If you manage a team – I’ve got x3 bits of good news for you

As a manager you wear several hats. You’re a coach and a cheerleader, a team captain and a high performing individual as well as a communications expert and a diplomat. Over the last year many of my clients who manage teams have also been a shoulder to cry on, a source of resilience and motivation and an emotional support counsellor.

That’s as well as being a teacher, chef, house renovator and dog trainer.  So if you manage a team and are feeling exhausted it’s no surprise. According to the 2021 state of the manager report, manager burnout increased 78% since the start of the pandemic.

As we emerge from lockdown, I believe we will shift back to working in offices and meeting colleagues in real life, but we’ll never return to this thing we’re calling ‘normal.’ Relationships have changed, team dynamics and culture have changed. We’re not the same people who entered lockdown a year ago.

Wellbeing is more than just a ‘nice to have.’

Workplace wellbeing has gained more importance, there’s been a shift from ‘a nice to have’ to a business priority. Many of my clients now have a wellbeing buddy system and mental health first aiders which are working well to provide support. I hope this support will be here to stay.

How we feel about our work, our colleagues and our managers is important for our wellbeing, but it’s also important for the success of the organisations that we work for.

When we feel safe to bring our whole selves to work we’re more productive, motivated and happy. That’s also when creativity flows. All these feelings are linked and flow in and out of each other. When we’re motivated we’re engaged and when we’re engaged we’re motivated. It also works the other way round. When we’re not happy or motivated we’re least engaged and less productive.

That’s why if you’re a manager, your role is so important and also potentially exhausting.

As a manager you’re responsible for driving business outcomes by ensuring your team is motivated, empowered to work on the right priorities that are aligned to their interests and strengths, and have the support required to deliver their best work.

An employee’s relationship with their direct manager has a strong influence on their ability to do their best work. You make a big impact in how your team feel in terms of opportunities to do meaningful work and to learn and how they feel about their working life. I’m not saying this about you, but in my experience people tend to leave bad managers rather than bad jobs or bad organisations.

How do managers successfully wear all the hats?

Give your team time, space and permission to learn. When times are tough learning and development budgets are often the first to get cut. Find ways to help your team learn, whether that’s’ responsibilities to work on new projects, formal training, or encouraging them to find a mentor. Help them focus on the skills they need right now.

When LinkedIn Learning recently asked learning and development specialists to identify the most important current skills, it looked like this.

  • Resilience and adaptability
  • Technology skills/digital fluency
  • Communication across remote or distributed teams
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cross-functional collaboration

I’ve got three pieces of good news for you.

First, according to the 2021 state of the manager report, employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow are 2.9x more likely to be engaged compared to those who don’t see good opportunities to learn and grow. And when people are engaged they stay with their organisation longer. (Over 3x more likely to say they will probably be with their company in two year’s time according to the report)

Second, according to Crystal Lim Lang, author of Deep Human, ‘Learning is a form of self-care. The happiest people in the world are the ones who are the most engaged and curious’

So providing your employees with learning opportunities not only up-skills them to perform better, it motivates them to stay longer and it helps to meet their wellbeing needs.

Third, four of the five most important current skills listed are human skills, they get called ‘soft skills’ yet they’re the critical skills needed to be successful in any role. The good news is that these soft skills are all readily accessible in the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is for managers who want to do a good job of wearing all the hats for their team, help them take charge of their learning and development and support their team to be happy and more productive in their working life.

When you join the Lucidity Network you get access to practical content, including webinars and training packs, brilliant people who are experts in topics that will help you find your success. We’ve training materials on over ‘soft skills’ 30 topics in the learning vault including; listening skills, how to be productive, resilience and wellbeing, strategic thinking, storytelling, adapting and learning from failure, having difficult conversations, managing up and improving your memory.

Joining us is easy. Here’s your link. And if you’d like to help yourself and join your whole team, get in touch because there’s great discounts for group membership.

The 2021 stare of the manager report combines insights from 3.4 million employee engagement surveys primarily conducted in 2020 on the Glint Platform with LinkedIn behavioural and survey data and expert interviews to deliver data-driven recommendations. You can download your copy here.

How to trust your gut

Have you ever had a gut feeling? Or made a decision based on instinct? How did it work out?

