surrounding leadership or public disruptions like COVID-19.
Leaders are responsible for supporting the people under them, but often lack support themselves. “You carry a lot of weight as a leader,” Lauritsen says. “But nobody comes to ask how you’re doing.” Typically the higher you move in an organization, the less organizational support you get. This lack of support puts additional stress on leaders.
“When you have a lot of pressure but can’t deal with it, it manifests in unhealthy ways,” Lauritsen says. It could be skipping lunch to devote additional time to a team member or putting a disproportionate amount of energy into work at the expense of your own well-being. But it’s okay to invest in yourself — you simply can’t be a good leader if you’re diminished and overcome. Set healthy daily routines, and stick with them.
Most leaders are promoted to leadership roles because they are high-performing employees. But that means that they’ve never been trained in leadership. This causes many leaders to experience imposter syndrome, which prevents them from asking for help because it would be an admission of what they don’t know. But turning to others for support isn’t a sign of weakness: it actually makes leaders more effective in their role.
“Relationships are everything,” Lemoine says. “Leaders have to rely on partnerships with employees, clients and peers to be successful.” Try to connect with and learn from peers who are in similar situations — in the organization or outside of it. Mentors outside of the organization, like a former boss you were close to, can bring valuable advice to your position, too. “You can build your own development network,” Lauritsen says.
For many leaders, spending time on themselves seems selfish and counterintuitive. But overcoming anxiety, stress and loneliness are essential for leading teams, especially during times of crisis. Put yourself first so that your team can thrive.
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