How to lead an exhausted team when you feel the same

How many people on your team are feeling worn out? Business as usual feels like a thing of the distant past and any more “pivoting” will be too much for an already exhausted team.

Shutting down, returning to work, a second shut down (and a third?) and now continued uncertainty — anticipating, planning, scrambling, and trying to keep it all together has taken a toll on everyone. (And then there is all the personal stress people have been dealing with!)

But many of the leaders we work with tell us that it’s not just their team members who are exhausted: They’re worn out, too.

How do you lead an exhausted team when you feel the same way?

We’re hearing similar stories from leaders across a wide variety of industries and locations. Not only are their teams struggling, leaders confess they’re feeling:

  • A roller coaster of emotions
  • Hopeful, but behind
  • Less creative and agile
  • Stressed about dealing with the way the work world has changed and the world in general
  • Uncertainty and fatigue
  • Demotivated and foggy (what some experts call “pandemic fatigue”)
  • Worries they’ve got to figure out how to avoid leadership burnout

It’s not surprising that exhausted leaders with exhausted teams also report:

  • Workplace tensions increasing
  • Witnessing (or personally experiencing) emotional outbursts
  • Low employee morale
  • Employee turnover
  • More stress leave/sick days

These feelings are rampant, whether the leader works in an industry that’s booming, treading water or floundering.

When it’s hard to find enthusiasm and focus as a leader, it’s nearly impossible to reassure your team and inspire those you’re trying to lead.

What can we as leaders do for ourselves and an exhausted team?

Actively build resilience. Sometimes we’re focused on productivity in the workplace, but we need to build resilience alongside productivity. As leaders, we need to do this for ourselves and we have to demonstrate how to break negative thought cycles, set healthy habits, focus on what we can control (“with the information we have right now, our plan is X”), learn from our mistakes, and more. Our capacity to overcome difficulties is a skill that we can develop, in ourselves and our team members.

Dig deep and find the ability to keep going. It turns out if Covid were a race, it would be a marathon, and we’re not sure if we’re past the halfway point or in the home stretch. Yet most of us approached it 18 months ago, as a sprint. And, many of us are still running like it’s a sprint. Instead, it requires a steady pace with some leadership self-care so that you’re not running on empty. If you know you’re barely coping, take a mental health day (or long weekend!) to rest and restore your mind, body and spirit. That means keep your phone turned off and spend time doing what you truly enjoy. (And, by the way, that’s modelling healthy habits for your team!)

Resolve to regain a sense of control. When we’re busy and consumed by constant demands, seemingly endless worries and that overwhelming uncertainty, it’s usually pretty certain that we’re staying busy but we’re not really being productive. At the same time, not being busy feels wrong when work feels unpredictable or precarious. When you take steps to regain control, you’ll feel more collaborative, creative, effective and resilient. THAT makes your leadership feel more positive, confident and stable — all of which is what you need to lead an exhausted team!

Set priorities. You and your team need actionable and achievable goals (yes — set goals for this crazy time), but also priorities that determine what is important and what is urgent. Often we have a very human tendency to focus mainly on what feels urgent and then we need a break or lose stamina before we get to the other stuff. Instead, what are we missing that is important but not yet urgent? What important things are out there that we’re not focusing on because we’re driven by that urgent item of the day? How can you get ideas flowing again about what we’re not doing that is important? And, what are we overwhelmed by that could be let go or, heaven forbid, sent onward as “good enough”?

We’ve highlighted the Eisenhower matrix as a great tool for this purpose in an earlier blog about living in a constant state of urgency. It helps you sort tasks into four quadrants: urgent, or not and important, or not. You want to be putting your effort into working on what is important and NOT urgent so that you catch important items before you’re facing an urgent situation.

Keep listening and observing. Ask what your team members need for support and listen to what they tell you and what your gut tells you after you observe interactions. Some folks are tired of being told to stay calm and carry on, and now they want to know what to do and how to do it.

What energizes everyone? Maybe it’s time to move from sharing concerns or commiserating over worries to celebrating wins and challenging each other to do things. What people need this week could be different next week or in a month. Keep asking, listening and engaging.

Don’t tackle everything alone. Leverage the talents of your team to figure out the way forward together. People feel more energized when they’re involved and feel heard. Connecting with everyone on a human level may rally them to find a second wind, too. If you’re not already, try using a Coach Approach with your team so that you’re not responsible for directing everyone and doing all of the problem-solving. The bonus is that building a coaching culture helps organizations win big because there is a tangible ripple effect as people learn, grow and brainstorm ideas.

Coach’s Questions:

What has been the most draining for you in recent months? How can you change that or let go of it? What can you do this week to re-energize and lead more effectively? Where do your priorities need to shift?



At what point is your management career most at risk??

What point in a management career causes – or caused you – the most challenges?

What we’ve seen and heard from thousands of clients in hundreds of organizations over the last nine years is that the biggest challenge individual leaders had to get through in their career – and the biggest risk companies face in people management – is…that first big step from worker to manager.

If you’re facing this, you’re not alone. And if you’re a leader or HR Manager, there are ways you can support your new managers better.

Why is taking that long and often lonely walk from worker to manager so hard? Well, there are a few reasons:

Most organizations promote people who are good at their jobs but not prepared to manage others effectively. It’s only natural to want bigger things from and for our most valued employees. Unfortunately, though, the skills you’re so good at – the ones that make you the factory’s best designer, the government’s best policy maker or the ag company’s best salesperson – are not the skills you’re going to need to succeed as a manager. And while that may sound obvious, most organizations do little to address it.

There’s an expectation that good team members will just figure out the management role. You see, when you’re good at what you do, we tend to like to think you’ll be good at anything you set your mind to – so we expect you to be a good manager. Often folks aren’t sure they are even ready to be a leader, but a promotion is a step up the career ladder and a pay raise is attractive, too and of course, you don’t want to look like you’re not willing and able. So what happens? It feels like being thrown into the deep end without any swimming lessons and really, the only thing you know about swimming is from having watched others. Congratulations on the promotion! Sink or swim while everyone is watching.

Making the move from being part of a team to managing them can be complicated. Add in different (or fractious!) personalities, petty jealousies or nagging self-doubt thanks to feeling you don’t have what it takes to be in the role (also called imposter syndrome), and many new managers struggle to feel confident and capable. It takes time, practice and the right tools to develop an executive presence.

