Digging Deep: Leading When You Have No Energy

33 days ago I had surgery on my right knee to replace a torn ACL and repair a partially torn meniscus (cartilage.)  Yes, I’ve been counting the days.

The last 33 days have been difficult.

The worst part?

Not the pain.  Not the physical therapy.  Not walking around on crutches.  Not that I’m under doctor’s orders not to drive.  Not that I can’t go swimming or play catch or run around with my kids.

The worst part has been that I’ve only gotten about 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night for almost 5 weeks now.

I’m exhausted.

How can I lead my company, my family, my church, my small group, and more when I have no energy?

The Effects of Lack of Sleep

Like most people, when I’m tired I am more irritable, more easily frustrated, and less patient.  I find it much more difficult to concentrate, to write, and to make decisions.  It seems to take me longer to do everything.

What’s more, as a leader, my energy level impacts everyone I lead.  As Michael Hyatt wrote on his blog today.

As a leader, everything you do is contagious. If you are discouraged, pessimistic, or lacking in energy, people will feel it. The organization will reflect it. It will spread faster than an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, because of my current situation, Michael’s post this morning titled How to Be a More Energetic Leader really caught my eye.

Of course, his number one recommendation?  Get a good night sleep.

Argh!  Thanks.  I’m trying.

Choose to Be Energetic

Michael’s fifth recommendation is “Decide to be energetic.”  He writes,

This is huge. Unless you are ill, you can be more energetic by simply acting  more energetic. I am always surprised at how my emotions follow my body. If I walk faster, sit on the edge of my seat, and smile, I will eventually feel more energetic.

This is good advice.  However, sometimes leaders misunderstand and get this wrong.  I think sometimes as leaders we think we have to exhibit energy and enthusiasm for our teams all the time, even if it means faking it.

In my current situation, I could try to fake it.  I could act like I feel great, I’m excited, and everything is great.  But if I do, chances are the people around me will not be fooled and they’ll think I’m either delusional or a phony.  Instead of inspiring confidence and energy, it would actually undermine people’s confidence in my leadership.

So, after some thought, I put together 5 suggestions for leading when you lack energy.

1) Acknowledge reality. Be honest with people about where you really are.  If you’re fatigued or going through some emotional personal issues, let people know.  You don’t have to go into details, but letting people know you’re not on you’re not 100% will build trust and preempt gossip or speculation.

2) Look beyond circumstances. When you don’t feel good or circumstances are difficult, don’t let your feelings or circumstances determine your attitude.  Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Imagine what things will be like when the vision or goal has been accomplished.  Focus on that instead of the current circumstances.

3) Trust your faith. As a Christian, I know I can rely on God’s promises in the bible.  “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).  “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:13)  If your spiritual beliefs differ from mine, there are still probably some elements within them that provide you with hope.

4) Adjust the pace. When you lack energy, expecting that you’ll be able to do everything just as well and as quickly as when you’re at full capacity can only lead to more frustration.  Sometimes we’re even tempted to make up for our lack of energy by working even harder and longer, which inevitably makes things worth.  Consider extending deadlines where possible. Delegate what you can.  Cut out non-essential tasks.

5) Fill your bucket. When you’re low on energy, ultimately the best solution is do what you have to do to replenish your energy, or as we sometimes say fill your bucket.  What fills our buckets and gives us energy is different for each of us.  Some possibilities include… take a nap, meet up with a friend who is inspiring and encouraging, go for a walk, take a vacation, play a game with your kids, listen to music, pray, write a blog post. 😉

If you lead a team that’s low on energy, you may have to do these things for or with your team.

How do you lead when you have no energy?

26 Responses to “Digging Deep: Leading When You Have No Energy”