Lead Yourself and Others in Difficult Times
You know the questions people ask each other about our big moments in history? Questions such as, “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” or “Where were you when the Twin Towers went down?” Well, after this year of the coronavirus pandemic, we will forever be asking not where we were when…, but what did we do during this historic period of social isolation.Today we have a whole new vocabulary for what’s going on: Unprecedented. Social distancing. Pandemic. New Normal. Evolving. One for the history books. The impacts reach far and wide. The news is filled with people struggling and dying — and others rising to the occasion to help in any way they can. People are scared. Scared of the virus, but also scared for their future — especially their immediate future. Rents, mortgages, car payments, utilities, loans and for some, food; how to pay for the necessities. Necessities that are now becoming luxuries.
You’re the LeaderIf you’re an owner, CEO, COO, manager or supervisor, all eyes are on you. As a leader, you set the tone. You must lead in a thoughtful, proactive manner, not from knee-jerk reactions. So, how do you get through this? How do you support your employees, your families, yourself? First and foremost, take care of yourself. On an airplane, before take-off, flight attendants demonstrate the oxygen mask in case of emergency. They advise: If you’re traveling with a young child or someone who needs assistance, put your mask on first. Why? If you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. The same principle goes for any other helping role, including leadership. So, take care of yourself, mentally and physically. Maintain as healthy a lifestyle as you can – proper diet, sleep, exercise and virtual social contacts with friends and family. Now is not the time to let yourself go.
It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, scared or angry; these are difficult times. If your feelings become unmanageable, consider reaching out to a counsellor or physician. Many now offer phone or video-based counseling services.
Power Challenge 1 – Learning to Adapt with Covid-19Our world has been rocked by a tiny little virus, so small that it can’t be seen by the naked eye. For those of us conducting business, it’s time to take stock. While the rules for running a successful business or successful team aren’t much different than before the pandemic, what has changed is how we apply these rules. We are having to adapt quickly, and we can’t afford not to. Below are five strategies to remember while leading during difficult times.
Whenever I talk about successful business leaders, I always emphasize the importance of communication. It is rare to find poor communication associated with a well-run business. Now — more than ever — you’ll need to step up your communication skills. This is not the time for you to check out.Recognize — and embrace — that we are all learning to communicate in new ways. Casual conversations in the office and in-person meetings are no more; instead, we have daily video conference calls and increased email. And, don’t forget: Communication also includes listening. Sometimes that is the most powerful thing we leaders can do.
Employees who live by themselves may need a bit more outreach from you. Loneliness can lead to depression and other health issues. If you have employees who live by themselves, make sure to keep in touch. If you have time, send them a note in the mail, or take time out over the weekend to check in with them.
If you are struggling financially, or your company is anticipating layoffs, let your employees know. Be honest. There’s a common misconception that transparency only applies to owning up to a mistake or righting a wrong. Transparency should be part of all interactions. It builds trust and credibility. Your staff needs that from you now, more than ever.
This is hard for many of us in positions of leadership, as we are used to setting expectations, providing deadlines and expecting staff to conform to our direction. However, the world is changing daily, and we too must adapt. Working parents have children at home who need constant care and supervision. Schedules need to be adjusted to provide working hours outside a typical workday. (But then, what’s typical nowadays?) Video conferences may include a baby on a lap or an interruption from a child asking for help. The key is to be flexible; your folks are doing their best, just like you.
Show Grace and Compassion
In the work context, we don’t often talk about grace and compassion. I think that’s a big miss on our parts as leaders. During this pandemic, furloughs and layoffs are inevitable, and we are seeing companies transition overnight from a staff of several hundred to just a handful of employees. If this happens to your company, yes, it feels incredibly stressful or devastating. Still, pause and show grace and compassion. You will want your people back.
Let Go What You Can’t Control
You can’t control when toilet paper will show up in the grocery stores again or how long till someone finds a COVID-19 treatment or cure. You can’t control the actions of other people. But you can control your attitude, your own social distancing, your ability to show kindness and empathy. At least once a day, disconnect yourself from the news, television and social media. Take time for yourself to just be. Focus on what you can control — not on what you can’t.
