Those of us in roles of leadership rarely get a day off. No matter how you feel or what you’re going through, you probably have someone who still looks to you for the answers. You’re going to be the guy people go to for inspiration, motivation, and the will to carry on.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we’re not feeling it. The same things that kick our team in the teeth take the wind out of our sails, too. We get disappointed and discouraged. We contend with outside forces, personal problems, and issues that just sap our motivation to motivate.
So how do leaders continue to lead when they just can’t muster their will to do it? When you’ve suffered a professional loss, a big setback or you’re dealing with personal problems, it’s tough to step up and lead.
Here are my best tips for rising above your circumstances to lead and motivate your team.
6 Ways to Lead & Motivate Your Team When You’re Struggling
1) Prioritize Self-Care
It’s incredibly difficult to do anything effectively, least of all lead a team of people in a professional setting, if you are not properly taking care of yourself. No matter what you’re dealing with, the first thing you need to do is stop and take stock of your physical and mental well-being. Are you sleeping and eating enough? Are you getting enough exercise?
Mentally, are you spinning your wheels and fixating on a problem, mistake, or on anxieties and worst-case scenarios? Is something consuming you? Are you emotionally distraught? It’s time to acknowledge and deal with any of these issues so you can begin to stop destructive behaviors and heal.
2) Get Real
Many leaders make the mistake of believing that their team wants and needs to see a picture of absolute perfection. You can’t ever struggle with anything. You have to always be motivated, always be positive, and must execute everything with perfection. That is not what your team wants.
You have to start getting real with your team in order to motivate them.
If a defeat has left you reeling, be honest with them. Let them know that you’re struggling to get motivated but you’re here with them and that together, you’re all going to make it happen. Your team needs a leader who will get in the trenches with them, not a leader who rises above everything and leaves them to struggle alone.
So be honest. You don’t have to go into the messy details. Just let them know.
3) Be Transparent
When a team has been hit by a tough blow—be it a big problem, a cut, a setback, whatever issue it is—morale and motivation can both take a significant hit. One of the biggest obstacles to recovery is a lack of transparency from those higher up in the company. So as a manager, boss, or leader, it is on you to be as transparent as possible with your team. Be clear about what is going on, what happened, and what your team can do about it.
Don’t leave them in the dark. They don’t want to feel confused, lost, blindsided, or as if their company doesn’t value or trust them. Trust is such a valuable component in long-term morale and motivation, and it goes both ways!
4) Lead Your Team to Motivate Themselves
When you’re not feeling up to doing the motivating, sometimes you have to coax your team to motivate themselves. Have a session to brainstorm and bounce wild ideas off the wall. Do team-building activities to get some confidence back. Talk about your passions and interests and capitalize on them in your solutions where possible.
It’s all about finding what excites your team and then using that energy as forward momentum. For you, it’s less about making impassioned pleas and giving pep talks and more about uncovering what your team needs and desires as individuals and how to best utilize their talents and passions. When you’re giving them a place to thrive, they’re going to be motivated.
5) Focus on Positive Outcomes
It’s tough to stay positive when you feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth. When there’s no motivation, when there’s been a major loss or setback, negativity is inevitable. The trick is to keep that negativity out as much as possible. As leaders, you can’t allow your motivation to take a negative bent: it can’t be about what you don’t want to happen, the outcome you don’t want, or all the ways things could go wrong. Negative reinforcement doesn’t work with pets or kids and it doesn’t work with employees either.
Fear, ultimately, is not the best motivator. It leads to stress, burn-out, rushed work, and crippled creativity.
Instead, leaders should motivate by pushing past their own negative thoughts and focus on positive outcomes. Visualize what you want your team to accomplish and highlight a clear, focused plan. Be the encourager, even if you don’t feel like it.
6) Get to the Individual
One mistake leaders make is always treating their team as a unit. They never get around to the individuals within that team. When facing a challenge that has the team as a whole feeling a lack of motivation or overall low morale, you, as the leader, can’t just focus on giving pep talks to the team or addressing the whole.
Each individual might have a totally different reason for feeling unmotivated, and those reasons have to be dealt with individually. Take the time to do it. Invest in your team and nurture them. This is where you can’t dwell on your own lack of motivation, but you have to push through it and do what you need to do to take care of your employees or co-workers as their leader.
Have you led a team through a particularly challenging situation? Share what stuck out to you about the experience in the comments.