It’s been a long pandemic. We hope we are in the home stretch, but many of us in one way or another need to find our second wind. Or any wind. Pick a number.
I had a tiny epiphany about this over the weekend. As I have said in my writings, we are all leaders in our teams, at work and at home. And these days, those teams are demanding more of us than ever. Home and work are converging and overlapping, ebbing and flowing, in and out constantly.
At work and at home, every task seems 10 times more complicated. The interpersonal landscape seems 100 times more complicated.
My tiny epiphany flew in, as epiphanies often do, on the wings of something truly minor: dinner prep. Our whole family was in the kitchen at the same time. We were bumping into each other and standing in front of drawers that someone needed to get into. The sum total of those minor irritations brought on a wave of abject weariness.
I wrote about second winds in a more technical way last year in the Harvard Business Review. The context: millions of health care workers who now have to think in terms of marathons rather than sprints – and make the extraordinary happen on a daily basis.
But today my topic is more pedestrian: those facing the everyday struggles of leading a team at home and on the job.
That night in the kitchen, I felt tired of responsibility. I felt tired of mediating squabbles. I felt tired of deciding whose turn it was to get their way, doing truly ridiculous things like tallying up in my head how many nights we have watched Community, and how many we have watched Kimmy Schmidt. I was tired of worrying whether the evening’s cook would adequately consider the vegetarians, and whether the people who like to work solo in the kitchen would annoy or be annoyed by the people who like to work in tandem.
Sometimes these are dangerous shoals which need to be navigated. Sometimes they are just puffs of wind that will subside. The art of leadership is knowing the difference.
That night in the kitchen it came to me like a blinding flash of the obvious: the one creating those puffs of wind was me. Our pod consists of adults who know how to cook, who know what food is in the house, and what we all want to eat. The one who was bumping into people and standing in front of drawers? Both literally and figuratively, it was me.
I was micromanaging — and exhausting myself and others in the process. I was acting like I had all the answers. I was dispensing wisdom on stone tablets from a great height.
I have written and published actual books on leadership and teamwork, and all of this flies in the face of my own words.
I gave myself a little talk, right then and there, right from Chapter 7 of The Fearless Organization: be honest about the challenge ahead, admit fallibility, be explicit about what you don’t know, invite input, and respond constructively.
When you hear your own stone tablets crashing around your feet, it’s the only reasonable thing to do.