Many times, the timing of a promotion to management doesn’t allow for much of a learning curve. When a management role comes open, we’re likely anxious to fill it quickly and don’t have time to start training someone in the finer skills of managing people.

(Pro tip: In an effort to mitigate this, we encourage leaders to get serious about succession planning!)

Your role suddenly shifts from doing the work to managing relationships. It’s a huge change to go from doing the work to helping others do their best (and not micro-managing because you want to keep doing the work for them!). Learning on the job means mistakes are inevitable, but there are five must-have conversations with new managers that their leaders can have with them to set them up for success.

Putting theory into practice takes time. Some large companies have management development programs that future managers can take, which can ease the transition from team member to manager. Additionally, some leaders are really good at teaching and coaching their staff to prepare them for management – rather than making decisions for them and directing them to do things. BUT the reality is most people face a daunting challenge just to learn the ropes as a manager – let alone get comfortable in their first management role. And who do you turn to for help and encouragement? It often feels very lonely at the top.

Perhaps you’re thinking, I’m on that path – how do I prepare to lead others? OR, I’m already in my first management job or leadership role, and I feel overwhelmed and frustrated – what do I do? Or perhaps you’re considering the folks on your management team – what can you do to help them?

Whether you’re a manager or a leader who wants to be great in the role – or if you’re aspiring to advance into one of those roles – we want to help you get there.

Maybe even more importantly, we also want you to enjoy the journey along the way, not worried and stressed each day.

We want you to feel confident, skilled, knowledgeable and supported.

One-to-one coaching is tremendous, of course. It will help you overcome every obstacle you’re facing. But, there’s also another option for about half the price — group coaching as part of a peer program. There is additional power in peer learning, which we see lead to success for managers and leaders across all industries.

At Padraig, we offer two COACHED peer group programs:

The Network – For managers, new leaders and those who aspire to leadership roles. This program offers coach-led group discussions as well as four fundamental leadership courses, over one year. The program meets monthly alternating between 90-minute group coaching sessions and full-day courses. Participants in this program develop peer bonds as they become leaders — solidifying a network of connections for years to come while successfully learning and applying the skills of great management. Each successful participant graduates with our Certificate in Leadership Foundations.

Our next cohort starts September 23, 2021. Register now before the group is full.

The Partnership — If you’re already in a leadership role and want to deepen your skill and experience while building a small network of like-minded peers and working intensely with one of our coaches, we have The Partnership — our peer group program for experienced leaders. This program brings experienced leaders together in a small group with a certified executive coach for monthly group coached sessions as well as 4 private one-to-one coaching sessions, all held over the course of the year.

Our next cohort starts September 28, 2021 (meeting the 4th Tuesday of every month) and another starting September 30, 2021, on the last Thursday of every month. Register now before we sell out.

Coach’s Questions:

When you think about your career, what are the first most challenging times that come to mind? What could have helped you? Are you helping others at that point? What can you do to get support for yourself and/or for the managers on your team?


Leadership tips for managing team members who question authority

At some point, most leaders encounter someone who seems to want to undermine them.

Whether you’re leading an organization or put in charge of a project team, dealing with someone who is resisting your leadership or outright insubordinate is necessary before it damages your team, the esprit de corps or your reputation.

Often, questioning authority manifests in a few different ways:

  • Subtle sabotage during meetings or when performing tasks, for example by asking questions only intended to raise doubt or inspire discord or by complaining about assigned duties behind the leader’s back (often someone who is either the determined cynic, constant skeptic or know-it-all)
  • Triangulating — complaining about the leader to everyone but the leader
  • Gossiping to damage the leader’s reputation, be divisive and undermine team morale
  • Intentionally ignoring or defying directives
  • Intimidating or inappropriate comments or abusive language to denigrate the leader or leadership
  • Confronting the leader in front of others rather than having a conversation in private (not that team members can’t raise contrary ideas — good leaders can handle criticism — but rather that the intent here seems to be to make the leader look bad to others)
  • Missing deadlines, refusing to perform assigned tasks or duties or failing to perform them well as a protest against the leadership

Usually questioning authority becomes an issue when there is a personality conflict or resentment if someone feels that they are more qualified to lead than you are. There are also some people who will challenge you to test you — to prove that you are worthy of a leadership role (especially if they have more seniority or are more educated than you).

Here are some ideas for handling team members who question your authority:

Don’t take it personally. It’s hard not to, but you need to stay calm and in control. Try to be objective and listen to concerns with curiosity and the intent to understand. Use this as an opportunity to develop your executive presence so that your team sees you as a confident, credible, calm and consistent leader.

Clarify roles and responsibilities. Remind whoever is questioning your authority that you were assigned to lead by X (name the manager, director or board) and that you are taking the position seriously. Be clear about their role and that you value input from them in that role.

Help them see their role as a teammate. Whether someone is a direct-report on a team of folks who report to you, or they’re a peer on your own team, it helps to do some team building to build trust or strengthen relationships with our Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team workshop. This helps them step away from seeing themselves as the expert in “X” to instead being a member of the team where everyone works better together.

Deal with conflict head on. If there is someone who relentlessly pushes for their own approach after a decision has been made, listen and reiterate what you or the decision-maker have decided. Swiftly redirect if the conversation is being derailed and take control of meetings calmly and assertively. Sometimes leaders hope that if they ignore problematic behaviour that issues like this will disappear, but generally they don’t and that’s when other members of the team start wondering if you’re going to continue letting this person undermine you. Others start to wonder if you have the skill to lead.

Set boundaries. A usurper needs to know that you will not relinquish your leadership and that there are clear boundaries and consequences for crossing them. Don’t ignore serious breaches of behaviour. Difficult conversations are essential, so arrange to speak privately with someone questioning your authority about the behaviours that need to be corrected. Does the employee acknowledge there’s a problem and their role in it? Be specific, provide neutral examples and identify consequences. Make it clear that team members can disagree with you civilly and that there are times when they must accept decisions they might not fully agree to.

Document misconduct. If you need to speak with a team member about poor behaviour, take notes about problematic situations and who witnessed them. When you meet with the team member, record briefly what was discussed, including when you spoke and what you agreed the next steps would be and when you’d follow up. Hope for the best (the situation will be resolved), but prepare for the worst. If you do need to let someone go — either from your team or from the organization — termination shouldn’t be a surprise and you’ll want the documentation to back it up.

