It’s okay if your leadership tank is empty


As we are nearing the end of the second wave (“last wave,” she whispered hopefully) I am noticing a trend. The calls I have with leaders and their teams contain a little secret. They are in fact hitting the proverbial wall.

What does that look like? Loss of motivation, small tasks that used to be easy take longer or don’t happen, attention spans are shorter, tempers are rising faster, and judgement and frustration are growing longer and more intense. But that’s not the secret. The secret is ...this isn’t happening to other people, it is happening to them. And the inner dialogue goes something like this:

I’m tired, I’m not motivated but I can’t tell anyone because my team can’t see this. I’m fed up and can’t take another deadline but I can’t tell anyone because they might think I am weak and just need to buck up. I’m so done and unfocused but I can’t admit it to anyone because everyone else seems to be holding up just fine so something must be out of whack with me.

I just ran into a neighbour on my puppy walk and we had a great chat from which I took away three things that relate to empty tank syndrome:

1) There are some great companies doing some really great things. Things like providing mental health resources, having relevant speakers series where people can learn new coping skills, giving covid bonuses with messages that say, “I know this is hard,” organizing virtual coffees and cocktails, colleague kudos contests and charitable giving and and and. To those organizations, I say - WELL DONE!!!!! KEEP IT UP!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!

2) We all need to give ourselves permission to take a timeout to fill our well, even if only partially. You cannot disperse water from an empty well so it is critical to listen and honour your own needs so you can keep on giving. Tell your team why you're taking a break. Be honest that you are having a moment of difficulty and demonstrate a powerful way to deal with it. Yes, it will require you to be vulnerable but the payback will be so worth the discomfort. My neighbour was doing this simply by getting out with her dog on this beautiful, dare I say, spring-like day to grab a breath of fresh air and to create a sense of community with her neighbours. She then goes back online and gives her team a weather update. We both left the encounter grateful for the connection.

3) Once we have given ourselves permission to take a mental health break, we need to give our team permission. Many organizations will support their employees if they put their hand up for help but many of us simply won’t do that. We feel weak and incompetent when we raise our hands. So, don’t ask them to raise their hand, rather raise it for them. Tell them and show them that you see them and it’s ok to take the morning off. Show them you know home-schooling has been very hard (yes, especially for women) and send them a latte and a mediation link. This lovely neighbour called one of her team members and said, “Sorry you have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, take the whole day and get well!” See what happened there? The employee didn’t have a doctor’s appointment but she did have well-deserved permission to stop and take a deep breath. Isn’t that amazing, intuitive leadership?

So from me to you, I see you. I know you are tired. I know you do not have all the answers. I know you have deadlines and bottom lines. And you are important and it is okay to acknowledge you are low on gas and need to refuel. Give yourself permission to pull into a gas station for a top-up and then...give your team members a gas card too!

Till we meet again,