Bloomberg posted an article yesterday that featured my long-term client and all around rock star Paola Santana, founder & CEO of Social Glass, so I decided to write what I’ve been sharing with clients recently – I hope it’s helpful for you.

You can read the Bloomberg article here:

Our nervous systems are not built to withstand the demands placed on us this year. You probably already feel this to some extent, but may not know it.

So if we aren’t built for this pressure cooker, what can we do about it?

Let’s understand the problem a little more clearly.

You and your employees are dealing with the normal stresses of working in a startup, but on top of that, most people are dealing with:

  1. Isolation (lack of daily interaction in person cannot be replaced by zoom meetings! And isolation is a contributing factor in addictions – we’ve already seen a sharp increase in substance abuse, suicides and mental health issues over the past nine months),
  2. Grief (any loss triggers grief and we’ve lost touch with the “normal” lives that we had before the pandemic, but if you’ve lost loved ones during the pandemic, grief is likely to be more intense – especially if you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye properly. And remember, grief often comes in waves and is unpredictable),
  3. Anxiety (with no end in sight to this pandemic, most people have anxiety about when it will be over and what the “new normal” might be),
  4. Depression (with the days shorter and winter upon us, you may have some seasonal depression but you also may be depressed that you can’t go and do the things that bring you joy), and
  5. Anger (anger is a signal of injustice and while many of us understand that the pandemic is no one’s fault, a vast majority of people feel this injustice of disrupting our habits and daily patterns foisted upon us and we’re not very happy about it, even if we’ve gotten used to it for a few months).

So, what’s a leader supposed to do about all of this?

First, you don’t have to be a hero – your employees don’t want you to be perfect and to engage in toxic positivity, ignoring the signs and symptoms they are experiencing. A little vulnerability from you sharing what you’re struggling with can go a long way to strengthening your relationship with your direct reports and let them know you’re just like them.

Second, be realistic about your situation – you are likely experiencing some of the same (or even more as a founder and leader) grueling emotions and pressure as your employees, so be good to yourself – you can’t lead if you’re a mess. Reach out for help. Call your therapist or coach to ensure you are realistic about what is on your plate, what you have to address and what’s possible – I see too many of my startup founder clients trying to pretend that “everything is fine” when it’s obviously not. Self-care is critical. I coach my clients to include self-care as a business requirement (not a nice to have or something you will get around to when you have time).

Third, check in with team members more frequently. Yes, this sounds unrealistic, but when your employees are overwhelmed by the list of emotions above, they can’t possibly be as productive and produce the same quality of work that you expected before the pandemic. Don’t just ask how your employees are doing – also ask what they need and how you can better support them. And adjust your expectations, if possible – unrealistic expectations on top of emotional overwhelm just leads to burnout, and we know you and your team can’t sustain that.

Fourth, slow down to go fast. Yes, I know, you’re a startup founder – you don’t have time to slow down. Realistically, every one of my others clients has been able to take stock, slow down a bit and find a new sense of balance – even those who were recently funded and are “heads down” building their products. Are all of your goals still realistic now (given this economy, etc.)? Do you need to reset expectations? Do you need to have a talk with your investors about what has changed? The global pace of change has accelerated – but it has also slowed drastically in some areas. Are you being pragmatic?

When things are tough, that’s where I dig in with clients and get really curious about what’s happening. Sometimes, we have to refer to the coaching framework: “It’s all solvable or it’s not,” meaning occasionally we can’t do anything about our situation, but often we have more choice and control than we think. What recharges you? What allows you to blow off steam? Maybe that’s the prescription for mental health right now. If not, give me a call and let’s create a plan that keeps you sane.

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