Trusting your gut, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. It’s also on occasion stopped me from doing things. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

How to trust your gut

The key to learning to trust your gut is when making any decision is to take a minute to listen to yourself. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own.

Tune into your body

Learning to trust your gut is about paying attention to your body. Some people will experience an actual ‘gut’ feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself ‘what’s really going on here?’ and explore what’s happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

Sometimes we’ll get this ‘something’s not right here’ feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion.

You have to have a clear head to trust your gut

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case – and it may sound obvious – do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important decision.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain, which is where terms like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and ‘gut-wrenching’ originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings. Ignoring them might do more harm than good.

Say what you think and feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, ‘put your own oxygen mask on first,’ and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the ‘safe’ option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, or trust your gut and go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

You’ve still got to do your research

As well as listening to your instincts, it’s also important to do your research. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run the Lucidity Network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research and crowdfunded for the set up to test the concept.

Challenge your assumptions

When you look at the assumptions you’re making, this could also be a clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, ‘What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?’

Identify your biases

Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colours our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed.

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favouring people who we see as belonging to the same ‘group’ as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favour people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

Trust yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself? Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it.

Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean that you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The bottom line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. Trusting your gut is part of your decision-making process. It’s about slowing down and listening, being aware of your assumptions and bias, doing your research AND listening to what you’re your gut is telling you. Tune into what your body is telling you, trust your gut and start making sound decisions today.

A version of this blog as first published at Lifehack. 

What can you do about the Monday night blues?

Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. As much as the pseudoscience has been debunked over the years, it is stubbornly sticking around, so we might as well acknowledge it.

Many of us are familiar with Sunday Syndrome, that sinking feeling as the weekend draws to a close that it will soon be Monday all over again. But what can you do if you have the Monday night blues? If the reality of being back at work was as bad as you had been fearing: what then?

Right now, I suspect more people are feeling Monday night blues than ever before. It’s January, which is never a cheery month in the UK, as it’s cold, damp, Christmas has been and gone, and the January paycheck seems an eon away. And this is January 2021. In the UK we’re in our third full lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The last 10 months have been tough, and the promised hope of 2021 is slow to come. People have lost jobs, loved ones and opportunities.

The job market is hard right now, and we are expecting this to continue for some time. You may not feel able to leave a job right now, which can lead to you feeling trapped.

If you regularly have the Monday night blues, here are a few suggestions that may help. And if you are struggling, there are some links to how you can get help at the end.

Focus on the things you can change

While you may not be able to change your job right now, what changes can you make to make things more enjoyable? Talk to your manager about taking on a project or task that you would enjoy, or would give you a stretch, and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed it.

If you’re employed, self-employed, or out of work right now, is there a new skill you could learn that you would enjoy. Even better if it could improve your chances of a new job, or piece of work.

And focus on how you spend your day. Gary Gower wrote his guide to life in lockdown in April last year. While his suggestions can’t change a job you don’t like, he has useful tips for when life is tough. Breaking up your day so that you get away from your desk can help break thought patterns that may be contributing to how you are feeling about your situation right now.

Celebrate your wins

Every week in the Lucidity Network Facebook group we celebrate our wins for that week. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’ve secured a promotion, won a long-planned for pitch, gained some insight from a ‘failed’ project, or managed to go outside for a walk every day that week, you’re encouraged to share this with the rest of the group.

Why do we do this? Because we know that many people are pretty rubbish at celebrating their achievements: I know I am. By being asked to think about this at the end of each week, we’re prompted to reflect on what we wanted to achieve. This can gradually train our brains to have a growth mindset, and to focus on what we’ve achieved rather than hasn’t gone well.

There are many ways you can celebrate your achievements. Some people like to write three positive things in a journal at the end of each day. This year I’ve started a jar of achievements, and I’ll write down my achievements and watch the jar fill up over the year. The important thing is to start doing it, so why not join the Lucidity Community Facebook group where you’ll be prompted to each week. You never know, you might find it helps.

Do something that sparks joy

Not to get all Marie Kondo on you, but joy is important for us all. I need to point out that joy and happiness are different things. As a rule of thumb, joy is cultivated internally, and happiness tends to be impacted by external events.

Author J.D. Salinger once eloquently described the difference as: “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.”

