It’s officially conference season in my world and I have spent the past few weeks attending and speaking at a variety of different conferences. In the process, I’ve had the chance to chat one-on-one with many different company leaders.
Throughout these conversations, with leaders from many industries, there’s a consistent theme: it’s a slog out there.
For most companies, things aren’t as bad as they feared when recession warnings first appeared last year, but they also aren’t good. This is especially true in businesses related to consumer goods or advertising. Even as consumer spending remains high, it also hasn’t been easy for companies seeing huge demand, as they’ve faced labor shortages, supply chain challenges or both.
After years of a global pandemic and constant disruptions, people are tired at all levels of all organizations. That fatigue hit frontline employees first, but it has risen to affect upper management ranks and C-Suite leaders as well.
Obviously, this combination of fatigue and the general sense that everything is harder than usual is a double whammy for businesses and a clear recipe for burnout. Unfortunately, despite what the many commentators writing about burnout and disengagement identify as the roots, there is no easy or quick fix to this collective problem.
After three years of challenges, it’s time to accept that we’re in the middle of one of those periods in history that’s just hard. There isn’t a switch we can flip to make these problems go away overnight. With that in mind, here are some key practices and concepts that I believe can help everyone better endure the slog we are experiencing until we are on the other side.
Remember the Stockdale Paradox: The Stockdale Paradox is the greatest leadership framework for tough times that I have come across. It recommends a balance of maintaining long-term hope for the future, while being very clear about the brutal realities of the present. Every leader and CEO out there should revisit or use this framework as a first principle.
Keep Things in Perspective: While things feel pretty hard right now, most of us are lucky to live in a period of massive prosperity compared to other challenging time periods in history. Keeping perspective on our relative fortune and on being grateful for what we have is a helpful way to reorient our mindset to withstand hard times. One of the most popular books of all time is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, which details how Frankl survived the concentration camps during the Holocaust. It’s well worth a read, or a re-read.
Find Value in Scarcity: Before the stock market dip of 2022, we enjoyed a decade of massive growth, fueled by what seemed like endless resources and capital. This has now been replaced by a period of more limited resources and even scarcity. However, scarcity can often be a blessing that forces us to focus on a few things that matter and figure out what we or our organizations need to stop doing to get better outcomes.
Don’t Assume The Grass Is Greener: When things are hard, it’s tempting to want to make a career or life shift, believing that a change will make things easier. But remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side. The data on the Great Resignation is now in, and 80 percent of people regret their decision to change jobs. I predicted this outcome in a 2021 Friday Forward, and that article is as relevant as ever.
Practice Self Care: Set aside time to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. This could mean getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, or practicing mindfulness. Talk to your boss about an extended vacation, unpaid leave or using that sabbatical so you can unplug, relax and come back rested to the work and people you enjoy. And if you are a leader, think about offering extended leave to your employees who clearly need it. It may not be convenient, but neither is losing them for good.
Check Your Values: At the end of the day, what will give you the most energy is spending time aligned with your Core Values, especially when it comes to the “Big Three” of your job/vocation, community and partner. If you aren’t clear on your values, this is probably the single most important thing to get clarity on during tough times. Here’s how to get started.
Keep in mind that this too shall pass, and the slog won’t last forever. Focus on what you can control in the present moment, use your free time wisely (i.e. not social media and news), and keep your eyes on the road ahead and you will come out stronger on the other side.
Quote of The Week
“All generalizations are false, including this one.”