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.
Right now, things seem pretty scary and uncertain to me and so many of us given everything that is going on with the coronavirus. In times of fear, when I’m not exactly sure what to do, or when I find myself worrying about how I or we are going to make our way through a major challenge like this, it can be helpful to think back to previous difficulties we’ve overcome to remind ourselves of our strength.
In the past few days and weeks as things in the country and the world have changed dramatically, I’ve found myself thinking back to a time in my life nine years ago when things were very difficult for me personally. At that moment, my mom had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and the reality that she was probably going to die was setting in, even though I was having a hard time coming to terms with it. In addition, we were trying to dig ourselves out of a deep hole of debt we’d gotten ourselves into and were in the process of doing a short sale on our house. Although I’d been convinced this was the right thing to do, I was feeling a lot of fear and shame about it.
I had a conversation with my good friend Theo at the time which had a profound impact on me. I said to him, “I don’t know if I can handle all of this. I can’t believe my mom is so sick. I feel powerless – like there’s nothing I can do. And, with our house, I’m so embarrassed that we put ourselves into this situation. How could I have allowed this to happen? I feel like such an idiot!”
Theo listened with empathy and understanding. Then he said, “First of all, Mike, I’m really sorry about your mom. I know how much you love her and how hard this must be.” Then he said, “Second of all, about your house and financial situation, stop being so hard on yourself. Yes, you’ve made some mistakes, but you’re learning from them and you’re clearly not an idiot. Third of all, even with the mistakes you’ve made, a lot of people are in your same situation. It’s not your fault that the economy crashed and the housing market imploded.” Then he said something I’ve never forgotten, “Mike, even though it may not seem like it to you right now, it’s really important to remember that you have more than this requires.”
This simple, yet powerful statement that Theo made had me stop in my tracks. It allowed me think about and take inventory of some of the adversity I’d overcome in my life. And in so doing, I was reminded of my resilience. As I talked about on a recent podcast episode, we’re all incredibly resilient, even though we forgot this sometimes.
It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of this moment. The coronavirus is real, people are getting sick, people are dying, the stock market and economy seem to be in trouble, and anyone who tells you that they know how this will all play out is either crazy or lying.
Without minimizing the severity of what’s happening or the potential impact it might have on us – personally, collectively, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, professionally, societally and more – it’s important for each of us and all of us to remember how strong we are, all that we have endured, accomplished, and overcome in our lives, and that no matter what our brain might tell us when we get down, we have way more than is required to meet this moment and to navigate these challenges successfully.
Nine years ago, when Theo reminded me about my own strength it had a profound impact on me. It didn’t change the circumstances – my mom was still sick, and she eventually passed away a few months later which was incredibly sad and painful. We did the short sale on our house later that year which was hard, scary, and embarrassing. And, as I reflect back on those challenging experiences, I am, once again, reminded of my own capacity and the universal power of the human spirit. We’re often much stronger and more resilient than we think.
Remembering this important truth right now, will help us make our way through this challenging experience, while also encouraging and inspiring those around us in the process. Here are a few specific things you can do and think about in this regard:
1. Be real about how you feel – It’s important for us to check in with ourselves and be emotionally honest. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably on a bit of an emotional roller coaster these days. That’s okay. There’s no right way to feel. Whatever emotional experience you’re having in this moment is completely appropriate and will probably change. As I wrote about in a recent blog post, it’s usually our denial of certain feelings that is way more problematic than when we actually give ourselves permission to feel those emotions authentically.
2. Reach out for support – Even though most of us are isolated right now – working from home if we can, not going out, and staying away from friends, extended family, co-workers, and social environments – we all have people who love and care about us. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean that we’re alone. And, if we reach out to others and ask for support, we not only might get the help and connection we’re looking for, we give other people the opportunity to do something that most people love – contribute to the people around them. As the saying goes, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”
3. Take inventory of how resilient you are – As I mentioned above, one of the things we can do to remind ourselves of how strong we are, is to think back on times in our lives when we overcame specific challenges. A great exercise you can do in your journal or in a conversation with a trusted person in your life, is to reflect specifically on some of the most difficult things you’ve experienced, how you navigated them, what you learned in the process, and how they made you stronger. Doing this can actually help and inspire you as you face the challenge of this moment.
