A leadership Slump

Originally published on February 6, 2019 by the Montrose Daily Press.

Slump (noun )

Webster’s definition of slump:

1a : a marked or sustained decline especially in economic activity or prices

b : a period of poor or losing play by a team or individual

2 : a downward slide of a mass of rock or land

A slump is a common “diagnosis” for athletes, artists and performers. The term has become an easy way of explaining a period of uncharacteristic underperformance or lack of performance at all. A “slump” indicates a temporary state and implies recovery is expected.

The temporary part is really good news especially when you’re a leader experiencing a slump. The bad news is, leaders aren’t typically afforded “slumps” nor do many leaders identify themselves as in a slump. Without proper acknowledgment and steps to remedy the “marked or sustained decline” in performance, certain career disaster may ensue.

Maybe you had a particularly epic “crash and burn” moment during a key project. Perhaps you’re under an immense amount of pressure at work stemming from unrealistic expectations (from self or others), or you’re dealing with some serious home issues. Or maybe it’s all of it. Regardless of how we arrive at the slump, it’s no place to live.

Are you slumping? Put on those muck boots and trudge on with these slump-blasting strategies:

1. Accept a new leadership style. Like all of you, I’ve developed my own leadership style throughout my career. It’s one part “me,” but most parts little tid-bits and ideas I’ve picked up along the way. My husband calls it the “Magic Chelsea Dust.” He’s very kind to say so, I’ve had no reason to believe this isn’t the most effective leadership style for me.

That was until it didn’t work. It’s always an interesting experience when you use tried and true leadership techniques with a new group of people. You know these techniques work with people nine out of ten times. But there’s always the tenth time. Then what?

It can been difficult to identify as a certain type of leader and then realize that leadership style simply isn’t working. In these situations, we may have to employ more of a “command and control” leadership style or more of a “laizze faire” style depending on the crowd. This seems like common sense, but embodying a characteristic that you may previously have disagreed with is a difficult thing. Leadership isn’t one thing. Leadership is often two things that are complete opposites. It is a dichotomy. We shouldn’t ever box ourselves into one place.

2. Seek (the right) help. When you’re leading a team, there’s rarely space for fumbling (or slumping). Leaders must press on even though there is a lot of struggle going on beneath the surface. As such, the best policy is keeping the information away from the team and within our own vault.

That does not mean we don’t talk about it. In fact a trusted mentor or confidant who can see the situation with perspective and honesty is a must. Dig into the details with this person, dissecting the ins and outs of the situation. This is the time to expose your failed attempts, frustrations, and ideas for how to improve. This is also the time to listen and be open to change. You’re asking for help because you want to get better right? Accept responsibility for things as they are and take ownership in improvements moving forward.

3. Be consistent. It is easy when we are flailing to try something once and then give up when it doesn’t immediately work. If you find yourself in a leadership slump and you take the time to plan strategies to fix it, give those strategies time to work. Maybe you schedule a once a week meeting for increased conversation within the team. Don’t ditch that meeting if the fruit does not grow right away.

4. Tell that voice to shut up. Slumps are often self-maintained by what we continue to tell ourselves. I have found myself in many a leadership “situation” where my inner monologue was telling me I wasn’t cut out for the job. She’s told me I’m a fraud, that I’m no good, and that I am better off working alone. That voice is a liar and so far I am really glad I didn’t listen to her.

You are where you are for a reason. Take a seat at the table. Believe in yourself; failures and all. Be sure to tell yourself as much when the negative voice gets too loud.

I’ve come to believe that slumps are as big a part of leadership as the grand moments. Slumps are difficult and if nothing else, they teach us what we’re made of.

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” –Hank Aaron

Chelsea Rosty is the director of business innovation for The City of Montrose. She can be reached at crosty@ci.montrose.co.us.