The last 6 weeks have been unlike anything we have ever experienced. The reality of this new virus and our need to respond to its challenge on a personal, organizational, community, national and global level has been compared by some to the great challenges of the past — the Great Depression, the societal efforts during World War II, and the great plagues of history. I’m not sure if I agree with those comparisons, but what I DO know is that — at this time — we do not have a clear picture of what is coming next.
Yes, we have seen models and projections of COVID-19 infection rates, economic impacts and the probability of various businesses surviving. We’ve seen estimates of how long COVID-19 may be around in the months (or years) to come and we’ve seen speculation of how long we will be needing to maintain physical distancing from each other.
But, they are just guesses — good guesses for sure, but still guesses.
The resulting challenges to the leadership in our community are enormous.
Leaders are being called upon to make decisions in a vacuum — there isn’t a playbook or textbook that can be referenced. Decisions made today have both short and long-term consequences — but because of the fluidity of the health and economic crisis — these consequences are incredibly difficult to predict.
How accurately can one predict the outcome of a decision when you don’t even know all of the rules?
I am referencing a blog post by Greg Hadubiak entitled “Being the Eye of the Storm” (Apr 9, 2020) that discusses the conundrum leaders are facing during this pandemic. It resonated with me — reminding me about the critical components that we need to embrace as leaders at this time.
I especially liked this passage:
Your role as a leader is not to pull yourself from the storm, nor always dive in amongst the lashing winds and rain, but rather to be the eye-in-the-storm for those you lead and serve.Greg Hadubiak, April 2020
As leaders, our primary focus is to create a plan, keep to that plan and create the necessary supports around that plan to make it happen.
DETERMINE THE REAL PRIORITIES
During a storm there will be a lot of flotsam and jetsam swirling around — things that can easily distract you from the job at hand. It is essential to find your focus and remain focused on the critical priorities. Regularly reminding yourself and your team of these priorities is not only important, it’s essential to ensure that the organization moves forward.
HOLD TO YOUR VALUES
Your rudder during the storm is your ability to remain true to your values. You will likely need to make some trade-offs with other priorities as the rules change during this pandemic. We need to be prepared to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Learn to appreciate that we are making the best decisions possible right now with the information we have available.
REMEMBER TO BREATHE
Despite the belief that we need to stay engaged all of the time to be successful, this type of mistake will be disastrous. Not only is it unrealistic to always be ‘on’, trying to maintain that intensity will actually result in a poor outcome. You will have diminished cognitive, physical and emotional capacity. It is critical to learn how to disengage on a daily basis to maintain the balance you need (and the rest of your team needs) to finish this marathon. Get proper amounts of sleep, eat well and get some exercise. And, take some micro-breaks during the day to gain some immediate gains.
Go slow to go fast if you want to finish the race.
As they say — it’s lonely at the top. And with physical distancing, it’s also pretty lonely in the middle and the bottom as well these days. One of the leadership fallacies that sometimes gets promoted is that we need to bear the burden of challenges by ourselves. While the ‘buck may stop with you’, believing that you should be leading alone is foolish. Finding ways to stay connected with others — your team, your mentor or with other leaders — makes you a better leader. Don’t try to navigate this storm by yourself.
As difficult as it is to believe that this storm will never end — this too shall pass. The storm will eventually be a memory. For now, one of the most important objectives for leaders is to provide hope or optimism for those around you. This is only possible if you — yourself– can also develop and maintain a positive vision for today as well as for tomorrow. And this is only possible if you are able to stay balanced and focused – not overwhelmed or exhausted. Ensure that you find a way to give yourself some space to imagine the brighter tomorrow once the storm has blown over. Go for that walk, putter in the garden or do some yoga.
These are days like no other. Give yourself the license to breathe, try new things and even make some mistakes. Show your human side to your team. Show them that you’ve got their backs and that you are there to help them through the storm.
As a leader this time will define you.
Work to ensure that it’s for all of the right reasons.