As the department manager wrapped up the monthly financial review with his team, he said, “People, I have never seen times like these. It’s understandable that customers are cautious and moving slowly, but this is the most important quarter in our company’s history. If we cannot deliver on the numbers, it will mean big trouble for us!” And with that, the meeting concluded.
The team left the meeting and immediately began speculating on what exactly the manager meant by those comments. How bad were things? Are we in trouble? Could I lose my job?
Instead of Anxiety-Driven Work, Aim for Urgency Minus Fear
Leaders should always communicate clearly and as transparently as possible when speaking with their team. The people on your team should know where we are, where we are going, and how we are doing. However, how you communicate these things can determine how your team will approach the work. If you allow stress and concern to permeate your communication, you can move your team from engaged to anxiety-driven. No one performs at their best when they are experiencing fear and anxiety.
To keep your team acting with urgency but without the fear and anxiety that can negatively affect productivity, consider these three tactics:
1. COMMUNICATE WITH CALM AND CONFIDENCE.
The people on your team are watching you all the time. They not only hear your words, but they also judge your tone, your demeanor, and your emotions. They are interpreting the message behind your message. You are always making people feel something; are you aware of what you make people feel? Do you look angry, concerned, or like you are carrying the weight of the world? Then people will translate that into, “What’s the boss not telling us?”
Instead, be intentional in how you communicate. Monitor your attitude, tone, facial expressions, and body language. Do you believe in the team and what the team can do? If so, no matter how high the mountain, communicate your belief that we can conquer this mountain.
2. FOCUS ON PROCESS, NOT RESULTS.
Coaches from John Wooden to Nick Saban have discovered that focusing on the result alone can cause players to function with unproductive urgency. These coaches taught their players to stop thinking about winning and losing and instead focus on those daily activities that drive success. As the late coach Bill Walsh liked to say, “The score will take care of itself.”
When team members focus on something they can control, their effort and performance, they can avoid the anxiety and fear that comes when we focus on the final score or results. Coach John Wooden went so far as to define mental toughness as having the ability to judge oneself on effort rather than results. He never put his players under the pressure of having to win but focused them instead on doing their individual jobs to their best ability.
3. ENSURE PEOPLE ARE EMPOWERED.
Nothing communicates fear and anxiety like having your boss or supervisor looking over your shoulder and micromanaging your work. When you empower the people on your team, you communicate trust in their ability to make things happen. When you micromanage, you display a lack of trust in the individual and potentially a larger concern about the future of the business.
However, empowerment isn’t as easy as just telling someone they are empowered; you must do the work of showing them the way, equipping them, and developing them so they can move forward on their own. Many leaders get in trouble when attempting to empower others when they fail to model, equip, and develop.
KNOWING THE WAY AND SHOWING THE WAY
These are trying times of uncertainty and rapid change. It can be easy for the people on your team to hear your cries for urgency and adopt a spirit of fear and anxiety. Engagement and productivity can drop, and results can suffer when this happens. It takes a leader willing to lead from the front who knows the way and shows the way, so others can go the way with confidence and belief that good things are in their future.
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