We live in a time of perverse logic and challenging observation: we see everything is changing, and yet we’re not quite sure what exactly is changing. For many of us, our days are jarring in this chaotic uncertainty.
Alas, business leaders are not immune; rather, the pressures for effective decision making in crisis are compounded for heads of organizations. We see leaders battling the polarities of not enough information with information overload, choosing between making fast decisions and deciding prematurely.
In such times, leaders are expected to be strong and decisive, while also empathetic and wise. They need to be the strategic bellwether of the future of their organization, while keeping up the confidence and morale of their teams. Add to this, their role as parents, partners, and caretakers (to name just a few) further magnifies and stresses essential cognitive function.
Put on your oxygen mask first
In service to their teams and their families, leaders need empathy, support and permission to focus on themselves. We coach our clients to put on their oxygen masks on first, using a few simple tools:
Press pause: We encourage leaders to momentarily look inwards and take critical stock of what they are experiencing. Daniel Goleman notes that the first step to being an emotionally intelligent leader is self-awareness. Unfortunately, like COVID-19, our negative emotions are contagious; if leaders feel anxious or overwrought, they may transfer this doubt and unease to the rest of the team.
How: A few simple questions for leaders to ask themselves:
How am I feeling in this moment? (Overwhelmed? Anxious? Tired?)
Am I able to focus completely on my daily tasks?
What expectations do I have for myself as a leader, partner, parent, caretaker?
Do I feel able to rise to the challenges that this time is presenting?
And most critically, what do I need for and from myself and others to be able to better lead and manage the situation?
Track it: Carefully monitoring your emotional health is empowering, energizing...and essential. This exercise enables leaders (and us all) to move into the driver’s seat of all that is happening around us, rather than feeling reactionary. For leaders this is great nourishment and a neurological boost that allows them to show up with greater decision making clarity and empathy for their teams.
Give the oxygen mask to others (and insist they wear it):
Use this tool with your teams. Modeling the importance of taking emotional inventory- with your leadership team or a sample set of employees- will go a long way in understanding how to better support your teams. Doing so also reinforces for employees’ their locus of control, releases unproductive tension, and marshals collective focus and creativity towards performance. Responding in a more targeted way to what you hear will also have the boomerang effect of boosting the trust equation between company leadership and employees.
How: A similar set of questions leaders might ask of their teams or employees:
How are you feeling in this moment?
What expectations do you have for yourself as an employee, partner, parent, caretaker?
Are you able to focus completely on your daily tasks?
Are you able to maintain a similar level of productivity working remotely as you did before we shifted to working from home? What might be blocking your productivity?
How are you feeling about the future of our company?
And most critically, how can I support you during these turbulent times?
These questions are intended to generate an open dialogue about the realities of the crisis. Some team members may be reluctant to admit they are less productive or feeling distracted (or even overwhelmed) at home. To foster a safe space, leaders should start by sharing their own reactions to these questions and how the crisis is personally impacting them. This can also provide an opportunity to recognize that none of us may be able to reach and sustain the same level of productivity that we had before the crisis, how could we, and for leaders to talk through more realistic expectations for what team members can achieve.
As the business, commercial and economic impact of this pandemic competes to grab our attention, it cannot be underscored enough how important it is to keep the human impact front and center. Especially in times of crisis, leaders can waste essential energy by leaving unconscious anxiety unnamed and their effects unaddressed. Indeed in these times of perverse logic, taking time to attend to emotional concerns will pay business dividends by allowing leaders to build essential energy towards planning, performance, and morale; not doing so will be debilitating and, potentially, commercially terminal. As leaders, showing up for yourself and your people, is pivotal to how your teams will stand by you, your brand, and each other, as we all bunker down, focus, and weather this storm together.
It is our intention to share pragmatic recommendations for business and HR leaders on how to help businesses survive strategically and kindly. Please share your recommendations with us on LinkedIn or at LetsTalk@peoplerunway.team. If you’re a business leader hoping for further coaching or recommendations on how to help your team, please reach out to us at LetsTalk@peoplerunway.team.