Years ago I was diagnosed with a sleep disorder and handed a bag of pills that I would need to refill for the rest of my life. A year later from that diagnosis, it became apparent that this simply was not something I could keep up. The same pills that were keeping me more alert and awake in the day had side effects of insomnia. A crazy roller coaster ride it was. And a few weeks in, I was also picking up a bag of pain killers for the migraines the medicine triggered. Long story short, within a few months, the medication was in my bin. I was pretty sure this was not how I was made to function so I needed to understand what the root of this was in my Spirit and have a conversation with my Maker. My journey towards healing and wholeness began. That however, is a story for another article. Several years later, I have began to piece together my thoughts on those incredibly dark times.

I do believe brave leaders are not born, they are made. They are also rare as it takes facing your “stuff” to become one. This post provides a small glimpse into the life of one who has battled with years of sleep disorders and chronic fatigue. Incase this is you, I hope the below offers some help or solace. For the curious team member, leader or relative to someone in this peculiar boat, read on too.

To the warrior on the battlefield:

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1.      Be kind to yourself: It took me too long to learn this and I am still learning it. Over the years I have learnt not to compare my journey with others as I would simply fail and condemn myself for the “lack of progress”. I have learnt to love who I am, where I am at and intentionally remember to congratulate myself on how far I have come. If you are in the heat of this battle, you should have already learnt from your weaknesses to also be kind to others. A humble heart doesn’t quickly forget. Just as you have seen your imperfections and weaknesses try to break you, give others a loving and compassionate hand as they fight the battles trying to break them. This takes wisdom and discernment, especially in a work environment when you need to monitor performance and consistently aim higher as a team. No matter what the targets are though, kindness is a currency that will never run out.

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2.      You are still awesome and beautiful even in the darkness of the battle: We all battle to ward of negativity and self-hatred. These feel louder when we feel extremely vulnerable and “broken”. In the midst of all you are going through, on a bad day, remember how unique and beautiful you are. There’s literally only one of you . YOU ARE A MASTER PIECE!!

3.      Overlook offense. Staying offended takes up way too much energy. Being mad, angry, catty, bitter…drains your soul. Forgive and move on. As shared in another article on “how to get back your fight” : As you heal and get your fight back, you can begin to practice brave communication, where you peacefully confront. Your peace is extremely expensive, value it and guard it. Peace is the currency you need to maintain your energy and strength.

4.      Guard your space: Part of self-care is learning to create safe spaces and cultivate safe friendships and teams. “Loud” environments and people can drain the life out of you. Be wise on the amount of energy you expend as you socialize, keeping check of your energy tank. Do you need to leave the work party a little earlier than others so you can drive fully alert? Do you need to spend your lunches getting some rest rather than go out for lunch with colleagues, so you function at 100 percent in the afternoon? There may be some sacrifices you will need to make that will help you deliver better and help in your healing journey. Learn to expertly manage your space by choosing who enters it and how long they stay. This rule applies to negativity too, which leads us to our next point.

5.      Guard your mind and heart: Negativity is such a drain! Avoid the gossipy, negative team huddles. It may feel lonely at times but its crucial for your health and soon, you will find the positive folks in the building. These are the ones who talk about opportunities, hopes and dreams and not people and bosses. Intelligently craft your social work time. And for those of you with a negative and toxic boss, remember that you are not the problem. Allow the negativity to wash off you as you create a mental, emotional and spiritual space between you and them.

6.      Forgive. Forgive your body. I didn’t realise it but I consistently hated myself and my body, especially when it would begin to shut down. It would shut down whilst in a meeting, driving, exercising, whilst out having a coffee with friends, wherever. I hated that I couldn’t engage and live to the fullness of what I knew was available. We may have overcome hating others but we can easily hate ourselves without being aware of it. The dance of learning when to push past the bodies limitations (your body will always choose the path of least resistance) and when to actually honour and retreat and let it rest is one learnt through trial and error. Learn the warning signs your body gives you.

To the Leader:

1.      Learn your team: This requires time and patience. Observe each team member and their “work flow”. Does your team lead work better in the morning or afternoon? are they receiving counselling for their current struggle? how are they coping within the team and how are they leading their team? how are they coping with the current expectations and targets and do they need help to attain the same? How is their work-life balance fairing; is their family just receiving the left overs of them after long hours of work?

2.      Innovation and braveness: As a leader, innovation is your middle name. You may have an extremely talented individual who may need a slightly different work pattern or structure. Are you willing to innovate and are you brave enough to fight for this with senior management as you seek to retain the valued team member?

3.      Connection: You already know this one; create time to genuinely connect with each employee and then to connect together as a team. This is crucial for going past numbers and creating transformational teams that innovate and function holistically. Model connection for your managers and challenge them to implement the same for their teams.

4.      Explore the battle fields: Learn the battlefield each manager is on and teach your managers to do the same for their team. What specific battle is each person facing? What is the level of pain or trauma? What is the optimum performance level for each employee and how do you mesh this into the team? For example; someone with chronic fatigue may be able to function extremely well for two hours and need an hour break. Providing the hour break may then help them function for another three at their peak level. Is it possible to accommodate their healing journey? We all know the wasted productivity hours in the typical office. Most existing structures are simply functional and not optimal. Innovate and be brave enough to stand by your team to create workspaces that are not only high performing but safe too.

5.      Keep learning: If your team member, or employee is going through something that you have no clue about, it’s your job to learn. If they have just been diagnosed with an illness, just suffered a loss, just had a baby and are back but suffer from postnatal depression… the list is endless. Take time to invest in understanding the battle they are in, the giants in their lives and cheer them on towards victory.

6.      Sacrifice: You will at some point need to practice sacrificial leadership. The most sacrificial leadership I have watched is that of a leadership team that took paycuts so we, the employees were cushioned for a season. During this lockdown, being a connected leader is truly tested. I wonder who in your team has: slept hungry so they could feed their child or has been kicked out of their house and is currently living with a relative to make ends meet. As your teams come back to work, what is their current emotional and financial state and what plans can you put in to cater for their wellness?

7.      Learn counselling and/or coaching methods: You simply cannot be an effective leader if you haven’t learnt how to coach people to be their best version. Invest time in learning how to call out the gold in others and yourself.

As a simple point of reference on the issue of chronic fatigue and sleep issues, just imagine not having slept for more than 48 hours and work off that for anyone who is currently in that battle. I remember a friend who had a season of insomnia. She ran her car off the road as she tried driving home under intense drowsiness. On one of our conversations she said “now I know what you were going through”.

Brave Leadership is unpopular. Its unpopular as its sacrificial and seemingly expensive. But the true result, in time, manifests. Richard Branson told Forbes magazine: “If someone wants to go off for a month and travel the world, they can go and do it. They’ll work that much harder when they get back. It doesn’t impact the company.” Branson also mentioned at an Adobe Summit: “Treating people with flexibility, as humans, like you’d treat your own children comes back to the company many times over.” 

Be the spark. Burn the box. Set the world on fire for leadership that is crazy brave.

And for you, the one currently in the battle field, remember that you have a spark that no battle can put out and soon, a fire will emerge setting light to the hopes and dreams that seem lost, stolen or even forgotten. Keep your hope in Him who so carefully crafted your being and He will renew your strength. You will “soar on wings like eagles; run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint”. (Isaiah 40:31)

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