The beginning of Week 4. How are you? Week 3, regardless of the industry you work in or the teams you are leading, was a doozy. There is no one who has led through a pandemic of this proportion before with the human toll and the global economic impact rising exponentially by the day. There is no Playbook. We are all learning as we go.
For leaders, this can be frightening. I participated in a great webinar last week led by the Table Group. In it, Patrick Lencioni shared that many leaders are experiencing the fear that they don’t know enough to lead their teams right now. You are a leader because you have been around the business block a few times and you know where the potholes are and how to navigate them while delivering business value. That was until COVID-19 came to town. Now you are learning daily, along with your people, how the virus is spreading and how to navigate it to keep your people safe and your business moving forward.
I have a client who is a small business owner. His business is almost entirely shut down right now due to restrictions in our state. He, like all of you, is making tough calls about how to retain his staff while keeping them safe and making sure that the doors can open back up in full when this is over. He knows no more than his people do about COVID-19. He is taking in the information that is coming to him, and he is trying to make the best calls for their collective future. He said something to me last week that stuck with me. He told me that he is doing the best that he can, but he isn’t overwhelmed by feelings of performance guilt. He didn’t cause COVID-19 to happen; he didn’t drive his current numbers into the ground. This is happening to his organization. I thought this was a great observation. When, in your career, have you been able to say “I didn’t create the situation that I find myself in.” I’ll answer for you…rarely ever. You, as a leader, have been accountable for every sales number that didn’t meet expectations, every poor set of quarterly results that you had to spin to the Street, and every phone call with an outraged customer. But this gap in performance is different and that provides you with a little bit of liberation. Before you put your feet up on your desk, I’ll remind you of the flip side…
While you didn’t create the storm, you are still the captain of the ship and responsible for navigating through the choppy waters. Your people need your leadership and guidance more than ever. The webinar I referenced…it told leaders that no one will come out of this unchanged. No organization will come out of this unchanged, which means that the perception of your leadership will also not come out of this unchanged. You will emerge from this with more respect and loyalty from your employees or you will emerge with less. You will come out of this with greater trust from your key stakeholders in your capability to navigate the waters or you will come out with less. It’s that simple.
So in these challenging times, here are a few tips to make sure you emerge stronger:
Take care of your people:The psychological soreness I referenced a few weeks ago is being felt in every muscle of your being and theirs. Many of our people are finding that overwhelming fatigue has set in and they are worn out. As a leader, it was perhaps easier to be compassionate in week one or two when the situation was new but we didn’t expect it to last as long or hit us as hard. The reality of the economic impact our organizations feel today might have us putting more pressure on people to produce in week four, yet the circumstances people are working under most likely have only become more challenging. They still need you checking in and working with them to find solutions to blurred home and work boundaries and trade offs in challenging times.
Overcommunicate: By telling people what you can even if it is reinforcing information that they have already heard, you are helping to create temporary clarity. Clarity is something that we human beings greatly desire. We do not know when this quarantine will end, but we can tell people how we will operate for the next month with the rules of the game to date. When the rules of the game change (i.e. social distancing guidelines, restrictions from government), update what this means for the way you will engage as an organization. Everyone is experiencing information overload right now, so it is critical for you to reiterate what is important to enable your people to operate effectively in this challenging time.
Lastly, create a rallying cry for your team or your organization. A rallying cry creates a focus point for your team. It is the way you are going to operate in present time so that you emerge stronger when this is done. It will be the hope that if we do this “right” with our customers, our employees and other key stakeholders we will emerge stronger with deeper relationships, trust and respect than ever before. It creates hope in the future with a purpose in the present, and it is something that I believe we are all searching for from our leaders.
We are living in historic times. No one will emerge unchanged. You decide how you will emerge and how you will be remembered. I believe the impact will be felt for the rest of your career. Game on…Week 4…are you ready?
If you would like more information on Leading in Uncertain Times, please check out my articles from the past several weeks: “Leading in Uncertain Times” (March 16); “The Four Ps for Managing in Uncertain Times” (March 23); and “Navigating the Valley of Despair” (March 31).