Friction, Factions and Fatigue As a Leader

      The last couple of weeks have highlighted the 3 F’s of leadership!

       I know, I know…there are really 4 F’s but you all know what the fourth one is, so I’ll just focus on 3 for now! 

      In the last couple of weeks, the weight of the many crises that are occurring around the world seems to have been bearing down on executives 

      One GM said, “This year is taking its toll on everyone. We are all expected to push for results and yet balancing that with being empathetic to people’s different situations is important too. It’s very challenging.” 

      Another VP shared almost the same sentiment, “I think this year is starting to take it’s toll on our leadership team. Back in March we viewed our challenges as short term. Everyone jumped on board, dug in and went full bore with supporting our teams while still being focused on achieving results, which are actually better than we imagined.” 

      She went on to explain further, “I am very concerned about many of our leaders. They seem tired and worn out by all the friction and factions that seem to be popping up. From the pandemic, to anxiety over the U.S. election, to racial unrest, to fractures in teams because some are still working from home and others are returning to the office. There are so many perspectives to be listened to and try to empathize with. Their burdenseem extra heavy right now.” 

      Another leader shared, “What I think about latelyis the team as exhausted as I am? And I am afraid to ask cause I don’t know what to do with the answer!” 

      These sentiments were echoed in many, many recent stories. 


      The Impact of the 3 F’s 

      Although this piece of research is American based,  I believe the results align with many pieces of research conducted around the world on the impact of long-term stress and anxiety over political and social unrest 

      • 60% of employees report that the [political instability] is impacting their ability to get work done.

      • 6 in 10 are distracted at work.

      • 57% report sometimes or often discussing politics while working, with 1/3 of employees saying these discussions have led to arguments.

      • 28% are uncomfortable disclosing their political views due to the fractures and factions it creates.

      • 43% of employees report that it is challenging to work with colleagues whose political beliefs differ from their own.

      The 3 F’s have a very real impact in the workplace with an increase in people taking stress leave, low morale and reduced productively.

      We have heard stories of more infighting and factions being created along many different lines. It seems people’s biases are bubbling to the surface at a rapid rate. 

      The fatigue on leadership teams seems due in part to leaders feeling the need to manage everyone’s emotions and keep the peace on the team.

      In their efforts to take good care of people, many are unconsciously suppressing people’s voices thereby adding to the stress for both themselves and their teams. 

      This kind of stress not only impacts the emotional field at work, but can also impact people’s physical health. 

      Studies in both animals and people show pretty clearly that stress can affect how the brain functions, says Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical SchoolStress not only impacts our emotional health it can also have a big impact on our physical health.  

      Stress affects not only memory and many other brain functions, like mood and anxiety, but also promotes inflammation, which adversely affects heart health, says Jill Goldstein, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School.

      Thus, stress has been associated with multiple chronic diseases of the brain and heart. In addition, it can affect men and women differently, she says.”

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide ideation have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear that 2020 has taken a toll on the mental well-being of our family.  

      At a time when the need is critical to keep people’s immunity high, the many other stressors are not helping. 

      Naming the Elephant  

      For most leaders, the idea of dealing with political and social conflict head on is about as appealing as going to the dentist for a root canal! (Sorry to all you amazing dentists out there…but it’s true!) 

      This survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) highlights the challenges in figuring out an approach: 

      • 44% of HR professionals reported intensified political volatility at work in 2020.
      • 74% of HR professionals said their organization has prohibited political attire or accessories.

      • 80% of HR professionals said their organizations have not set guidelines on communicating about politics at work 

      So, we are all in agreement it is an issue that is impacting our teams and organizations however few are sure how to deal with it effectively. 

      Creating a Safe Plateau 

      Richard Brodhead, President of Duke University, gave a piece of great advice after 2016 election: “Whatever positions we held in this contest, we all have a stake in the future health of the national community, so we all need to find ways to lessen negativism and division and to reengage the common good.”

      He went on to emphasize the university’s “respect for differences” and said that “we must not simply tolerate difference of opinions but create the conditions for respectful dialogue that allow mutual education to take place.” 

      What Brodhead is calling out is the need to be create a safe space to be open about our biases and also be able to come to some mutual agreement about how we can go forward together, honoring our differences. 

      Here are some ideas to start: 

      • You don’t have to lead alone. One leader shared the struggle with trying to figure out how to best support his team when I asked the question, “Have you shared your struggle with your team? Do you think they might have some ideas on what will work for them?” Just because you are the leader, does not mean you are a ‘one-person’ show! Share with your team, be real and encourage them to participate in coming up with ways to alleviate friction, factions, and fatigue. Being real and transparent yourself increases the trust and safety for your team. 

      • Make it okay to talk about stress. Normalize it for people and provide a safe, non-judgmental forum for people to be real. Most people don’t need you to solve anything for them, they just need a safe place to share what’s on their mind.  

      • Challenge people to wear different hats, think about things from opposing points of view than the one they hold to be true. I’m a big fan of Dr. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique. Challenge people to confront their biases and step into another perspective. 

      • Encourage good health habits. One leader shared an idea her team came up to start their weekly meeting sharing one thing they did for self-care during the past week. She said this created some good peer pressure to do something for yourself, and also created a nice bank of ideas for other people to implement in their lives. 

      • Make EAP programs and organization-led support groups known to your team and encourage them to participate. By talking about it and removing the stigma of seeking help you can greatly increase the sense of safety your team feels which in turn creates a healthier environment. 

      • Create a team ‘rules of engagement’ about how you are going to deal with fractures and factions going forward.  Tops on your list can be ‘We don’t tolerate name calling’. Name calling dehumanizes people and fuels conflict By bringing this into the open you reduced the chances of it simmering under the surface causing undue stress and fractures. The Chopra article has some great tips.

      • Help people focus on what they can control. So much anxiety is created when we are consumed by things outside our control. By helping people focus on what is within their control it gives the power back to them. 

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      We would love to hear your thoughts on the 3 F’s and the ideas you have in leading through them!

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