The coronavirus pandemic has created massive uncertainty in our country and our world. In the coming days, weeks, and possibly months, work and life as we know it will change fundamentally. And while there is no real way to know exactly what will happen, how long it will last, and what the long-term impact of all of this will be, one thing is for certain…things are uncertain and probably will be for a while.
Strong leadership is essential in uncertain times, and it’s hard. We have to be able to navigate the stress, challenge, and fear of the situation ourselves, and, in turn, support those around us as they navigate it as well. We have to manage diverse people, dynamics, priorities, and changes. And, in a situation like we’re in right now, so much is unknown and this whole thing is both unprecedented and evolving rapidly, which makes it even more challenging.
On top of all this, we are being told to work from home and practice social isolation, which means that just about all of our communication and interaction with those we work with and manage has to be done by video, phone, email, text, Slack, and other digital platforms.
A simple example of leadership in the midst of challenges I heard someone talk about recently is when we’re on an airplane. When we fly, sometimes we experience turbulence. Often the pilot will come on and say, “Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so I’ve asked the flight attendants to take their seats and to discontinue their service until we get through this.” When we hear this, we know that things are going to change and that we need to fasten our seat belts and prepare. When those bumps do eventually come, even if they’re significant and scary, we usually feel okay because we had some heads up and we know the pilot and crew are aware of the situation.
On the other hand, if we don’t hear that message from the pilot and the plane hits unexpected turbulence, it’s often way scarier and upsetting. And, if the pilot says nothing or comes on and simply tries to tell us that it isn’t that bad, that often makes things worse.
During these uncertain times, we want to be much more like the first pilot in this example, not the second.
Here are a few things you can do as you navigate things as a leader in the coming days, weeks, and possibly months while you and your team make your way through this time of intense uncertainty:
1. Take good care of yourself – Using another airplane analogy (and one we hear all the time), it’s essential for you to put your own oxygen mask on first. In other words, if you’re going to lead others through a time of stress, fear, and uncertainty, it’s essential for you to manage your own experience of all of this yourself as best as you can. It’s easy to let your self-care and stress management practices go by the wayside when things are nutty and you have people counting on you. However, it’s important right now to double down on taking care of yourself first – not in a selfish way, but so you are able to be there for others authentically.
2. Communicate constantly – People are freaked out right now, understandably. When things are stressful and uncertain, folks tend to assume the worst possible scenarios in their minds – “the business is going to go under, I’m going to lose my job, me and my family are going to get sick, the world is going to come to an end, etc.” And while you may not be able guarantee much of anything at the moment, what you can do is communicate what you do know and how you are truly feeling with those around you. The more openly you communicate, the less likely people on your team are to make up stuff that is unproductive and unhealthy.
3. Check in with people on a personal level – Work and life still must go on in the midst of all of this, and while you may have a lot of specific things to check in with people about in terms of their work, projects, and deadlines, a big part of your job, especially now, is to check in with people personally. Ask how they are doing and really listen. See how things are going with their families. Many people feel scared and isolated in the midst of this. As a leader you play a significant role in their lives – not just as their boss, but as someone they’re looking to and counting on for support, guidance, and reassurance.
4. Be flexible and nimble – It’s important to remember that you and everyone around you has never been here before. There’s no playbook. Because of this, you’re going to need to be as flexible and nimble as possible. Some of the things you’ll do won’t work, and you’ll have to adjust – both in a practical and leadership sense. Try to check your ego at the door and just respond to who and what you’re dealing with in the moment. The more open you are to doing and trying new things with a growth mindset, the better it will be for you, your team, and everyone around you.
5. Be real – This is a hard and scary time for just about everyone involved. Your team doesn’t need or expect you to be perfect or super human, they want you to be real. It’s not only okay, but really important that you let your team know how you’re really feeling and what’s truly going on for you. Showing up authentically and vulnerably not only liberates you, it allows your team to do the same. It creates the psychological safety that is necessary for your team to adapt, adjust, and perform in the face of all of this. And, it reminds everyone around you that you’re all doing the best you can and, most importantly, that you’re all in this together.
Feel free to share your insights, questions or comments below.