Because we can spend a huge proportion of our time working, we can often feel that if work isn’t going well that means life isn’t going well. Finding and doing things outside of work that spark joy and meaning in your life can help mitigate some feelings of dissatisfaction. Perhaps there’s a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up, a class you’d like to start again, or volunteer for a cause you really care about. If you’re feeling fulfilled outside of work, it’s easier to feel a level of joy that isn’t easily shaken by bad days at work.

Jo Gibney is Head of Business Development at the Association of Volunteer Managers, a membership organisation for anyone who works with volunteers, and a freelance digital community manager.

Need help?

If you are struggling right now, your GP should be able to signpost you for help, or the Mental Health Foundation has a page of resources: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/getting-help

*Coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004, after a holiday company asked him for a “scientific formula” for the January blues, Blue Monday falls on the third Monday in January every year. Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-51173730

Are you good at asking for help?

Last month I ran a webinar with Caroline Doran, founder of Deliver Grow on managing uncertainty. We had some great questions and an interesting theme came up. It’s not the first time.

Several times I asked viewers to put their questions into the chat box. I encouraged people to ask for help, even if it was specific to their situation because I could pretty much guarantee that someone else would be grappling with the something similar, so it would help others too. Also I felt pretty sure that someone else would have been through a similar situation and come out the other side, and therefore could help.

The questions started to flow, and it highlighted and sparked a conversation about how we can find it difficult to ask for help.

It can happen for many reasons:

  • We’re worried about what other people will think.
  • We’re worried of asking something that may seem silly or trivial to others.
  • We don’t like to feel vulnerable.
  • We feel we should be able to figure it out for ourselves.
  • We know others have got lots of things that they’re worried about so we don’t want to add to their stress.
  • We hope the problem will just go away and we won’t have to bother anyone.

The thing is, the vast majority of people like helping others. We’re social animals, we live in communities. Helping each other is just part of being human.

Yet, even though we may like to be asked for help, even though we like helping other people, even though helping other people makes us feel good, when we have a problem we often hold back from asking others.

It doesn’t make sense!

Who are we not to give others the opportunity to help us? Who are we to deny others the opportunity to feel good? It’s a gift to be able to help other people – yet we often feel that asking for help is a burden.

Also in my experience most of the time we think we’re alone but we’re not. When we voice our feelings, we learn that other people have experienced what we’re feeling too. Just knowing we’re not alone can be helpful in itself.

So next time you think that the problem will go away, that its silly or that other people have enough on their plates without you asking them for help. Just ask for help.

One of the reasons I set up the Lucidity Network was to provide a community where it feels OK to ask for help. A place where people have a sense of belonging, understanding and enjoy helping each other. If you promise to ask for and give help you can join us here.

You can also watch the replay of the webinar on managing uncertainty with Caroline Doran in the Lucidity Network archives.

Gary Gowers guide to getting past the 6-month wall

A guest blog on getting past the 6-month wall, by Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier that likes to be heard.

A long time has passed since I wrote my first ever blog – my guide to life in lockdown. When I wrote it I didn’t realise that the corona virus would impact us all so significantly or for so long. Last week we hit a 6-month wall.

I’m Gary Gower, a wire fox terrier and I live with my PA Lucy Gower.

At the start of lockdown we were optimistic. I was delighted that I got better walks and the long evenings and the light mornings meant I got the best sniffs of the day. My PA got really busy providing more support and connection for her membership community, the Lucidity Network. We even had Zoom lunches where I got to wear a cravat and cheer people up just by being me! But then we got Zoom fatigue from looking at people and pets on a screen all day and we went into a decline.

That’s when my PA had a panic as her work is mostly training and conference speaking in rooms with lots of people. They stopped happening. She wasn’t going away at all. We were stuck at home alone and I missed seeing my friends at doggy day-care. We both got a bit grumpy and anxious.

I think this was when my PA started baking cakes. She made a different one every week to practice new recipes’, and feel she was learning new things. But that stopped in June when she said the cakes were making her clothes shrink.

Then we worked hard at optimism. My PA appreciated that she wasn’t spending much on petrol. We got lost on the common a lot as (my PA said she had to do 10,000 steps a day) and we appreciated discovering new tracks and bogs. I appreciated the volumes of stinky mud I got to roll about in.

We’ve definitely got to know each other better, and we have adjusted to a different life. My PA always has an online delivery booked in, and the cupboards are better stocked in case we get locked down. We do good walks and don’t get lost as much as before, although there has been less mud. We moved to a smaller house that apparently costs less and I have new neighbours to bark at.