Seek bad news. Leaders need to be hearing the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’re soliciting honest feedback — and listening — your critics might become very good allies because they know that they are being heard. Your business will do better when you’re making informed decisions based on as much feedback and information as possible. You don’t want people telling you only what you want to hear.

Encourage good conflict. Yep! Encourage it. Dissent or contrary views aren’t inherently bad, it’s how they are shared and worked through on your team that matters. Building productive team conflict and healthy team dynamics are essential to success. Sometimes you’ll discover that the person questioning your authority just needs to feel heard and may have very valuable concerns that have been ignored by others in the past.

Be clear on decisions. After you’ve encouraged everyone to share their concerns and raise conflicting points, and you’ve shown you’re listening and considering those views, make clear that a decision has been made and the full team must commit to the decision — even if it’s not the way they would have done it. Someone has to be the decision maker and that person must listen to new ideas and other ways of doing things and then select what they feel is the best option. Everyone else must support them in implementing that decision.

Try a Coach Approach. If you want your team to thrive, try using a Coach Approach instead of problem-solving everything yourself. This shifts the conversation from you as the leader directing others to asking, listening and getting others to think through problems. Confidently leading your team with a Coach Approach allows your team to learn and grow.

Coach’s Questions:

When have you struggled with someone questioning your authority or undermining you? What is the biggest challenge for you? What behaviours “push your buttons”? What can you do to build a cohesive team and foster good, productive conflict while setting clear boundaries on what is good and what is bad conflict?

Why making assumptions can be damaging your team

Making assumptions can be a problem for anyone but particularly for a leader in the workplace.

When we assume things about ourselves, other people or circumstances, it can cause:

  • Division, possibly to the point of creating a toxic work culture
  • Hard feelings, which foster discontent and complacency
  • Loss of motivation, feeling there’s no point
  • Team breakdown, preventing dialogue and innovation
  • Decreased productivity (preventing forward movement)
  • Retention issues (great employees might leave!)

We’ve talked before about the Ladder of Assumptions (also known as the Ladder of Inference) here at Coach’s Questions and how making assumptions can undermine the potential for your team to succeed. It’s a tool that our executive leadership coaches often use with clients that helps us understand how we think — particularly if we’re misinterpreting things or making assumptions.

But how do leaders know what kind of assumptions are being made?

When you consider your work and your team, think about some of the most common assumptions we encounter in the workplace. These might include things like:

“We’ve always done things this way and it’s worked just fine.”
“Don’t even bother suggesting that. They’ll never listen.”
“Leadership doesn’t get what we do. They’re looking out for themselves.”
“They say that, but they don’t mean it. Nothing ever really changes.”
“Some people can’t be trusted. Gossip and workplace drama are a given.”
“Don’t admit to mistakes or ask questions because it’ll count against you.”
“You’ve got to watch out for yourself. No one else will watch out for your interests.”
“I haven’t heard any issues. If there were concerns, people would raise them.”

In each of these examples, making assumptions is limiting thinking and hampering creativity. Making these kinds of assumptions is going to limit what a team can accomplish because they hinder how well team members work together.

Often the assumptions we make are based on past experience but not necessarily even past experience with that person. They are based on stories we tell ourselves about the world around us. The thing is, we usually make assumptions based on our own view of the world.

The heart of the problem is often that our assumptions inform the question, “Why are they doing what they’re doing?” We can see what others do and hear what others say but we can never truly know what’s going on in their heads to motivate what they’re doing or saying. Our assumptions attempt to fill in that gap but, of course, the assumptions (aka the stories we’re telling ourselves) are based on OUR experience in the world, not the other person’s.

Have you noticed that when you’re having a bad day people seem more irritating? Perhaps more needy? Perhaps less hard-working? That’s not because there’s a conspiracy, but rather because your bad day is casting a shadow over how you see the world — you assume things are not going to go well with people, you assume people’s intentions aren’t good, etc.

Of course, occasionally our assumptions help us out — we’ve learned from past experience with Sally that she’s very interested in her own career and not interested in helping teammates. IF that has proven true in action, then our assumptions were correct — and it’s helpful to have that as ONE thing that might inform our assumptions. But that thought, that assumption, that way of thinking builds a bit of a pathway in our brain and it makes it easier for other assumptions to follow the same path — soon, when we’re tired, or having a bad day, we start making that assumption about someone else. We start thinking their own selfish self-interest is what’s driving them to do something.

Keep in mind, this holds true for everyone around you, too. Your peers are making false assumptions about you based on their current view of the world, plus your staff are doing it with you and with each other. And, occasionally, other people voice their assumptions and opinions that then go on to inform our assumptions and opinions.

As a result, you might be watching Joe in marketing carefully because a peer told you he’s impulsive, loves drama and could be a problem — and you’re set to depend on Manjot in accounting because everyone “knows” she’s a rising star who multitasks like no one else can.
Consider the way assumptions could colour your view of Joe or Manjot leaving early for a family situation:

Joe – “Did he really have to dash out now? He likes to exaggerate things for attention.”
Manjot – “How does she manage it all? There must be a real challenge at home for her to leave early like that.”

I know this all sounds daunting and perhaps insurmountable. It’s sometimes difficult to change your mind about someone once you’ve made an assumption, but it’s not impossible. It can be helpful to try to keep an open mind and take other opinions into consideration but not as absolute truth. Most importantly, it’s essential to remind yourself that you’re making assumptions all the time, and to notice them before acting on them.

As leaders, we can strive to:

  • Notice the self-talk, the assumptions, we’re telling ourselves about why someone is saying or doing something and ask ourselves if it might be incorrect this time.
  • We can reframe the thought with positive intent (‘what if he’s got a big problem at home and is really struggling?’).
  • Occasionally ask people what their motivation was. Not, “ugh, why did you do that?” but rather, “I wanted to check in — you left really early yesterday, what was happening?”
  • Strive to be impartial because when people share opinions, they might be biased, have ulterior motives or be making their own assumptions – consider them as one source and only one.
  • Try to find more than one opinion about someone. Understand that different personalities react in different ways, so some “issues” might actually arise from miscommunication and misunderstandings (there are different tools for understanding yourself and others and at Padraig, we use the Everything DiSC Assessments with our clients. In particular, if you find yourself making assumptions or excuses for people when things are in conflict, you might want to consider our Productive Conflict course.)

