I recently talked with a professional I really respect, an executive at a global company who has built quite a career for herself. She shared her experiences transitioning into a role where she was in the spotlight and was responsible for high-intensity negotiations for one of the world’s most recognizable brands.  

She recounted that when things were going well, it was amazing. She was winning deals and scoring accolades and attention from senior leaders. At the same time, she didn’t even realize how tired she was and how the immense weight of responsibility was affecting the deals she was making, her emotional and physical well-being, and her ability to be present with her family.  

Fissures and strains are often hidden when business is good or when teams are winning.  

When we’re making big commission checks, on the fast track to promotion, or just feeling on top of the world about our successes, it’s easier to overlook challenges.  

We minimize our stressors, thinking that we’ll see the doctor for that nagging ache “once things slow down” or we’ll make it up to our kids once we get that big raise to fund their education.  

When we’re winning, we can look past challenges. However, when we’re not, one setback can really knock us down.  

What happens when we stop winning  

A lot of pain ensues when winning is no longer present. Teams become:  

  • Exhausted: Managers typically don’t have a standard for when work becomes too much. Instead, they expect their employees to tell them when they’re overwhelmed. High achievers are often afraid of speaking up and harming their chances for advancement, even though they’re reporting high levels of mental and physical fatigue on a daily basis. They worry they may be punished or sidelined rather than having their energy needs respected.  
  • Unhealthy: The surgeon general warned “the link between our work and our health has become even more evident” and highlighted the chronic conditions that tax us when functioning in a stressful work environment.  
  • Frustrated: Less than 40 percent of employees consider themselves engaged at work, and 14 percent are actively disengaged. Disengaged employees aren’t proactive thinkers and planners. They’re quiet quitting or actually quitting because the payoff isn’t worth the frustration.  

Like a receding wave exposes what’s really underneath, unspoken dissent, frustration, conflict, and dismay become visible when growth slows or tides turn, unless the team focuses on proactively building an energy-inspired culture.  

  • Decision-making shifts from “we” to “me.” When team members have no clear understanding of how to recharge, they place self-preservation above collaborative effort.  
  • Conflict rages and the “assume best intent” principle becomes a joke instead of a value. 
  • Team members whose ideas aren’t being taken seriously begin to withdraw and shift to an attitude of blaming fueled by their survival instincts.  
  • Teams who haven’t built trust have employees who don’t put in the extra effort because they know their best interests aren’t the focus.  

Biggest of all, people jump ship, looking for more promising opportunities to bolster or save their careers. The connection to energy is clear. Under stress, we fight or flight and when fighting is too exhausting or we don’t care, we just flee.  

How do you fix the wounds created by hidden pressures?  

Sometimes, the hidden pressures start to reveal themselves only when something goes against your expectations. When you miss out on a deal, when a highly valued employee leaves, when you’re passed over for a promotion – that’s when you start to question whether all the time and commitment was worth it.  

As a leader, you have the power to keep things from getting to this point for your team members, and to set them up for long-term fulfillment in their roles. Start coaching your team away from the “winning is everything” mindset and toward an energy-inspired mindset that can help them persevere through hard times and soar during good ones.  

  • Level-set. If you’ve recognized there’s work to be done within your culture, so have your team members. Share with honesty and transparency where you are and where you want the team to be.  
  • Protect against overwork. We don’t solve business challenges with more hours worked. It only exacerbates them.  Give new guidelines for what you expect. The leader I mentioned in this article has developed a No Laptop Challenge for her team. They keep one another accountable to put their computers away outside the office, separating work and personal time so they can truly rest and recover, then do their best work when they’re on again.  
  • Lead with high positive energy. If you understand the relationship between your energy and your leadership capacity, you’ll be better equipped to lead thoughtfully and strategically, and to shape your team members’ experiences and expectations.  
  • Stand up for them. When an unreasonable timeline or demand comes down from leadership, how do you handle it? If you want your people to trust you, you have to be on their side when push comes to shove. Share what your team’s facing and highlight their hard work. If you back down and ask them to pile on additional work regardless of your new norms, you’re showing them that winning at all costs really is the most important thing.  
  • Cultivate rest/recovery. You expect your team to perform well. Are you giving them the bandwidth they need to rest and recover, so they can work more effectively? Rest should be considered fuel – a necessity for their sustained success, rather than a luxury that can be pushed aside.  

Hidden pressures only stay under the surface for so long. When they rise to the surface, it means they’ve probably been there for quite some time disrupting your team’s efforts and creating layers of frustration and disengagement.  

As a leader, you win when you make it possible for your team to win on all fronts. Give them the tools to manage their energy levels and you’ll make it more possible for them to perform at work and to thrive personally.  

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