I don’t like roller coaster rides. They make me anxious and turn my stomach upside down. But, with the arrival of COVID-19, I’ve been on one long roller coaster ride for the past few weeks. I’m referring to the psychological and emotional roller coaster that leaders ride. We’re concerned about our teams and their well-being, the sustainability of our businesses over an undefined number of weeks, we’re questioning how to support and add value for our customers, and we’re definitely worrying about financial endurance. One moment I’m giving myself pep-talks telling myself that everything will be OK, and that I need to be courageous, optimistic, and to look for opportunities, and at other times I feel pessimistic, despondent, and helpless.
I know that as a leader you’re probably in the same boat. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an entrepreneur, small- to medium-sized business owner, self-employed, or a full-time employee, we’re all riddled with endless worry, concerns, and questions. We all share the same fears and apprehension about our loved ones, our employees’ well-being, our financial existence, our businesses that we have invested all our passion into, and our future. Worry is a grey cloud which engulfs us, and every now and then there’s the odd opening of an azure blue sky.
Right now, there are more questions than there are answers, and the next few weeks will be a waiting game for us on how to move forward. It all depends on what the world will look like after COVID-19.
I’d like to share some strategies on how you can transform your worries into opportunities. These will help you to take control of what you can change, and to let go of what you can’t. To not waste energy, time, and sleepless nights worrying about things that are beyond your control.
Lead in COVID-19
Being a leader at this time in history is frightening, but equally it has never been more exciting, energising, and innovating. Your days will be challenging and demanding, but I have no doubt they will also be rewarding, as you grapple to find novel and unique solutions. You will have to be brave to try out completely new concepts with your team and your clients. See opportunities, not problems, and find the valour to move into action. As a leader, you have the chance to show your true potential. You have permission to step into your authentic power, and be your best possible self. You don’t have time on your side to spend months planning, contemplating, or designing extensive strategies at the moment; you need to be agile, nimble in your thinking, and make some very serious decisions rapidly. Your team needs focus, direction, and support, and they’re looking to you for that. I know you’re on your own, confronted with an entirely new situation for which no leadership workshop or course could have prepared you. Trust me, you’re doing your best, and I want you to acknowledge yourself for that. These are chaotic, challenging, and unforeseen times. Nobody saw this coming four months ago. Like all other professions who are servicing the nation to stay well cared-for, you too are a hero to your team.
Worry is normal in these times as we struggle to make sense of what’s happening to our world. We try to find meaning in the chaos, and reflect on what really matters to us. So, worry is healthy in that it makes us consciously question many aspects in our life, but it does turn more harmful than helpful if it paralyses our thinking and actions. If we overthink things, we’ll get stuck in a worst-case scenario-mindset, and will withdraw from the outside world. We need to consciously work against our natural negative bias, because it does not serve us at all. Shift your leadership focus to what you can control and influence, and let the areas that are outside your powers be.
Here are four leadership tips on how you can shift worry into positive action for you and your team.
1. Be a human being
First and foremost, as a leader, be a human being. Share your fears, anxieties, and concerns about your family, the team, and the business. This is not the time to come across as tough; rather demonstrate your soft, caring, empathetic, and compassionate heart. People want to know that you have the same fears and emotions that they do. When checking in with people, whether it’s online or on the phone, always ask them how they’re feeling. This isn’t the time to operate from a place of business as usual. Put work tasks, deadlines, and progress on the back-burner.
2. Double-up on connections
More than ever your team will need to feel and stay connected. The current lockdown will be stressful for a lot of people, some of whom will manage it better than others. Support everybody by having virtual coffee appointments or lunch check-ins. These shouldn’t be work-related meetings, and you mustn’t talk about anything to do with work. Instead, really share and connect about how everybody is coping in their environment. Collectively offer support, or brainstorm a solution to a colleague’s challenge. Make sure that these meetings happen at least twice a week, because for some employees this is a moment of bonding with their colleagues. Share funny quarantine stories from your home, and also open up a platform for people to share their fears.
3. Cut people some slack
This is not the time to be rm with employees on their performance. I know that might be hard to accept, or non-negotiable in your industry, but not everyone is capable of giving 100% of their commitment and focus in times like these. Your team is unlikely to deliver their best work right now because they will be grappling with many other things. Their minds will be focused on their families’ and spouses’ well-being, their health, financial situation, investments, and their children’s education, and this could mean that they’re distracted in terms of their work. You’re going to have to cut them some slack and not be a stickler for perfect productivity.
4. Collective creative solutions
This is the time to think outside the box. Situations will present themselves that your best risk mitigation plans didn’t even consider. Use your team as much as possible to collectively come up with creative novel ideas and solutions. Nobody expects you to have all the answers. Include the team, listen to their ideas, and discuss which ones you will implement. Some will work and others won’t, but it’s important to make the team part of the process, to try out new fun and even courageous ideas, and to realign the ones that didn’t work the first time around. It’s not about getting it right; it’s about moving forward and learning from your mistakes. Your customers will probably be very tolerant and forgiving in these times. Think about it: what have you got to lose but an idea that didn’t work? At least you tried, you learned something new along the way, and you added to your collective teamwork.