Over the past few months, I have noticed that some of the teams that are working in schools look & sound very different. They are tired… and I mean the kind of tiredness that is in your bones. Depleted. Nothing left in the tank. Running on empty. Hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
I feel confident in sharing my observations with you here because I have the privilege of working in many different buildings. This observation is common in pockets of many of the schools that I visit - not all - but definitely most.
This is not to say that people who are working in other sectors aren’t equally as tired - because I know that they are. It would be irresponsible of me to not acknowledge this. And, certainly some of what I am proposing here is applicable to business, etc...
My repeated observations of tiredness have led me to ask myself some interesting questions about how we are leading and how we are supporting. It really has me thinking. And, I’m beginning to wonder if the “old” way or the “old” rules no longer apply.
"It's like trying to play a cassette tape on your iPhone. It just doesn't fly".
Before the pandemic, I used to think that it was reasonable to ask members of our team to separate their home life from their school life. I was a believer that this was achievable. Now, I’m not so sure that is the way to go. I’m noticing more and more people who don’t ever seem to find rest, recovery (or even joy) in either of their roles - at home or at work. I’m noticing more and more how intricately woven these two worlds have become since the pandemic has subsided. So, the new question needs to be if this is what we’re seeing, then how must we lead? Does this mean that our leadership approach has to shift? In my opinion, yes it does. It has to, or we’re not gonna make it.
Now more than ever, I think members of our team are seeking the need to be seen, heard, felt, acknowledged and appreciated. I think it’s increasingly more difficult to keep work and home distinctly separate because these two worlds were forced to collide and now we’re struggling to return to “the way it was”. We’re working under new unstable conditions. Most of us are making it up as we go along because each day brings about some new level of challenge that we thought was over.
The level of tiredness & exhaustion in the workplace is at an all time high - in my opinion. I feel that it’s much more present now compared to any other stage during the pandemic. So, what’s the cause? For some of us, our ability to care is compromised because our stamina is gone. Remember, we truly thought we were done. We thought we had weathered the worst of what we had to deal with. Not true. Staff are still not coming to work. We are now seeing crippling inflation and the economy is in the tank. We’re seeing a new combination of illnesses and a healthcare system that is in steeper decline. So many of these challenges that we’re currently experiencing are things we thought we would not need to endure any longer … because we thought we were done.
I see all of these pressures, strains and challenges continue to be prevalent in our places of work - especially schools - where the needs of parents, staff & students are at levels that I have never seen in my 25 year career. This concerns me greatly and as a leader with many years of experience behind me, it has me worried beyond belief. So, we must reflect and ask ourselves some tough questions.
Many of the things that I have listed above are not within our control, so it seems futile to spend energy on them. However… There's definitely one thing that we can control and this is how we choose to lead. I think we need to create more opportunities to connect face to face with our people and truly check in with them. We need to ask the questions that we don’t really want to hear the answers to because we know the answers are going to be messy. Our people are messy and it’s time we acknowledge that this is going to be our new normal. We need to talk to them in the most authentic way that we know how. So yes, this means tiring work for the leader who is tired himself.
Leadership needs to look a lot different these days. It’s the people around us that matter most - now more than ever- and I think we’re all just trying to figure it out as best we can, as we go along.
So I ask myself … How do we hold our teams accountable to do a certain job or to produce a certain outcome, while continuing to support them? What is the best way to do this in our current social & professional environments?
I think we need to focus more on our leadership process rather than our desired outcome. We need to first show empathy towards our teams. Then, we can formulate a plan - with them - about how we still need to achieve a certain outcome. I think we can all agree that without our people, none of us can run our schools or run our businesses. We need to continuously remind our people that the current situations that we are experiencing are temporary and that the tiredness is an opportunity for change, growth & reflection. But the most important thing is this… we need to tell them that. These conversations need to happen & this is the messy, tiring part for the leader. We need to listen to their current experiences, acknowledge this and join them in the trenches. Step into the body break room where the kid is having a meltdown & throwing furniture. Step onto the sales floor and work with a difficult client who is demanding the impossible.
Our current social and professional environments are evolving in a way that they never have before. As a result, I think our approach needs to evolve too. I see this as an opportunity for us to work with our teams about how they deal with difficult circumstances. Let’s really dig into the mindset conversation here. Will it always be this way? Heck no. The mindset of the struggling team member has everything to do with the outcome. Are they willing to see that the hard thing in front of them is feeling tired or overwhelmed? How do they want to respond to this? This is the challenge in front of them. The focus needs to be on developing a plan to deal with feeling tiredness and the rest will take care of itself. We need to ask them about their self-insight. Do they have an accurate view of their own struggles, perseverance and limitations? This is where the learning needs to happen because the “old way” of how the staff member functioned is no longer applicable to today’s conditions. It’s like trying to play a cassette tape on your iPhone. It just doesn’t fly.
I think it’s imperative to have these types of difficult conversations with our teams. We can still keep the expectations for performance high, but it has to be done with a certain toughness that is compassionate. In order to do this in a significant way, this requires an open mind towards personal growth & a high degree of personal effort on behalf of both the leader and the team member. And yes, it’s damn tiring, but it’s so worth it.
That's all I have for now.
Thanks for reading.