Making assumptions is problematic because it creates negativity and conflict (or minimizes and reduces problem behaviours) — and minimizing problems or escalating conflict that goes unchecked can damage your team.

How can we, as leaders, identify and challenge the assumptions that are interfering with how our team members work together?

We have to check in with our teams and encourage some reflection about assumptions, perhaps using theLadder of Assumptions tool.

At your next team meeting, try sharing an example of an assumption that you’ve made that has limited your own thinking. Then ask your team members to brainstorm, identify and share some common assumptions. You might want to start by brainstorming assumptions about clients and customers (since they’re not in the room with you) and then move to encouraging thinking about what assumptions we make about each other on this team or with others in the organization.

Lead the discussion by asking things like, “How does this assumption affect our beliefs? How does it affect our actions?” Be curious and listen. Then challenge by asking: “How can we challenge this assumption going forward? How can we commit to challenging our own thinking?” Be sure to follow up at the next meeting to check in on everyone’s progress and continue to revisit assumptions at future team meetings.

When we recognize the kinds of assumptions that hamper how we and our teams perform, we can actively challenge them and be more intentional about how we choose to act.

Coach’s Questions:

When was the last time you stepped back to think about how assumptions influence you and your team? What assumptions can you identify right now that are problematic? What steps can you take to mitigate how assumptions damage your team?

Are you making time for leadership self-care?

When was the last time you told someone on your team to take a break, delegate or take some time off? Good leaders watch out for people who report to them.

But when was the last time that you told yourself to take a break, delegate or booked time off? Good leaders should take care of themselves, too, but we often fall short on leadership self care.

When we’re working with leaders, we hear excuses like:

“I’ve got too much at stake. I’ve managed so far, and I’ll keep managing.”
“I don’t get the luxury of relaxing at this stage.”
“I can’t focus on self-care now. It’s not the priority.”
“I’ll take a holiday when I get through this project/phase/year…that will be enough.”

Many leaders resist the idea that self-care is important, either because they don’t see the value in slowing down or they see it as overly indulgent somehow. Others think that a strong and serious leader doesn’t need something so self-indulgent as self-care. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, often we don’t take what we need to care for ourselves, because it feels good to be critical to a project, to be the only one who has the info or the experience or the talent needed.

Sometimes, changing the terminology from leadership “self-care” to focusing on what that actually looks like is helpful.

You’ve heard the instructions in airplanes that adults should put their own oxygen masks on before helping children or those who need extra assistance? That makes sense because you can’t help someone else if you can’t breathe.

Leadership self-care is more than spa days, soft music, candles and walks in the park (not to knock any of those things!). It’s about making sure we take good care of our physical and mental health so that we can function at our optimal levels and take care of everything we need to take care of as leaders.

Deep down, we all know we are not invincible — no matter how talented, creative or successful we are. We know, thanks to medical and scientific evidence, that we all function better when we:

  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet (no skipping meals or fueling ourselves on junk!)
  • Exercise regularly, even if only a little
  • Have a consistent sleep routine and get regular, adequate and restful sleep
  • Manage our stress and regulate our emotions with healthy outlets
  • Connect with those we care about
  • Do things outside of work that are fulfilling socially, emotionally and even spiritually

Each of these things is a way to practice leadership self-care. Seeing it framed this way, does it feel more palatable? It might still feel like a lower priority compared to the plethora of leadership demands and regular workday crises, but many leaders will agree that there is merit to watching out for their health.

In business, we talk a lot about return on investment. When we invest in our health and wellbeing, we reap benefits beyond the cost. Leadership self-care is an investment into our own productivity, and thus an investment in our success, in the organization’s success and in the success of teams we lead. It’s a positive.

Think about it: A healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep and managing stress are all ways to boost mood and energy, lower depression, sharpen memory and focus and even improve our cognitive functioning. That’s quite the ROI from our physical and mental health.

Do you agree that your leadership would benefit from enhanced productivity, creativity, memory, focus, motivation and a better mood?

If you consider your work priorities right now, would you say it would be easier to achieve goals if you were healthy, rested and in control?

The more you spend your time and energy helping your team grow and develop their skills, the harder it can be to intentionally develop your own. You can’t only do for others and not take care of your own growth and development.

Leadership self-care to be an effective leader

Here are some changes that help you be really effective as a leader (and hint – they’re all prioritizing your health and wellbeing, which is leadership self-care):

Make it a priority. I know leaders who say if something is not in the calendar, it’s not going to happen. Whatever you decide to develop as your own self-care skills needs to be part of your routine, scheduled and safeguarded (every bit as important as other stuff!). Taking care of yourself is an investment.

Avoid burnout. Make sure you’re filling your own well in terms of emotional rest and self-care because you want to make sure you’re able to provide for your own intellectual and professional well-being. To use another water metaphor, if your bucket isn’t full (or worse, if it has holes in it!), you’re not going to be able to fill other people’s buckets or put out fires. It’s critical that you take steps to prevent leadership burnout.

Make time for learning and reflection. Take workshops, read, meet with peers or mentors and stay curious about learning more. As leaders, we can always add new skills to our toolkits. Many leaders also find it helpful to journal as a way to reflect and learn from what goes well or what doesn’t.

Figure out what you can assign to others and how to delegate. Too many of us try to do it all, which is counterproductive for many reasons. Learning to delegate effectively is a crucial leadership skill that saves you time and sanity while also building capacity among your team members.

Take time off. That doesn’t mean staying in touch by phone from a different location! Take a complete break away from all of your work demands to rest, relax and recharge. (Here’s how to take a vacation from work and really unplug.) Downtime will help you keep your energy levels high, but equally important is spending time with family and friends (companionship releases all those feel-good endorphins, and time together strengthens your personal support network).

Carve out time for yourself every day. As part of your routine, find moments each work day and weekend to do things that you want to do, things that are restorative and things that make you happy. It can be as simple as taking your lunch outside, going for a walk, phoning a friend or putting on some headphones and listening to music. Just make sure time for yourself is on your daily to-do list and booked in your calendar.

Build a support network. Meet with other leaders regularly and consistently. Have a monthly coffee or breakfast with a peer or mentor. Find someone you trust to talk to so you don’t carry the emotional work of leadership entirely on your own. (If you’re not sure where to start with that, you could try one of our leadership peer programs.)

