This year must have been one of the most challenging ever for leaders, especially for those who want to do good. If an invisible enemy is punching holes in your ship that’s carrying people you care for, how do you keep it afloat, let alone on course? Is it even possible to come out stronger from these challenging times?
How do you cope when some of the people you depend on are dragged away and disappear in the waves? What if you, yourself, have to put some on a lifeboat and let them sail off into the unknown? And what do you do when you discover that some on your ship, through their own ignorance, seem to be helping the enemy? What if the people you’re supposed to be leading turn against you, scared and angry? How do you keep them working together when everyone’s rational mind is overwhelmed by panic, hijacked by survival mode, while the waters remain choppy and the hole-punching enemy active?
A lot is being asked from your leadership skills, but apart from strategic decision-making, Covid-19 is testing the emotional intelligence and ‘people’ skills of many a leader.
What’s more, leaders are human too! When circumstances are as unpredictable and threatening as now, it’s not simple to keep one’s own cool and maintain an overview of what needs to be done, both in the short and the long term. All leadership starts with self-leadership, and this is true now more than ever. As humans we are equipped with a ‘sixth sense’ to detect the basic emotions of others. And even though the lack of physical proximity and 2-dimensional video conferencing make it easier to disguise, if a leader is fearful or clueless, somehow, the team will know. Some members may be tempted to start a mutiny.
So, how do you sanely navigate these challenging times and come out stronger? Here are my ten tips.
- Prepare for meetings by imagining the worst-case scenario. Take enough time either on your own or, preferably with a trusted person, to talk through all the solutions you can come up with. Write them down, make a mind-map or draw pictures, and keep them at hand.
- Whenever you feel cornered, either during a meeting or by your own thoughts, physically move. For the subconscious, feeling cornered equals being powerless, which brings about immobilisation. Moving is action, which gives a sense of agency.
- Keep your eye on the horizon your ship is headed for. Take time, even in the midst of a crisis, to connect to your vision. Visualise the next step(s) from now.
- Remind your people of that destination. How? By communicating your vision both for the short and long term clearly and regularly. This gets all noses pointed in the same direction.
- Show your people that you’re there. They’re not alone, not lost, but you’re all aboard the same ship that you are leading. Be visible as the leader either through video, or in person if possible.
- Show people you trust them, by appealing to their sense of responsibility and problem-solving capacity. And delegate. This also helps to create a common sense of purpose.
- Develop your ‘people’ skills. It’s a great asset for a leader to have a certain understanding of psychology. For now, my ‘first aid kit’ would consist of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, which explains the pattern most people follow in distress, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which explains how to make people feel safe.
- Take people’s emotions seriously. Don’t judge or engage in conflict, which is often the result of fear. Making people feel heard is half the battle. Have personal conversations and send a postcard or some other small sign of attention to those who need it.
- Find external support to work through your own doubts and fears. All leadership starts with self-leadership, and that starts with self-knowledge. To be truly unbeatable and come out of this crisis stronger, it’s important to acknowledge one’s vulnerable spots and heal them rather than suppress them, as many people do.
- Practice self-care. Under these circumstances you do not have the luxury to go under. Self-care is often associated with long, leisurely hours of doing nothing useful, and you probably don’t have time for that. Here is a quick routine you can do on a daily basis: ‘Self-Care For Achievers Who Have No Time.’
You are your biggest asset that determines your success. Manage it well.