Leading Through RestlessnessWe all get restless. Something isn’t going quite right. Something isn’t happening the way we thought or dreamed. There is a churn inside that stirs up questions of “is this where I am supposed to be?”

Times have been challenging. When things begin to look up, we begin to get curious as to what is out there that may be better. Some surveys indicated 84% of the employed will begin to look for new jobs as the economy improves. A frightening statistic. Have organizations sapped that much out of people?

There is no doubt that some organizations are unhealthy places to work. In those cases, if change is impossible, then it probably is a good time to embrace your restlessness and find something better. The reality in this case is not restlessness but relief.

Outside of these situations, we return to deciphering and leading through restlessness.

Two angles exist to leading through restlessness. One is about personal leadership, and the other is about organizational leadership.

Personal Leadership. It is like getting butterflies as we stand up to deliver an important presentation or talk. There is uneasiness inside. We are unsure what we are supposed to do and how things will turn out. Does this restlessness mean we should change jobs? Change cities? Just change something?

Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, stirs. We get geared up to change, maybe just for change sake. This is dangerous in that it does not solve our disturbance inside.

Deciphering this restlessness takes time and introspection. Questions to wrestle with include:

  • Are my efforts and work respected? It is a higher standard than just being appreciated. It is a standard of respect that we want, especially if we are delivering and doing our best.
  • Is the restlessness about our work or our purpose? If we are bored with our work, then it may be time to have one of those career and responsibility discussions, determining if you can do more or do different activities. If it is purpose, then this is a larger answer to work through. In this case, there are two dangers – staying and ignoring your calling or leaving and remaining unsatisfied. Don’t chase the wind. Don’t snub your purpose.
  • Are these thoughts we need to embrace or release? We may just be comparing our state in life to someone else’s. It is the greener grass syndrome, where we think someone else is doing something better than we are. These thoughts we are the ones we need to acknowledge and release. The ones to embrace are the deeper meaning ones, the ones that fire-up your soul.

Organizational Leadership. Organizational leaders don’t necessarily lead with butterflies. Sometimes, they lead with ignorance though. If the organizational culture is difficult to work productively, deliver quality, respected work, or broaden and enhance abilities, then a change is required to engage people in a better way.

Deciphering a cultural restlessness state takes a thick skin and an open mind. Questions to seek answers to include:

  • What is your organizational culture really like? This could be determined through honest conversations, intentional listening, or meaningful surveys. If you are just getting stock or guarded answers, then it may be time to bring someone in for assistance and guidance.
  • What type of leader are you really? A more direct way to ask this may be: How self-centered are you? Determining your leadership style is a part of the answer. More importantly, determining your effect on people may contain the tougher insights to absorb and work through.
  • Are you honest with team members? Stringing people along creates distrust, just as steering people into barriers creates frustration. Honest assessments and meaningful conversations bring people along, enabling a spirited and healthy culture.

Organizational restlessness spreads and will damage the mission being pursued. Correcting this state will be more challenging since it involves a larger group of people. Having said that, poor leadership brought you to this point, and good leadership will be the only thing to bring you out of it. Leading by being a good example will begin the shift out of organizational restlessness.

Restlessness happens. Some of it is good, if it places you on a purposeful path. Some of it is bad, if it places an organization at risk of losing good people.

In cases of a restless organization, it is worse because people have persevered through bad cultural habits in order to protect their livelihoods and families. Organizational leaders should not be surprised when times improve and people flee. Shift before it is too late, and shift because it is the right thing to do.

In cases of restless individuals, ensure you identify the right cause and your right purpose. Once this is determined, embrace your path fully whether it is staying or moving onward. Remember, don’t chase the wind, and don’t snub your purpose.

What are your suggestions for dealing with restlessness – individually or organizationally?


Check out my book — Your Glass of Life. It uses an analogy of a glass to discuss life choices as teens begin to grow.