Braving the Unknown
Right now, business owners everywhere are putting on brave faces for the world, but experiencing various degrees of fear, overwhelm, and breakdown behind closed doors. How do I know this? Because I’m one of them, too.
We’re trying to show up as brave, resilient, and like we have it all together. But behind the forced bravado, we’re feeling worried and uncertain.
It’s true that some businesses are still doing well, maintaining their current levels of business, and there are others that are even thriving during this time (take virtual video conferencing platform Zoom, for instance). Yet, so many more of us are struggling. Worried about paying our employees, taking care of the bills, and providing for our families. Which leaves us wondering, “How the heck am I supposed to lead, when I don’t feel like a leader?”
If you find yourself nodding along as a struggling business owner, please know you’re not alone. You’re doing the best you can right now and making some of the toughest decisions you’ll ever have to make. You might even be coming up against harsh criticism for some of the decisions you’re making. Here’s the thing, it’s hard being in the game, making split decisions, and taking the hits. It’s a whole lot easier to say what you would do differently when you’re sitting comfortably in the stands eating a hot dog. *insert sharp side eye*
Not Feeling Like a Leader
I can assure you, many of us are not feeling like leaders right now. In fact, just this past week, I sent a message to one of my dearest friends expressing this very sentiment. I definitely wasn’t feeling like much of a leader as I was trying to process all that was going on, and I was wondering how I was going to show up and talk about leadership when I was struggling myself. Talk about a meta problem, right?! Lol.
Thank God for wonderful friends though, because do you know how she responded? “Who defined how a leader shows up?” She went on to remind me that it’s okay to show up and let your people know that you’re experiencing some of the same feelings they are, that you’re human. A leader isn’t someone who is perfect, but rather someone who shows up in spite of their imperfections. Who never claims they have it all together, but who’s comfortable being uncomfortable and working through things honestly and vulnerably. The funny thing is that I knew all of this in my core, because it’s exactly what I teach leaders every day in my business. But in that moment, I needed that reminder and I’m so glad she gave it to me.
So here I am, showing up in all my imperfect beauty to say, you are not alone. None of us are perfect, nor should we strive to be perfect. Perfect is unrelatable and I want to lead in a way where others can see my imperfections, connect with me through them, and know that it’s okay – better than okay! – to be an imperfect leader.
Leaders get overwhelmed. We feel scared. We experience overwhelm. And we have breakdowns. The difference between leaders and everyone else, is that leaders continue to get back up after being knocked down. We find a way to push through the fear and overwhelm to show up and serve.
Uncovering the Message
Recently, I was listening to Amy Porterfield’s latest podcast episode, “5 Ways to Navigate Your Business Through Crisis (The Coronavirus Episode),” and I loved the advice she shared. After reassuring her listeners that it’s okay to feel and experience all the feelings, she went on to share some mindset tips and strategies to work through this crisis. I especially loved the segment where she talked about getting clarity around and crafting your crisis messaging, which is essentially outlining how you want to show up and talk about what’s going on. She recommended doing a brain dump on this topic and then cleaning it up by gathering your “gold nuggets,” those messages you feel to be true all the way to your core. She then encouraged listeners to identify the top 3 they want to reflect in their messaging.
As I was working through this exercise, I quickly realized that my 3 “gold nuggets” spoke directly to the very topic I’m talking about today, how to lead when you don’t feel like a leader. I also recognized that these aren’t just my crisis messages, but messages I share regularly with leaders who are walking through difficult and uncertain times in their businesses and with their teams.
3 Ways to Lead When You Don’t Feel Like a Leader
1: You don’t have to feel like a leader in order to lead
As leaders, we hold ourselves to ridiculously high standards. In a way, this is good because it keeps us accountable and helps us lead from a place of empowerment. However, it can also be damaging, especially to our mental wellbeing. When we don’t cut ourselves any slack, we tend to fall into the trap of believing our own toxic stories and beating ourselves up for being subpar. However, we don’t have to feel like a leader in order to show up and lead.
Sometimes, leadership looks like vulnerability. Sometimes, it means sharing the hard things in order to connect, overcome, and move forward. Don’t underestimate the power of being open and transparent during this time – with your team and with your audience. Leaders who show up transparently are regarded as more relatable and compassionate. This is a gift we can give ourselves and our teams.
2: You can make hard decisions and still be a good person
One of the most heartbreaking things I’ve been helping clients work through during this crisis is laying off their employees. It’s a decision no business owner wants to make and yet so many are forced to be making right now. And to add to this already difficult decision, many business owners are receiving backlash for doing so. Even though there are many cases when it’s better for their employees, so they can apply for and collect unemployment benefits. Talk about adding insult to injury, right?
If you’ve experienced the difficult decision to reduce your team’s hour across the board, temporarily furlough or lay off your employees, or shutter the doors of your business temporarily, please know that you are still a good person. You are doing your best. And you are leading from the front by making hard decisions that impact many lives.
None of these decisions mean you’re a bad person, a bad business owner, or a bad leader. Leaders are called to make the tough decisions and they’re not always going to make everyone happy. Always remember, you can make hard decisions and still be a good person. These are not mutually exclusive
3: Remember to take care of yourself, every day
This is a message for you as much as it is for me. I can generally withstand quite a bit of adversity before panicking and feeling overwhelmed. And I’m typically a very positive and happy-go-lucky kind of person. But this crisis has tested even the most optimistic and easy going of us to our limits (myself included).
It’s easy to constantly be in your inbox, scrolling on social media, and forgetting to eat something other than chips and guac with a soda all day long. But now, more than any other time, you need to take care of yourself. In order to lead, you must be whole and well. And you need to take care of yourself every.single.day. No exceptions!
This might look like avoiding the news for the first couple of hours in the morning, deleting social media apps off your phone, and going for afternoon walks to clear your mind. Whatever works for you, make sure you’re building them into your schedule every week so you can feel recharged and refreshed, instead of burnt out and anxious.
I know that along with businesses that are temporarily shut down and spouses and children who are now home, showing up to lead can feel even more challenging. However, you have the power within you to lead in your own unique way, in a way that feels good to you and remains true to who you are. Adversity builds strength, courage, and resilience. Allow yourself to step into the possibility of becoming the kind of leader that’s forged in the fire.