4. Check in with other people – As important as it is for us to check in with how we’re actually feeling and be real about it, as well as to reach out for the support we need, if we’re doing that consistently and authentically, another essential thing for us to do is to check in with those around us. Reaching out, listening, offering support, and being there for the people we live with, work with, and those who are most important in our life, is beneficial to them and to us. We can offer some real help if and when it’s requested, which can be incredibly supportive and generous. And, being of service to others can help us not waste time and energy obsessing about our own fears, doubts, and worries.
5. Focus on what you’re grateful for – I remember hearing something many years ago that has stuck with me,” Gratitude and victimhood can’t co-exist.” This is so true. Even in the midst of challenge, difficulty, and uncertainty, there is so much for us to be grateful for. Think of how fortunate you are. If you’re reading this right now on a phone, tablet, or computer, there are probably so many blessings in your life. Being grateful doesn’t mean that everything is great, nothing bad can happen, or that life is perfect; far from it. Authentic gratitude is about consciously choosing to put our attention on what we appreciate and being thankful in a pro-active way. Now more than ever, the power of gratitude is essential.
This time isn’t all that fun or easy for me and most people I know, am hearing from, and reading about. It’s quite possible and even probable that things are going to get worse collectively before they get better. I find this reality scary and upsetting on so many levels. And, if we can remember how strong we are – individually and collectively – and we take faith in the fact that not only do we have more than this requires, but that we’re all in this together, we can dig deep and make our way through it…knowing that we’ll be even stronger on the other side.
Feel free to share any thoughts, ideas, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.
When I was writing my book, We’re All in This Together, last spring and summer…I knew it would be coming out in May of 2020, which I figured would be an interesting and intense time, as the lead-up to the U.S. Presidential election would be in full swing and, I assumed, other things would be going on in our country and our world. However, I wasn’t thinking about anything to the extent of what we are facing now with the coronavirus.
Although the primary focus of my book is creating a team culture of performance, trust, and belonging…there are some core themes throughout the book (and in all of my work over the past few years) about finding common ground, addressing the intense divisiveness in our country and world right now, and remembering that even with all of our differences, we’re way more alike than we are different.
As the reality of this global pandemic sets in for me and so many of us here in the United States, as we see what has been happening throughout the world in recent weeks and months, and as we prepare for the unknown of what comes next…it is becoming even clearer to me how profoundly interconnected we all are. We truly are all in this thing together. It doesn’t matter what we look like, where we’re from, how much money we have, what we do for a living, the title or role we have, who we love, how we pray, or anything else…we all have to deal with this pandemic.
Some of us are and will be more significantly impacted by what is going on – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially, and professionally. And, all of us have been and will be impacted by this in some profound ways.
We have a huge responsibility to care for ourselves, our loved ones, the people we work with, and everyone. Our actions have a significant impact on those around us, our community, and our society at large.
And, although this whole thing is scary and vulnerable for me and most of us, we have the opportunity to use this crisis as a catalyst for growth, change, healing, connection, and transformation if we choose to do so.
Here are a few things you can do and think about as you navigate the coming days, weeks, and possibly months as we make our way through this experience:
1. Listen to experts – There are lots of opinions flying around and lots of “information” out there about the virus. The more we can listen to medical professionals and leaders we trust, the more we’ll be able to get quality information to inform our decisions and to share with others in a responsible way.
2. Take care of yourself – It’s really important for us to take care of ourselves in the midst of the fear, uncertainty, and stress many of us are feeling right now. As best as we can making sure we sleep, eat, and exercise, even if it needs to be modified a bit. And, using this time as an opportunity to slow down, turn within, meditate, journal, and do other things that nourish ourselves can all be beneficial, in general, and especially right now.
