I have a soft spot in my heart for military leaders. I am just beginning General Mattis’ book, Call Sign Chaos, and already I wish he was involved in this whole COVID-19 response. I admire people who seem to carry the weight of leadership around and make it look like a feather. I also know that’s not reality, because each leader also serves in such roles as father, mother, spouse, friend, mentor, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, and neighbor. They are just people, and as people, they have the same fears and need the same support as the rest of us.
We all need to remember that leadership is lonely. It can get especially lonely in a crisis that causes us to have to lead day after day without much of a break. While breaks might come from the work, the real difficult crisis’ don’t give you an emotional break.
Jim Collins introduced us to the Stockdale Paradox in his business classic Good to Great. A survivor of brutal conditions as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Admiral Stockdale shared his secret:
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Admiral James Stockdale (Good to Great, p. 85)
Remember your leaders, every day, are summoning the energy to face the brutal facts and retain that deep down hope that allows them to stand in front of you to tell the truth, admit failures, communicate the plans, and tell you what you need to do – all the time trying to show courage and confidence. Some do it better than others, and yet know that are all exhausted by it and have to find a place to recharge.
Here are four things you can do to help provide some much needed support to your leader:
- Send them a note: Encouragement and gratitude are two things that nobody ever gets tired of. In working with leaders I often hear stories about the one person that took the time to offer this, because it matters! It is also an emotional boost that they can revisit often because people rarely throw these away.
- Focus your faith practice on the them: I had a friend recently ask how he should be praying for me. Admittedly, I stumbled over an answer because I was surprised, and yet it made me dig a little deeper into something that was weighing on me. Whatever your faith practice, focus it on your leaders.
- How can I help?: A simple question, and yet it opens the door for a conversation that will make them think and ask for something that leaders in crisis sometimes forget. The other question I love is How can I help you?
- Tell them a success story: Being close to leaders in a crisis I hear the issues they are struggling with and the challenges of solving them. One of the questions I often use as an EOS Implementer is What is working?. It requires everyone to stop and think, because our crisis glasses too often just see the problems. By sharing a story of something that is working you help them see progress or give them a measure of the impact their plains are having.
- Remind them they are not alone: A handshake, a hand on the shoulder, a pause to look in their eyes and show that soft, empathetic face and simply share, “Remember you have a great team around you that loves you and wants to help you. Together we can do this.”
The truth – we all have a place in helping them recharge, so pick one of the actions above and do it for your leaders.