The Way It Was?The world is changing. Most likely, we will never go back completely to “the way it was.” Remember, it’s easy to lead in good, prosperous times. Our current times are testing our resolve and shaping who we are. We are finding out just what we have inside us. I’m confident we will learn from this period of social distancing and come out stronger and better.
In every crisis, the true heroism is self-discipline, patience and strong determination. (- Amit Ray, Peace, Bliss, Beauty and Truth:Living with Positivity)
Power Challenge 2 – Remote Work Leadership: Embrace The Video ConferenceI’m fairly tech savvy for someone in my age bracket. I use Instagram, I can FaceTime, I pay people with Venmo, I take Uber and I use my iPhone watch for more than just telling time. But now my tech skills have been stretched to new limits, especially with video conferencing. Sure, I used it before, but in very limited ways. Now, it’s the only way to meet, and that pesky camera — once a fancy option — is now always on. Using the camera removes distance, promotes engagement and discourages multi-tasking. Meetings are more productive. By embracing this technology, rather than resisting it, I ‘ve flattened my own kind of curve — the learning curve — and you can, too. Speechworks, a communication and selling skills coaching firm in Atlanta, recently shared with us some great pointers on conducting successful video conferences. Here are some of their tips, along with a few of my own:
- Use your video; set up your camera with a clear, unobstructed view of yourself, and make sure your face is well-lit.
- Look into (or near) your camera to create eye contact with others.
- Use facial expressions and hand gestures to engage (don’t just sit there).
- Raise your hand (physically) when you want to speak.
- Don’t interrupt others; wait your turn.
- Stay focused, be attentive and engaged; no multi-tasking.
- Mute your mic when you aren’t talking.
- Don’t chew gum.
- Keep your hands to yourself (away from hair and face).
- Don’t hide the cats and dogs; it’s fine for people to have a peek into your home.
- Be patient; technology isn’t perfect.
- Wear a nice shirt (whatever part of you is visible).
Power Challenge 3 – BreatheIt’s natural to feel stressed and anxious about our futures in the middle of this pandemic. COVID-19 has shaken our world. How do we stay centered in a time like this? How can we learn to calm ourselves? One of the best ways is through breathing exercises. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase, “Take a deep breath.” It’s a good suggestion. Deep breathing is a powerful tool for calming the mind and body. The simple act of inhaling and exhaling can take our body from a feeling of anxiety into more of a safe mode. A deep breath reorients our brain, helping us to manage our stress. I got some great advice from Nancy Scheel, a business coach. She told me, “You can’t stay wound up all the time. It’s not healthy, and you won’t be productive.” She’s right. She taught me her breathing exercise and urged me to incorporate it into my daily routine. I practice it regularly; it’s simple and incredibly relaxing. It grounds me when I find myself feeling out of control or when anxiety begins to take hold. You know, I’m doing it a lot these days. Give it a try yourself. Feel free to modify it or find any breathing exercise that works for you. There is no wrong way to do it. Practice it daily.
Breathing for Healthy Living:
- Sit with your posture straight but not rigid.
- Keep your legs and feet uncrossed.
- Close your eyes.
- Notice your body’s contact with the chair and floor, such as the bottoms of your feet and your butt. (It helps to wiggle your toes and body a little bit, so you really notice the contact).
- Notice any body sensations. Try not to judge them or resist them, even if you feel pain, tension, etc. Allow all sensations to just be what they are.
- Put your hand gently on your belly.
- Simply notice the rhythm of your breath. Do not try to change anything, just notice with curiosity.
- Feel the breath going in and out of your nose. Feel your hand on your belly rising and falling with your breath.
- Take 4 or 5 breaths this way.
- Then, comfortably lengthen your inhale just a little bit — just 10-15% more. We are not going for deep breaths at this stage. And exhale, gently, with the same extra 10-15% length.
- Repeat the same type of inhale/exhale a few more times.
- Then lengthen one more time — again, just a tiny bit more, such as another 10-15%.
- Take a few more breaths at this rhythm.
- Finally, take one fuller breath, imagining that you are breathing all the way down into your body’s center of gravity.