Develop a hobby outside of work. Find an outlet that inspires and invigorates you, whether that’s taking a class, joining a team or group or volunteering. Being social improves overall mental health. That’s because connecting with other people lowers anxiety, regulates emotions, improves mood and all of that can also improve immunity.

Establish an exercise routine. You don’t have to join a gym or take a yoga class (though that might be worth trying!). It’s important to have regular physical activity as per the current health guidelines because it helps with energy, health and immunity. Find an outlet that’s healthy for challenging emotions and stress and gets you moving each day.

Practice mindfulness. Learning how to be mindful gives you a solid foundation. It’s about being present and self aware — not just about what’s happening but also about how you’re reacting in the moment.

You don’t have to do all that — now that you’ve read through ways to practice leadership self-care, consider what that will look like for you. It’s time to make changes that create a routine that re-energizes and boosts your mood and health.

Over time, what you need or want might change and that’s fine, as long as you are making your health and wellbeing a priority amid all the other demands on your time and energy. As leaders, we can also lead by example and encourage our teams to take care of themselves, too.

Coach’s Questions:

When you think about it seriously, what is your resistance to the idea of leadership self-care based on? What would it take to change your outlook? What can you do to integrate strategies that improve your health and well-being into your current routine? How can you take steps right now to make time for yourself?

How organizations with a coaching culture win BIG

In our last blog, we talked about how leaders can significantly expand their leadership toolkits by learning to use a coach approach with their staff. Learning when and how to use a coach approach with your staff has the potential to epically change your leadership experience and the experience of those you lead.

So, what if you want those gains to cascade through the whole organization? Maybe you’re a senior leader with managers reporting to you who have managers reporting to them – and they have managers reporting to them. Or perhaps you’re an HR leader tasked with bringing these wins to the whole organization. Imagine if every tier of managers could see the wins from a coaching culture. We know first-hand that when an organization achieves a coaching culture, a few things happen:

Simply put, organizations with a coaching culture win BIG, achieving unbelievable success in their industry. Not just in terms of profit, but in creating a can-do culture, with a motivated workforce who buy-in to the company, decreased turnover and much stronger succession planning. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Hopefully you’re thinking, “How do I help my organization do that?”

Here are a few tips if you believe in this approach and want to roll it out more broadly:

  1. Link coaching outcomes to the success of the business. Flesh out for others a bit of a business case around a coach approach. Where have you seen a business succeed when a leader uses a coach approach? Search for examples online and, of course, reach out to us for some examples.
  2. Acknowledge concerns leaders may have. The concept of coaching and a coach approach can seem daunting to a leader who feels like they’ve managed well to date without having to learn some new leadership technique (old dog, new tricks). It can also feel like a fad for those who don’t know that coaching has been used by the world’s most successful firms for over two decades. And, of course, it can feel “touchy-feely” to those who have grown up in a structured command-and-control environment.
  3. Coach the senior leaders. Whether you’re starting with the organization’s executive committee to bring a coach approach to the whole company, or you’re starting with your own leadership team to roll it out in your division, start folks on the coaching journey by helping them experience professional coaching in action.
    One option is to provide a professional coach to individual members of the leadership team so they can work on their own individual goals and see the power of coaching.
    Another option is team coaching – engaging a professional coach to coach the leadership team together – possibly focusing on coaching the team around “creating culture change” or “developing a coaching culture.”

If you have certified professional coaches within the organization, engage them for option a or b. Be sure that internal coaches work with folks who are not also their “boss.” For example, if you’re starting with your leadership team, don’t coach them yourself (assuming you are a certified coach). If you want them to coach a whole team together, make sure they’re trained and experienced in group and team coaching – it can be more difficult than coaching an individual.

An important thing to remember, whether coaching individual leaders or the whole team, if you’re starting with the organization’s most senior executive committee, always hire external coaches since everyone in the organization ultimately reports to someone on that team.

4. Roll out a solid training program to make it easy for leaders to learn a coach approach. Whether it starts with our COACH Approach workshop, or something else, get started training leaders on the techniques so they can feel confident and know how to start.

5. Recognize and reward coaching behaviours. This probably seems obvious and yet very, very few organizations are good at rewarding behaviours they want to encourage. For example, most organizations want leaders to work collaboratively toward organizational goals. And yet, most organizations reward leaders for the outcomes of the division they lead, not the outcomes of the overall leadership team they’re on. So, reward folks for using good coaching as a leadership tool rather than always being “in control” — reward them for not always being right, for not holding a firm hand on the keel to make sure everyone does things ‘the right way’ (i.e., their way without creativity or exploration of others), for fostering ideas, for managing risks while trying creative new approaches.

Coach’s Questions

Who do you think will be enthusiastic about trying a coach approach? Who might be resistant? What will it take to build confidence in a coach approach and get your leaders and managers to try it?

What to consider when preparing to return to work

Now that things are reopening, many of us are preparing to return to work. Whether you’re already partly there, or still anticipating it, here are some things to think about as we ease back into a life that is closer to how things were before the pandemic — yet still so different.

Here are some suggestions for everyone as we return to work:

Embrace the awkwardness:

If you’re not sure how to approach a first conversation, or how to interact in person, acknowledge it. The other person is probably feeling the same way. When you break the ice, conversation can flow more naturally. Start by asking others about themselves and their work.

It’s okay if your appetite for socializing has changed. Some may be craving some interaction even if they were a bit of a hermit before, while others might have really gotten used to solitude and be yearning for some of that lost freedom. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your discomfort and don’t take it personally when someone tells you they wish they could be home away from everyone.

Meet people where they are:

Accept what people tell you about themselves — now isn’t the time to try to convince others of your opinion. (This doesn’t apply to a work decision, or direction on a project. Here, we are talking about people and emotions around returning to the office.)

For example, if someone’s views on vaccinations or socializing differ from yours, accept that they differ. For you, going mask-free indoors post-vaccination might feel freeing and joyful, but for the person in the next cubicle, it could be panic-inducing.

Emotions may be on the surface. Regardless of your views on vaccines, viruses, borders and economics, the last 15 months have been stressful. Full stop. If you’ve been on Planet Earth since March 2020, life has been stressful. That means recognizing that everyone else who has been through this has also been stressed — whether they see it, or not, whether they acknowledge it, or not.

