'Keeping Your Head Above Water'

Posted on 25th July 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I highlight a recent article by Julie Zhuo. She addresses a conundrum of leadership, and of life: how do you keep up morale when times are tough? What can we do to maintain a positive mindset in moments of pressure and disappointment?

Maintaining Team Morale in Tough Times

Zhuo begins by acknowledging how difficult this can be. “Still, if you can’t manage to remain with your head above the water, if you can’t be optimistic or hold onto some small fragment of hope that you ‘will’ succeed, then you won’t. We don’t do well at fooling ourselves. If you wake up every morning feeling stressed out and cynical and disempowered, you won’t do your best work. And without good work, no team can succeed. This is why, when things get tough and you are in the discomfort zone, managing what’s going on in your head is the single most important thing you can do.”

A first tip is to ‘focus on the good’, in order not to be overwhelmed by the negative. The key is to actively look for things to be positive about. “Maybe your co-workers are amazing people. Maybe your team’s mission is noble and inspiring. Maybe you and your team don’t know everything yet, but you’re fast learners and grit is your middle name. If optimism should spring from anywhere, it’ll be from what you do well. So talk about that. Bond with your team over that. Don’t try to drag up your weaknesses. Instead, ride forth on your strengths.”

A second recommendation is to ‘look for opportunities to step back and reduce pressure’. This addresses the mode that many of us default to when the pressure rises: I’ve got to work harder, I’ve got to finish faster, I’ve got to do something. Sometimes those may be the right answers, but sometimes the right answer is actually to step back, to slow down, and to think.

I have also found that pressure in teams can generate a lot of energy, and we usually have a choice: are we going to direct that energy at solving a problem, or direct it at people, in what is often a hurtful way? I’ve learned from experience to direct that energy at solutions, and not at people.

Zhuo’s third tip is to be willing to ask for help, and to offer it. “Because it’s hard to do good, creative work when you feel like you’re operating in a tiny room with the walls closing in you, one of the most helpful things you can do is find people who can connect you with your most idealistic vision of what’s possible, who can spark new ideas in you, and who can give you some much-needed perspective when you’re feeling down and stuck. We all need support.”

Valuable team wisdom from Julie Zhuo: Be positive, reduce pressure, and we all need help sometimes.

Good luck, and until next time…