How to Replenish Your Surge Capacity

How can leaders cope with heightened responsibilities in times of crisis? These tips may help.
Five people discussing
Women & Leadership Australia
3 min read

Updated April 2024

All workplaces experience unique challenges that leaders must address to maintain their effectiveness and wellbeing. Many of us experience ‘carers’ load’ and ‘vicarious trauma’ as a result of challenges presented at work or home.

In this blog, we look at the phenomenon of ‘surge capacity’ and how you can overcome constant ‘surge’ conditions.

What is surge capacity?

Have you ever scaled up your efforts – whether increasing your work hours, donating more to charity, or squeezing more tasks into your day – in times of crisis? If you have, then you have used your surge capacity. Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive leadership qualities that leaders draw on in times of crisis, change or trauma to survive – whether figuratively, or literally. While these qualities can be used over a short period of time, they lead to burnout if we operate at that heightened level for too long.

The most tangible example is the extra resources that people pour into natural disasters – firefighters work around the clock to put out fires, SES volunteers go days without a break to rescue people from flood waters, and governments, private organisations and individuals donate large amounts of funds and goods to support the survival of the people affected. All these things have one common theme – they are unsustainable over time.

As a leader, you activate your surge capacity to protect your organisation in times of crisis or rapid, unpredictable change. The usual timeline of these situations would see you have an immediate surge response, and then soon after turn to rest, reset and rebuild, using more normal energy and resource levels.

Challenges to Surge Capacity

Your surge capacity can sometimes be tested beyond limits. Without allowing time for rest soon after a crisis event, you are left feeling burnt out, depleted and wholly uninspired or motivated to lead. This contributes to poor wellbeing for you, as well as your team, and your organisation more broadly.

How to support yourself through crisis:

Luckily, there are some things you can do to support yourself in times of crisis, to better cope with your heightened leadership responsibilities. These include:

  • Going easy on yourself. Giving yourself some extra time and space to get things done, leaving things that aren’t urgent and having more rest time aren’t selfish, they’re important for your health and wellbeing.
  • Acknowledging that things are different. While it’s okay to miss things that are different, embrace the positives and adapt to the new challenges.
  • Recognising that you may be experiencing grief-like symptoms. It’s natural to grieve for the way things were before. Take time to process these emotions and focus on moving forward.
  • Focusing on maintaining and strengthening important relationships. Nurture relationships and invest in meaningful connections, both personal and professional, to build resilience and support networks.
  • Finding new activities and hobbies that offer some relaxation and reprieve. Engage in hobbies and activities that bring joy and relaxation, providing a much-needed break from ongoing challenges. It is important to take time away from the ‘crisis’ and do something that is enjoyable and good for you.

Dealing with prolonged periods of distress and change is challenging for everyone. Understanding what surge capacity is, and taking steps to replenish your surge capacity, will help you lead productively and positively in your organisation.

How we can help

While prioritising your wellbeing is sometimes the last thing on your mind, it really couldn’t be more important.

Take the opportunity to re-vitalise your leadership wellbeing, learn about how to apply surge capacity strategies to your own situation and more, with our interactive Leadership Recharge short course. Find out more and enrol today.