Keep lines of communication open:

Talk to your coworkers. Share what you’re concerned about and ask what they’re concerned about. Ask what they’re most looking forward to and share what you are excited about.

Prepare with your family. Talk through what your employer’s return to the office scenario means for you and your family. What will you miss about being home? What changes will you need to work through together? What are you excited about going forward?

Celebrate the little things:

Be patient and kind to yourself. Start by acknowledging the stress that has been and that is still to come.

There’s a concept in sociology of “re-socialization” – the act of learning new social norms that are expected in your society. For most of us, we socialize early to our society and then tweak things a bit as teens as we become more independent and then as adults in the working world. Very few people ever have to re-socialize – that is, learn an entirely new normal.

Full re-socializing is difficult and incredibly stressful. A mild example would be moving to a foreign country and having to learn some new customs. A more severe example might be being sent to prison or joining a cult. However, in 2020 ALL OF US had to re-socialize to a world that forbade gathering, where hugging could make you sick or visiting a grandparent could threaten their life. We had to stop traveling, learn to walk one way down grocery store aisles and wear masks in public. Many among us had to become school teachers while also being parents and workers. It was exhausting because we were having to learn to survive by living differently than we had before. The social rules changed, dramatically and often more than once.

While the end of COVID may be in sight, and vaccines are helping us get there, the unfortunate reality is we’re about to go through another massive re-socialization. In some ways, it may feel like a return to the old ways and yet in so many ways it’s not going to be that either. It’s going to be a third form of society – somewhere between isolated lockdown, and life pre-2020.

To get through it, we have to acknowledge it, accept our inability to significantly change it and find ways to make it work for us. In other words, we have to build resilience, knowing it’s coming.

Part of the social readjustment may be about learning how to reallocate time and energy away from family and back to friends, colleagues and acquaintances, without losing the closeness built up with loved ones.

Some suggestions for Leaders and HR:

Acknowledge there was stress and anxiety in your workplace BEFORE COVID – and much of that will return like a tsunami, if it ever subsided.

  • Consider the extra stress being felt by employees who joined the organization during the pandemic and who have never met their colleagues.
  • Consider those who went on or returned from parenting leave.
  • Some workers may have had strained relationships with each other that lessened during COVID and are about to re-emerge.

How are they feeling as some sort of return to work occurs? How are you helping your team build resilience alongside productivity as they return to work? Are you prepared to cope with your own return to work anxiety as a leader?

There has been much discussion about companies who have switched to an entirely virtual workplace – selling office buildings while fitting-up workers at home. Other companies have talked about a “return to normal” with everyone back at the office. For most of us, normal will now likely be a hybrid composed of some form of work from the office and work from home; in fact, this is what we’re recommending to our clients. But what does your hybrid look like?

First, it shouldn’t be entirely up to employees how the hybrid model rolls out. The reasons you are using a hybrid model are multitude and must all be considered. For example, you might want to think about:

  • Limits on how many people can be in the workplace at once. What physical changes need to be made? What are the rules around the group gathering spaces (boardroom, lunchroom, etc)? What about public spaces?
  • Given the limits, who needs to be there together? Will entire departments need to be together in person? Does the leadership team need to be? What about project teams? Discuss ideas and logistics with whomever you need to, to be prepared.
  • Set up a schedule and communicate it well in advance to those who will be affected (in other words, everyone).

Once you’ve figured out what groups or teams need to be together, at least some of the time, decide which days and times are best. Again, consult staff, but make the decision that will work best for the company (and be prepared to handle criticism). There is NO WAY you are going to give everyone what they want, but it is important to seek input and consider alternatives to the one way you might be inclined to do it yourself.

While we advocate that wherever possible, employers consider continuing work-from-home for some days for those who want it (i.e., be flexible):

  • Don’t overlook the risks of loneliness (which people may not be able to acknowledge).
  • Remember the lost benefits of teamwork (which tend to be long-term and not seen in the moment).
  • Consider the fact that some folks won’t be able to share their truth (“I need to work from the office because I’m in an abusive relationship at home,” or, “I need to work from home because my parent is ill and it stresses me out to think they may need help when I’m not there,” or, “My kids are making me crazy, I need to get back to an office.”).

Don’t base all your beliefs on an employee survey. Many organizations have done all-employee surveys sometime between autumn 2020 and spring 2021 to ask employees their preferences about returning to work.

Keep in mind that things are changing almost daily: Last week their kids were in school. This week, the kids are trying to learn from home, anxiety is high and Internet speeds are low. That survey was likely valuable in the moment, but does it still hold true? Will it hold true next week? Next month? The point is, with a return to the office, do what’s right for the company while being as flexible as possible, and be prepared to adapt that again, and maybe again, until you find the right spot for now.

Have honest conversations with employees:

  • Make it safe for people to share their truth.
  • Ask questions about what you need to learn.
  • Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer and when you will commit to figuring it out.
  • Ask for their input – good ideas come from all over.

Coach’s Questions:

How does planning to return to work make you feel? What would be helpful for you to consider? What can you do to be more prepared for yourself and your team?

Confidently lead your team using a coach approach

At Padraig, not only do we coach leaders in organizations throughout North America, but we also help leaders bring a coach approach to their own leadership.

So, what’s the difference between coaching and a Coach Approach? Well, coaching is a professional service requiring significant training, experience and certification whereas a Coach Approach is a tool in your leadership toolkit. By learning some of the techniques used by professional coaches, you can lead your team by using a coach approach in the workplace.

What does that look like?

Did you know?

Did you know professional coaches have to take months of training, pass an exam and continue ongoing learning to be certified by the International Coach Federation? Unfortunately, the industry isn’t yet regulated like other professions so there are a lot of folks calling themselves a Coach without any ( or with very little) training.

ALL Padraig coaches have graduated from the highly acclaimed  Executive Coaching program of Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada and ALL are certified by the International Coach Federation.

If you’re going to engage a professional coach, insist on them showing you their current certification from the ICF.

Using a Coach Approach with your staff can be summed up in a few lines:

Shifting from a conversation where, as the leader, you are answering, directing and telling, to a conversation where you are asking and listening, helping the other person dig into what they know.