3. Check in with those around you – Making sure the people around us – our family, friends, co-workers, and others – are doing okay is essential. Some people are more physically vulnerable than others, some are more isolated, and some are more scared. Reaching out to and checking in with others is important for them, us, and all of us. Even though we may be staying away from each other physically, we can still connect with each other emotionally.
4. Be Flexible and Creative – Things have changed pretty significantly for most of us in a very short period of time. While this can be upsetting, stressful, and confusing, the more flexible and creative we can be the better. We will need to alter some of our routines, how we do business, how we communicate, how we operate, and more. Trying new things and seeing what works is all part of the process.
5. Remember that “This, too, shall pass” – There is a lot of understandable fear and uncertainty in the air. This can be hard, scary, and uncomfortable. As the famous saying goes, “this, too, shall pass.” Reminding ourselves and everyone around us that we will get through this is important. We don’t have to do this in some Pollyanna kind of way, but as a way to remind ourselves and others that we’re strong, that there are a lot of really smart people working on this, and that we’re not alone. Remembering these things are fundamental to our state of mind and to the morale of those we work and live with.
I don’t pretend to know why this is happening or what comes next. But I do believe with all of my heart that we’ll get through this together if we operate with authenticity, trust, compassion, courage, and love. Now more than ever, it’s important to remember that there really is no “them,” it’s all “us.”
Share your thoughts, feelings, or questions below in the comments section.
In light of the intensity of some things going on in our country and our world these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about difficult conversations and how we go about having them. Many of us have strong opinions – about who we want to win the election, diversity in the entertainment industry, and what’s going on within our companies or families – and this can lead to some pretty intense disagreements.
An important part of bringing our whole selves to work is feeling empowered to share our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs honestly. Because of this, and especially when we do feel comfortable enough at work to do so, these disagreements are inevitable. What I’ve found, though, is that sometimes it’s not the topic itself that causes issues, but instead how we decide to have these hard conversations.
In the past few months, especially, I’ve seen conflicts get blown way out of proportion because people didn’t connect live but instead turned to Slack, Twitter, Facebook, text or email to communicate their feelings or settle a disagreement. Written communication without live conversations often contributes to increased conflict and lack of resolution.
Even though most of us, myself included, know better, why do we still do this?
First of all, all forms of electronic communication tend to be the primary way we connect these days for many of us – both personally and professionally. So, communicating on these platforms is just what’s easiest.
Second of all, it can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of another person.
And third, electronic communication takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being, on the phone, on video, or in person. When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency not to speak our full truth. Avoiding the live conversation and choosing to communicate in writing sometimes feels “safer” and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.
Regardless of why we choose to engage in important conversations via these electronic forms of communication, it’s much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking to each other live about important topics.
Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and positively by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the “threat” is not.
Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, to resolve your conflicts more successfully.
1) Be clear about your intention – Before sending an email, text, or posting something in Slack or on social media, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?” If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an interpersonal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the electronic message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) directly involved. Tell the truth to yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.
2) Don’t send or post everything you write – Writing things out without a filter and just letting all of our thoughts and feelings flow can be a very important exercise, especially when we’re dealing with a conflict or something that’s important to us. However, we don’t always have to send or post everything we write! It’s often a good idea to save an email in your drafts folder and read it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day). I’ve done this many times, and sometimes end up editing or simply deleting the message – choosing to pick up the phone and talk live, or deciding to not send or share it at all once I’ve thought about it more.
3) Request a call or a meeting – Before engaging in a long, emotional email or social media exchange, it can often be best to simply pick up the phone or send a note to request a specific time to talk about the situation live. Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge (i.e. you’re busy and it might take a while to set up) or is not possible (i.e. you don’t live close enough to the person to see them easily), talking on the phone or by video is another option. A great email response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than by email. Let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”
4) Speak your truth, without judgment or blame – When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or on the phone), focus on being real, not right. This means that you speak your truth by using “I statements” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.). As soon as we move into blame or judgment, we cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way, not accusing them of stuff.
