When winter seems to drag on with dark clouds, snow and short days, I start to feel in the doldrums. I lack energy, enthusiasm, I don’t want to be around people, my projects seem to drag on and I get a sense of dread at the thought of more work.
I’m especially cynical of news that benefits governments, multinationals pharmaceutical companies or politicians, and at the same time creates fear and distraction.
In many ways, I would like to crawl under the covers and come out like a bear in springtime, when it’s warm, the sun is beating down and I feel happier.
But chances are that when I do crawl under the covers, I’ll wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. with my head spinning with the number of things I should be working on.
If I was mystical instead of cynical, I might think that I’m going through a dark night of the soul.
However, like many entrepreneurs, I’ve experienced this sense of burnout before and know that this too shall pass.
Entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to burnout and depression. A recent study by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) found that 62 percent of entrepreneurs feel depressed on a weekly basis.
Most entrepreneurs and business leaders have no one to talk to about what’s going on. They face challenges that most people wouldn’t understand if they haven’t been in those roles.
Businesses also go through doldrums. Some of these are seasonally affected as well. For many businesses, January and February are especially slow and they struggle with cash flow challenges and have difficulty making sales targets. This causes tension, stress, dysfunction and boredom among employees.
Employees want to fix the situation – they rely on the success of the business to make their payments at home. But despite their best intentions, they don’t know what to do and often, because of the cyclical nature of the business, there might not be many options.
So what causes these doldrums and what can we do as leaders?
Have a plan
This may seem easy, however, most businesses fail to plan for off-seasons and downtime. We think during the frenzy of our busy season that we will cherish the slowdown, and yet after a few weeks of lower sales we wish we were busy again.
In one of my businesses, we decided we were going to figure out how to grow sales in our slow times and came up with plans to deal with the two or three months of slowdown through diversification of our offerings. After a couple years of tweaking our plans, we saw our sales grow significantly, to the point where we needed to hire more staff instead of laying off employees.
Entrepreneurs also need a personal plan. I know of many leaders who head for a sun holiday in the middle of winter when they know they’re going to be affected the most. Having taken a couple of winter holidays, I’ve seen the benefit. These trips require advance planning to ensure we can fit them into our busy schedules.
But let’s say for financial or family reasons you can’t enjoy the benefits of natural vitamin D. What do you do?
It’s incumbent on us as leaders to look out for our mental well-being. If that means we need to get out and exercise, take supplements or meditate more, then we need to work those aspects into our day.
As leaders, it might not be the slow times that affect us as much as the ongoing busyness and weight of our workload. In those cases, we need to schedule down time in order to ensure our long-term effectiveness. At one point in my career I failed to do this and after several years of intense work and pressure I ended up on the couch for two weeks, unable to do anything except sleep and complain. This was followed by several months where I had to cut back on my workload.
Get out there
I recently worked with a business that struggles with off-seasons. We worked on a plan where the owner was going to spend time knocking on doors to drum up more business. We also built a marketing plan to boost sales. It’s too soon to know the impact of these strategies.
Leaders need to get out there. When we feel we want to run and hide, it’s exactly the time when we need to reach out to friends and family and find something to celebrate. It’s amazing how an evening with friends and a few laughs can cheer us up for days.
As leaders, we’re often embarrassed to get help for ourselves or our businesses because we feel we should be able to do it all. The truth is, we can’t.
Like many leaders, I have a support network that includes professionals who I can rely on for advice, mentorship and coaching when I’m going through a hard time. There’s no shame in understanding that you don’t have all the answers and need advice. There are people in your industry and outside of it who have gone through similar struggles and have survived. You can, too.
Struggling in business and leadership is normal, seasonal and difficult. “This too shall pass” should be your motto. In business, you need that mindset from time to time.