Winning When The Troops Are Tired

“I’m so sorry,: I whispered before he could even say hello. It was Sunday afternoon, and it was the third time I had to call.

He graciously spoke what we both knew was technically true, “Karin, no worries, this is my job.” But it had been a long couple of weeks, and I knew he was tired.

I hated to keep pushing, but the business needs were real.

7 Ways to Counter Attack Tired

Be a leader that strengthens the mission and the team. It’s wrong to live in a state of constant urgency, if that’s the scene, something’s wrong. Leaders must lead in seasons. But when the going gets tough, it’s important to plan your triage.

  1. Strategize Failure – The business needs this AND that. But some battles will win the war. Help your team understand what matters most. Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission. Candor strengthens resolve. Empowering “less than perfect” energizes the frontlines.
  2. Visualize the Win – Help them build a team vision aligned with the strategy. Brainstorm creative tactics and alternative approaches. Encourage talents outside normal job descriptions that support the cause.
  3. Speak to Behaviors, Not Metrics – Too many metrics exhaust. Trend and study results, but coach to behaviors. Identify the 2-3 most important behaviors that will impact results.
  4. Provide a Little Leave – The normal response to overwhelmed is longer hours and fewer breaks. Review their calendars and help them find white space. Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Stepping back will leave room for creativity and more efficient approaches.
  5. Communicate Through the Ranks – Your highest performers won’t complain. They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done. You may not even know they’re tired. Initiate the conversation. Establish regular check-ins. Make it okay to politely question your asks.
  6. Manage Your Own Stress – Stress rolls down hill. Get a grip.
  7. Encourage Collaboration & Sharing Best Practices – Fast paced pressure creates silos. Catalyze best practice sharing. Eliminate redundant work. Benchmark how other departments are approaching similar issues. Ask for help from unusual suspects. You’ll get support and it will enhance their development.
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Posted in Energy & Engagement, Results & Execution and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

32 Comments

  1. Great listicle.

    The two that jump off the page are managing stress and behaviors leading to results.

    The leader is always being watched so they need to have high emotional intelligence. Understand how they’re showing up for their constituents.

    On the behaviors side, it’s important to understand the values of the individual. What motivators will drive the person to behave in a way that’s congruent with their values and leads to outstanding results?

    • Steve, “listicle” ahhhh I like that. I agree with you, how you’re showing up can be so important. If you don’t care, and don’t connect, extra demands feel extra burdensome. Thanks!

  2. It’s a key part of being an effective leader to just recognize what the real pressures are for the team and clear the way when you can. It doesn’t mean not setting high standards and expecting commitments to be met, but as you have articulated, helping people make, manage and keep the right commitments.

    Thanks for the post
    Lynn

  3. Karin, you summed it up well….As a leader I always remember a simple “Thank You” and “I really appreciate what you are doing for the team” that can go a long way. I also look to give them a little free time back even if it seems like there isn’t any….I do it anyway. I also admit to them that I understand and feel it too….I think sometimes the team needs to know that you are “real person” and feel the stress and exhaustion too but of course just make sure that you to take the reigns and lead them not commiserate with them. Remind them of how good they are and the end goal that you are trying to accomplish.

  4. Bev, Thank you. You raise an important point. Showing you’re “real” too goes such a long way. I also agree in the giving back a little time even when it seems there isn’t anyway. You have all beautiful additions here. So glad you joined the community.

  5. Karin, Some great points. Also, encourage some lighter moments. Laughter releases tensions and creates innovative sparks, too. Take the team to a movie that makes everyone laugh!

    Another idea is to let teams make decisions; give them the white space to make the decisions necessary to move the work forward. If decisionmaking is bottled-up within one or two people, all will get worn out more quickly.

    Thanks! Jon

  6. Great points, Karin. Your first one, Strategize Failure, is one that I think is very important for team members to understand. Too often, failure is associated with giving up…instead, we all need to take a healthy look at when to stop and begin to strategize on ways to move in new directions.

    As you say, it doesn’t help to win this battle if you lose the war…

  7. I have found that the best way to address tired workers is to energize them through play or fun.
    Creating a joint project like redesigning the office space or having an afternoon tea together can help build trust and morale.
    Great post Karin!

  8. I believe a face to face genuine thank you to the direct source goes miles in terms or appreciation. Followed up with and email to.the supervisior really energizes and solidifies future repeat performances.

    • Nicole, Great to see you here. I so agree… a face to face, sincere thank you goes such a long way. And yes, people always want to be bragged about to their boss.

  9. I think one of the best ways is to provide support and encouragement. To show your people that you are their for them during both the good and challenging times. Great post and thoughts!

  10. Lovely article. I think that the constant sense of urgency is a real danger. In many organizations action is automatically mistaken with progress. With tired troops action might as well lead to decline.

    My top three to counter tired troops would be:
    – simplify: focus on the essentials and eliminate the rest (at least for a while)
    – prioritize: there can only be one first priority
    – lead from the front: inspire your troops through our own actions.

  11. Great article and we all need a bit or re-energizing from time to time. As you rightly point out in #2, the most inspiring leaders can paint a clear picture of their vision for the company and that rallies the troops so to speak. Your #5 is also vital in this regard.

    But what I’ve noticed is that many leaders rise to the top for their hard-nosed business skills. How to motivate or get the best from their staff can present a real challenge for them. And let’s not forget, if your employees are tired all the time, you’re probably under resourced. Mid to long-term strategic issues cannot be overcome by band aid style quick fixes, But I agree that what you are mentioning here would definitely be appropriate for those times of year/projects when everyone has to knuckle down and just get on with the job at hand.

    • Rob, you raise really important points. No one wins with exhausted. Real leaders size the team appropriately for the task and hand. If you’re in constant crises, something is really wrong.

  12. Want to know what people _really_ want from their leaders when they’re tired? It’s actually very simple and that it hasn’t been mentioned has me scratching my head a bit. Most of what is being discussed is ameliorating symptoms – not causes. So, here we go.

    ** Your folks simply want you to stand up for them so they don’t have to be tired all the time **

    Ask yourself a simple question to see how your leadership measures up in practice:

    When was the last time, on behalf of my team, I told one of my (executive) peers or my own boss that I/we couldn’t do something for them without a) more time/money/people, or b) stopping work on something else – and that they had to choose one of these options? And then stuck to my guns.

    You get 2x points if you felt your action might be putting some real political capital (and, perhaps, even your job) on the line. Here’s a second test, perhaps better if you define the workload for your team:

    When was the last time I stopped having my team doing something that I, personally, deeply care about and want in order to make room for them to do something else?

    The net-net is: if our people or teams are frequently tired, it’s a failure of our leadership in either a) having the wrong people to do the job, or b) accepting/generating more work than our team can handle. And only we can fix it.

    • Jim, beautiful add… yes, real leadership means advocating for the business and your teams…. both of which involve saying when too much is too much, even when that’s unpopular. It’s important to know the difference between a buckle down season and a lifestyle.

  13. Looks like Jim hit the “nail on the head”. If your people are regularly exhausted, then you doing a poor job of leading them. Furthermore, if they are working a lot of hours, then they are less productive and more prone to errors….which leads to more hours somewhere down the road to fix the errors.

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