That sounds simple, but most leaders have risen to their role by being problem-solving machines. Shifting to a role of exploring a problem with your employee – with no hidden attempt to guide them to your solution even when you absolutely know what you would do and what you would advise others to do – can be challenging.

It’s hard for many leaders to sit with silence in conversation, but learning to do just that allows your team members to think things through.

You might be thinking, why would I do that? Why wouldn’t I just tell them what I know?

The biggest reason is because you want to lead your team members so they learn and grow into their roles. You want them to be capable, strong and assured in their work.

Using a Coach Approach builds a stronger team.

If they’re relying on you for problem solving, a couple of things are going to happen – and none of them are good. For instance:

  • You’re going to be swamped with people asking your expert advice. You’re in a leadership role – if you spend your time solving the problems for everyone who works for you, you’re going to burn out and not achieve the things needed from your own role.
  • The folks who work for you are going to feel uninspired, which usually means they will be unproductive. (“Why bother trying to figure this out – he’s just going to tell me to do it his way. I might as well save the hassle and just ask him how he wants it solved.”)
  • There’s very little learning going on. Sure, the person who asks you how to do something might learn how you want them to do that specific task. But what about the next task that is similar, but not the same? Do they have the problem-solving skills to figure it out, or do they have to come to you for direction again?
  • You’re going to have a lot of trouble differentiating the rock-solid performers from those who aren’t. If everyone is coming to you for advice and direction on challenges, and you’re engaging them by giving them your answer, how are you going to know who would have gotten there on their own, and who wouldn’t have?
  • You’re not going to get any brilliant new ideas. If your staff ask you how you want something done, or what the solution is to problem X, they’re not likely going to share with you the ideas they have for doing it differently. Imagine how many good ideas you haven’t heard or solutions you haven’t had a chance to observe. You could miss out on a lot of ingenuity.

Those are just some of the reasons we advocate having a Coach Approach in your toolkit as an individual leader. We can help you develop that skill to lead your team, starting with our COACH Approach to leadership course (COACH in this case is an acronym for the steps we teach you in using the approach).

Of course, a coach approach is only one approach to leadership and there are many others you’re likely already using. For example:

  • Delegating is an important leadership tool. Knowing how and when to delegate effectively will save you time – and sanity.
  • And, while somewhat opposite to a coach approach, answering questions is also an important leadership tool to be used in the right situations.
  • A directive approach (telling people what to do with little or no engagement around it) is probably the most extreme version of a non-coach approach. That, too, has a place in your leadership toolkit – think emergency situations, critically urgent deliverables, etc.

We don’t advocate giving up on those tools, but every good leader ALSO uses a Coach Approach. In the Padraig COACH Approach course, we help you differentiate when to use each tool as you lead your team.

Coach’s Questions

Have you ever tried a coach approach with your team? What would make you more confident in trying a coach approach? Who on your team do you think would benefit from a coach approach this week?

Succession planning: Do you have an effective system?

What would you do if a key executive were to leave your company unexpectedly? What does your succession planning look like? Life is full of unexpected changes.

Maybe someone decides to retire early due to a change in health or family circumstances.

Or, maybe someone is offered a dream position in another city or country — it’s too good to pass up.

And, we all hate to talk about it, but, perhaps someone on your team dies suddenly.

Would this create havoc across the organization? How would your team carry on without the right person in that key role? How would your clients, your shareholders and other stakeholders react? And what might it cost you?

Of course, the replacement of leaders in key roles can be costly. This can be measured not only by the costs for headhunting, plus time spent reviewing CVs, interviewing and reference checking — not to mention the cost of a bad-hire now and then — but also by the missed opportunity of potential business lost when the team is left without leadership.

Not only is this uncertainty financially costly, it can also affect the rest of your team negatively. Why? Because people talk, especially if they’re wondering or worrying! When they’re uncertain, they tend to make up stories to fill the void, spreading more uncertainty that is as difficult to correct as it can be damaging to morale.

When you have succession planning in place to fill these key roles, your team won’t be trying to fill in the blanks with speculation and gossip.

Here are some steps leaders can take for effective succession planning:

Identify the key roles for the organization. Determine which vacancies would affect the organization’s objectives most and work towards having a plan for these.

Collaborate. I’ve found that engaging various leaders in this process is helpful for a few reasons. First, collaboration brings different perspectives to understanding the roles and the future candidates based on the leaders’ experiences with the various people involved. This can help to uncover candidates, both externally and internally, who may not have been considered in succession planning in the past. It will also help to understand where they are and what progress they are making in their careers.

Think long term with succession planning. I know some leaders who think about potentially replacing themselves whenever they’re hiring someone to the executive-level positions. When you think about hiring people who could eventually take over your role, you’re usually looking for folks who may not have all the training and experience, but they have the same or similar values and the motivation to do a good job. It changes your expectations and priorities (and gives you time to avoid high performers who don’t play nice with others). Of course, it’s important to remember to also hire folks who aren’t totally like you. First, because you need counter points of view at your leadership table. Second, because the company may need a different perspective than the current one, both now and when you move on.

Stay on Track. Include succession planning as a topic in the agenda at least quarterly to ensure that everyone sees this as a priority and is always on the lookout for top performers. Ongoing discussion is key, so that your succession planning keeps pace with your industry and you are always identifying quality candidates for key roles.

Involve potential internal candidates in discussions about their goals. This one worries a lot of companies. They seem to think having a conversation with internal candidates, letting them know they are being considered as future prospects, leaves people with expectations that may not be met. However, not having that conversation leaves them with the opposite expectation — if they know all good companies have succession plans and help potential successors to grow and advance, and if you haven’t had a conversation about their place in the plan, they may assume they’re not part of the plan.

When I worked in the Lead HR role for a large international retail chain, leaders would tell me that they were developing talent. I would ask, “Have you told them?” and usually the answer was no, they hadn’t told people they were considering them for promotion down the road.

I highly recommend that leaders let people know that they have noticed their engagement and talent and that they see they have high potential. When people feel they have a future with an organization, they’re less likely to leave or look for other opportunities.

Don’t assume that people feel valued. Again, people who don’t hear they have potential might be filling the void of feedback with misconceptions. This results in folks who become disengaged or feel unsatisfied with the workplace.

When you do have the conversation, discuss their career and their development for future roles of increasing responsibility, identify what they might need to achieve success and where they would like to see themselves. It’s also important to have a conversation to find out what they want. It’s no longer reasonable to assume everyone wants the next step up.

