Friday, May 21

Exploring Leadership: How To Re-Energize Teams


Despite everyone hoping the economy will overcome five economic fault lines, the task of recovery will ultimately fall to the leadership of individual companies and nonprofits. The deciding factor for many organizations will be whether they will re-energize their teams or demoralize them.

Generally, immediately after an organization faces an extended period of uncertainty or adversity, team members are likely to exhibit some fatigue. It makes sense. It's not all that different from running a marathon, where a struggling runner works harder and harder to either retain their position or even advance one or two positions around the final lap.

When the race ends, marathon runners tend to take a breath, place their hands on their hips or head, and walk off some of the stress. Imagine your team members much like that. It's natural. The last thing they want to think about is the next marathon.

However, smart marathon runners and their coaches also know it isn't that simple. For example, in 2003, marathon runner Lisa Golaszewski discovered first hand that runners suffer from symptoms equivalent of postpartum depression. If the post-marathon plan was too big, she felt ill-prepared and overwhelmed. If the post-marathon plan was too lax, she felt drained of energy and inspiration.

Team members respond much in the same way. Recovery plans that are too big cause burnout. Recovery plans too small are a disincentive. And no plan whatsoever, well, that is a recipe for disaster.

Where Some Will Fail.

Over the next year, some organizations that seem like they've weathered the storm will fail to meet less visible challenges. The most likely candidates will be those with leadership that will present a plan too big for team members to immediately embrace or those who attempt to motivate with negativity but no plan.

The latter occurred at one organization were I once served. Immediately after recovering from a near financial collapse that had team members fighting for the organization's survival, leadership decided to send communication to guilt members into new action with an ultimatum. While the communication was meant to target members that leadership felt were underperforming, it only served to demoralized the entire team and earned early resignations from under and over performers alike.

What went wrong? It morphed what ought to have been an opportunity to re-energize on a win into a rehash of bitterness that they did not take action on during the crisis because they were too afraid such action would have consequences. In all my years of service, the incident ranks second among the worst leadership decisions ever made. I had advised against it.

"The last thing you want to do is force racing again if your body isn't ready," Jason Lehmkuhle, another marathon runner, said in the Runner's World article.

Where Some Will Win.

The companies mostly likely to win can easily be divided into two types. The first, my favorites, will be those that never ran a marathon during the recession. They consist of companies that decided the recession was optional.

Relatively rested, these companies are among the most likely to see continued growth built on a foundation of success established during the recession. In essence, they have been running shorter races that were stressful all along.

The second type of organization that will excel will be those firms that invested equal time into recovery as they had preparing for the worst. They already have a course of action, many of them are ready to capitalize on shorter term goals through a recovery process that will position their organizations in a positive place.

The general feeling among those organization is significantly different. They knew all along that surviving the economic crisis wasn't an "end goal," but rather an opportunity to reposition. As a result, their leadership likely has a series of short-term goals that will rebuild confidence as each one is reached in record time.

"A great benefit of planning ahead is that you're not setting yourself up for the idea that this marathon is the culminating event," Sonja Friend-Uhl, a running coach, said in the Runner's World article.

Leadership Sets The Direction.

For marathon runners, the best course of action is to provide a breath for recovery and then gradually add quality and volume so that you emerge injury-free, mentally fresh, and able to capitalize on the fitness you built during marathon training. For organizations, provide team members with a breath and then focus on short-term, less stressful goals that the team can rally around. Doing so can only energize everyone.

If there were under performers, give them an opportunity to excel in the renewed positive environment or address those concerns on an individual, private basis. The last thing you want are over performers throwing their hands up in disgust over another crisis created by people who ought to know better.

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