But last week I’ve noticed my PA is back in a slump. I think she hit a 6-month wall. She’s got a kind of disinterested boredom. She said she has brain fog and is finding it difficult to concentrate. She’s talking about wading in treacle. She’s struggling to be motivated to do anything; work, relax, watch TV, read or do the washing up. At least she still gives me dinner and takes me for walks, but even that feels like an effort. I think her mood affects me. I sit on the top of the stairs with a sad face. Even my favourite toy, Christmas Pig doesn’t cheer me up.

I was listening to the radio and apparently there’s a thing called surge capacity.

According to Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child development at the University of Minnesota; Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.

However, she says that natural disasters usually occur over a short period and are visible. If there’s a hurricane or a flood you can look outside and see the damage. And according to my PA (dogs don’t have great sense of time passing) we passed the 6-month wall last week and there’s nothing visible – just an uncomfortable feeling of indefinite uncertainty.

Masten says. ‘It’s important to recognise that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.’

Basically we run out of steam. No wonder my PA is feeling it. Maybe you are too? Me, not so much as I’m a dog and I just roll with the punches, but my PA talks about a feeling of loss; loss of ‘normal’ life.

Gary Gowers tips to get past the 6-month wall

The ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty. All the tips to help you adjust to life in lockdown in my last blog still apply. In addition, here’s some things that I’m working on with my PA to help her keep going for however long it takes.

Give yourself permission to feel what you feel

If you feel rubbish, disconnected and disinterested then that’s OK. You don’t have to be brave if you’re just not feeling it. Work on just accepting that’s how you feel. Give yourself permission to expect less. It’s OK if you feel like sitting on the sofa. It’s OK not to feel great. Accept that it is what it is for now. I just go and sit in my bed with Christmas Pig.

You can’t change the situation but you can change how you approach it

My PA said that 2020 had been a ‘sh*t show’. Acknowledge that and then find a ‘yes and’ to go with it. For example, ‘this year has been really tough but me and my PA have got to hang out a lot and go on some great walks with some brilliant mud which has been really great’. Don’t deny how you feel, and in addition to the gloom, see if you can find a positive ‘yes and’.

Make plans

We all need to have something to look forward to. And lots of us have had big plans curtailed by the pandemic. (I was supposed to go and stay with my grandparents, who give me lots of treats and I was super disappointed). Don’t stop making plans for the things you enjoy doing. It helps to have something to look forward to. Even planning a walk with a friend can make a positive impact on your day. Recently my PA and me went canoeing to the pub with some friends. We looked forward to it, and it was a really super afternoon.

What things do you miss – and how can you recreate them?

We’re all missing things, holidays, coffee with friends, playing at doggy daycare. Jot them down. Are there things that you can adapt? For example, many people have told my PA that they miss the informal chats at work while making tea because all they do now are proper meetings. Can you start the meeting 10 mins early and everyone in the meeting make tea first to still have those chats? I miss when my PA used to leave me on my own when she had meetings, so I go and hide on my PAs bed and pretend she’s gone out.

Build your resilience bucket

Humans are resilient. You all have a full bucket and every knock back spills some resilience out of it. So its important to do things to keep the resilience bucket topped up and not let it get empty, because that’s when you burn out. Thankfully I’m one of the things that keeps my PA’s bucket topped up. She feels better after going for a walk or when she fluffs my beard up into funny shapes, or boops my nose. What’s your thing or things that help to build your resilience? And can you do them regularly so your bucket doesn’t get empty?

Stay connected

According to Masten, ‘The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social support and remaining connected to people. That includes helping others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.’ 

I know that when I’m feeling grumpy I just want to sit on the top of the stairs on my own, but I know if I go for a walk, chase a ball, chew a stick and sniff other dogs that I feel much better.

Humans need to stay connected too and make a deliberate choice to do it. It can be easy when you have disinterested boredom to just go inside your own head. Be deliberate about stepping out of your own head and connect with others on a regular basis.

If you’d like help, support and connection to get past your 6-month wall, check out the Lucidity Network. My PA runs it. It’s a mix of training, learning and connection to a network of brilliant people to help you keep your resilience bucket full during the new normal uncertainty. You get to have the occasional lunch with me too. For more information and to join us click here.