Once you know what their career goals are, you can help them to gain the experience they need to grow. This might include things like a mentor program, training, feedback and other developmental tools. (Pro tip: Set performance goals with team members you identify have potential that include tools to help them achieve greater responsibility.) Let them know they’re valued and that you see them advancing in future.

Welcome a bit of healthy competition. What do you do if you have a few good candidates worthy of consideration for one executive position? Embrace it! It’s okay if you have three candidates all vying for promotion – as long as it’s healthy competition. One organization with an opening in a VP role had three directors who were really good at what they did as well as some external candidates. As part of the recruitment process for this VP position, each candidate had to do a presentation.

When handled well and fairly, each internal candidate will know that their career path is not over with one opportunity. They will, instead, feel there are many roles for me, I am valued and I have opportunities for learning and growth to prepare me for the next level.

Be creative with skill-building opportunities. If you identify someone you think has real leadership potential but they’re in a role where they currently don’t have people reporting to them, that’s a good time to have them lead a project. That can be an opportunity for them to demonstrate and develop their potential. Watch for opportunities for career enrichment, like harnessing the power of peer learning with other leaders.

One company I worked with had a management leadership development team of MBA grads. Each MBA was assigned to a different business area within the organization where they were partnered with the business leaders. They acted as advisors or consultants who would work on new ideas with the leaders and, ultimately, on implementation. It was a great experience for them and for our organization.

Build succession planning into your planning process. Succession planning is often not top of mind because it’s not urgent — until it is. Urgency happens when someone leaves unexpectedly, causing stress for those left behind.

One organization’s approach to succession planning was to prioritize it in their planning process. After not including this previously in their strategic planning, they soon realized that they had very few high potential candidates preparing for more senior roles and few candidates identified for their top roles.
Whether recruiting from outside or from within, it’s important to have several candidates ready and willing to take on key roles when the time is right. Being proactive in preparing for a smooth transition ensures that the business can continue without a gap. Putting the time and effort in upfront as part of your strategic planning pays off in the following ways:

  • Increased confidence in the organization for all stakeholders
  • Minimum upheaval and cost due to lack of leadership or a gap in a key position
  • Increased engagement for those high potential employees chosen to participate in a custom-designed development program

Taking control of the people side of the business and planning for the future benefits everyone through increased retention and minimal disruption to the business (ideally no disruption!) when someone does leave unexpectedly.

By implementing a structured, collaborative approach to succession planning and leveraging everyone’s knowledge of potential candidates in the market and in the organization, your company can keep moving forward despite any unexpected resignations or other unforeseen circumstances.

Coach’s Questions

How would you describe your current approach to succession planning? What could you do to make your succession planning more robust? What’s the first step that you’ll take?


Cathy McConnell This week’s Coach’s Questions Blog is written by Padraig Coach, Cathy McConnell.



Regaining control amid all the busyness of life

Have you ever felt as though you were working so much that you were not in full control of your life? Not only your work life, but also your personal life?

I worked with a coach who was skilled at helping his clients to take a step back to understand why they were feeling as though they were working hard but not accomplishing everything they needed or wanted to do. He would ask them to tell him when the last time was that they had a day where the time spent was on activities that were enjoyable and re-energizing. He said there are three descriptions for each day:

  1. Work Days: Days when every moment is spent earning money
  2. Busy Days: Those days that are spent doing the tasks that are necessary (activities not focused on earning money — like housekeeping or errands or going to medical appointments)
  3. Free Days: The days full of activities that are enjoyable, energizing and rejuvenating

Most of us find that the time spent on Work Days or Busy Days following Free Days is much more productive, collaborative, positive and effective. So why don’t we make Free Days a priority? It may have something to do with our focus on being busy instead of productive.

Recognizing the signs of needing time to regroup and reframe your time is a skill that every high performer needs to practice. Planning time to separate from the daily activities that are necessary to earn a living and maintain a healthy balance of leisure, family, learning, spiritual and work activities — or whatever is most important to you — is essential to performing at the top of your game. Planning is key to ensuring this balance.

Recognizing that you can control your plans is the first step needed in regaining control. Many folks feel like they’re living in a constant state of urgency, when in reality we need to differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s important.

In my coaching practice, I once challenged a client to find some time during the week that was just for her. She was a mother, a senior leader in a fast-paced industry, a friend, a wife, etc. Imagining taking time to do something she really enjoyed was beyond her imagination.

It’s okay to set boundaries at work and have a personal life, and to make yourself a priority in your personal life, too.

I asked this client what she enjoyed and that was difficult for her to determine as well. She eventually remembered how much she enjoyed music when she was in high school and decided to take a music class one night a week. It was a challenge to make the time but she was determined to make a change. After several classes, she told me it was the perfect way to step away from the demands of her life and do something just for her. She found she was more energized and in better service to her team, her peers and the leaders in the organization and to her family and friends, which lasted through the week after each class.

There has been so much uncertainty in the past year. The pandemic has thrown us off of our game and tested us in ways we never imagined. One thing I’ve learned is to accept the things I can’t control and go after the things that are important to me.

My resilience, like everyone else’s, has been tested. It seems that those who have adjusted to the uncertainty and identified what’s in their control are feeling positive. (Pro tip: Read the blog post written by my Padraig colleague Eve Gaudet about moving to resilient leadership by learning from adversity — resilience is a skill we can build and strengthen.)

No one can give you control. This is something you can give yourself with the right frame of mind. When faced with a problem, identify what’s within your control and what is not. Once you accept that there are some things that are beyond your control, you can focus on the things that you have the power to change or to embrace. Think about what’s within your influence and take charge.

Taking the time for energizing activities, identifying what’s within your control and acting on it will result in accomplishing more and feeling that you’re on the right path again.

When we feel more positive and in control, we are:

  • More collaborative
  • More creative
  • More effective
  • More resilient

It helps to find a different perspective, like valuing the time you spend for yourself as much as you value your contributions at work or helping family and friends.

Coach’s Questions:

How would you describe the control that you have for your own life? How would you describe how you spend your time? When you consider the three different types of days, how do you divide your time? How is that in service to you? What are some ways that you’ve been successful when planning your time?


Cathy McConnell   This week’s Coach’s Questions Blog is written by Padraig Coach, Cathy McConnell