5) Get support from others – When we’re dealing with emotionally-charged conflicts, it’s often a good idea to reach out for support from other people we trust and respect. If at all possible, try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, won’t just tell you what you want to hear and agree with you no matter what, and who aren’t too emotionally connected to the situation themselves. Whether it is to bounce ideas off of each other, get specific feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to overreact (which many of us do in situations like this), getting support from those around us in the process is essential. We don’t have to do it alone and we’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.
Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging (or anywhere in between). Conflicts are a natural part of life, work, and relationships. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive conflict and important conversations.
The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage in conflict in a way that is productive, healthy, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress, and suffering – and in the process, resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.
Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding, tweeting, or emailing – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your thoughts, ideas, and questions about this here in the comments.
In light of black history month, I’ve been thinking a lot about our country’s history and how we all play a role in our future moving forward. In the past few years, we have witnessed the shootings of unarmed African American teenagers at the hands of police, the rise of white nationalism, and many concerning comments from our president. In all of these circumstances, it’s easy for us to condemn others, but it’s harder for us to look within ourselves.
While these instances, practices, and comments are troubling, discriminatory, and racist, I find the reaction to them very interesting. When racist things happen, I’m happy to see strong statements reaffirming the dignity of black and brown people along with calls for accountability, justice, and equality. However, on a deeper level, I think most of us, whatever our personal views or opinions are on these issues, are often hypocritical in our assessments and accusations. While the majority of people I know, myself included, would never condone outright bigotry, all of us have said, thought, and likely done things that are mean, hurtful, and even racist, whether consciously or unconsciously, recently or in the past.
Many of us live our daily lives completely unaware of our shadow (the aspects of ourselves that we hide, deny, and pretend don’t exist). I, personally, struggle with my own shadow all the time. There are aspects of myself that I don’t like, I want to conceal, or that I am not even aware of in any conscious way.
However, if we don’t confront our shadow honestly, and do the deep personal work of confronting, forgiving, and accepting ourselves, our shadow will end up running our lives and will keep us in an unconscious, self-righteous, and arrogant daze.
As a straight, white, cisgender, American man with resources, I sit on a perch of privilege. But I have also benefited from the unique experiences of growing up with a single mother without much money, attending an inner-city high school in Oakland, CA with a white population of 18%, and earning a college degree in American Studies with a specialization in race and ethnicity.
Over the years, I’ve gained a greater understanding of myself and of the importance of being kind, loving, and accepting of myself and others. I consider myself to be fair, open, honest, accepting, trusting, and more. I also have always had the ability to get along with all kinds of people and fit in in most situations. And, even with all of this, I’ve had racist thoughts, done and said things that were discriminatory, and held opinions (both conscious and unconscious) that are mean, hurtful, and not anything that I’m proud of.
This dark stuff, our shadow side, is as much a part of who we are as anything else, and it’s important for us to be more honest with ourselves and each other about it. Most of the political, social, and familial discussions, conflicts, and issues that we all face have to do with us not being truthful and owning up to these shadowy aspects of ourselves.
This is not to say that perpetrators of racism and discrimination should be let off the hook, or not held accountable for their words and deeds. It is to say, however, that we all have aspects of light and dark within us. Life is much more complex than it seems on the surface and we waste a lot of time trying to argue for how things should be in some unrealistic, fantasy world. We all have bias and prejudice within us, but the important work is in recognizing this and reckoning with it in an authentic way. By doing this, we can also have more compassion, understanding, and love for ourselves and others – even those we don’t like and agree with.
We are complex beings, filled with paradox, confusion, brilliance, and deep pain, among other things. But we have to be willing to confront our shadow and make peace with ourselves. By confronting this honestly, we can assuage some of our internal and external conflicts, and authentically address some of the biggest challenges we face – personally, relationally, and societally.