How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted — and You Are, Too

Harvard Business Review

Article: 20%, my thoughts: 80%.

  • It’s clear that the second wave of the pandemic has led to shattered determination, more volatile response by the leaders and simply less energy to be channelled into productive activities. [MK: it’s a true test of resilience for people who have invested all of their livelihood into a certain course of events, then saw the world collapse, saw the grassroots emerge and then there was a drought killing off all greenery.]

  • It’s a true emotion among the C-suite and while our job as top managers is to shield our staff from unfortunate events, there’s only as much as we can do to calm down our faithful lieutenants. Bad news and uncertainties trickle down regardless of what we do (in barely managed amounts), so it’s only fair to assume that our subordinates are getting more defensive, meaning more polarized, selfish and cynical.

  • People are getting tired. I am honestly surprised no one is using the term “shellshocked” – maybe it’s not applicable to the society as a whole, but clearly each of us has got a certain kind of exposure to it. I blame the mass media for it: what seemed to be a good idea when it came to “protecting the vulnerable” had a devastating side effect for the rest of the population in terms of lost motivation, productivity, relationships, etc. And still I personally am motivated to move on and change things around me. WHY?

  • The first shock is met with the predictable knee-jerk reaction aka arousal. We get alert, activate resources that are just skin-deep: adrenaline, fighting spirit and pulling together. It works for short stresses but wears off quickly. If you’ve ever had a shot (with a needle, yes) of adrenaline in your body, you’ll know the effect and the aftermath immediately.

  • The second wave has been the time for the leaders (I hate this word with a passion in any context but this one) to demonstrate their own resilience and lead others to believe in the positive effect of their efforts. This can’t be done by citing banalities: it’s a communication strategy built on top of one’s personal struggles made public.

  • Emergency response strategy gets scraped. The most typical disaster response strategy (in the absence of available cash!!! This is very important) is the OODA loop. The thinking goes like this: let’s focus on what’s important (usually with the highest perceived ROI or with the highest sunk costs), then we can focus on looking around us. I can confidently say about Aviasales that we have turned this logic around (thank you, game theory) – I don’t want to give away too many details, but in our view the typical emergency response concept is something we’d leave to our competitors to enjoy for a short while.

  • I hate the talks about the vaccine – a miracle cure that’s going to make us whole again. It won’t and the people who believe otherwise are misinformed. The vaccine (for better or for worse) is not a 100% guarantee one won’t get infected and she won’t share the infection with her loved ones. So in my opinion, the right approach to this in the work environment is making sure people can work from home or other safe spaces hopefully without major loss of productivity.

  • The article mentions some basic techniques around making people feel valued despite their lower performance (actual or perceived, it’s usually the latter unless you make it a problem, leading to making it actual). It’s completely true that this pandemic has killed off an infinite amount of self-respect in half the population and has led to the learned helplessness as people believe they can’t change anything. The Russian way is accepting this fact in a fatalistic way and moving on (this is the core of the Russian resilience), but it’s unthinkable for the people who believe they are completely in charge of their lives.

  • Managing apathy and boredom is hard, let’s be honest. I am trying to write 3-4 articles a week for my 3000+ audience just because it keeps me energized and had a lasting effect on my personality (which you might’ve encountered in my past writings).

  • I have always been quite uneasy about bullshit speeches to the company with the stupid quotes like “it’s always darkest before the dawn” making the core argument. In my past corporate career I’ve been through a bunch of such meetings (thank you, dot-com boom), and in the time when people want reassurance (ok, at least some non-stupid actions from the management) about their employment and careers, no amount of “we’re all in in together” will cut mustard (now that I know the comp structures of my ex-bosses, I’m almost turning socialist. Just kidding).

  • For those who just need motivation – the C-suite have to put on an appropriate face and communicate, communicate and … you’ve guessed it. In our company we know that it works because we have enormous trust from our 300+ staff; this trust has been earned, not taken for granted. But yes, it’s true that sometimes I sound a bit shallow when I want to sugarcoat certain things that (if said as they are) can lead to the loss of face for the good team members. It’s a strange personal sacrifice I willingly make.