As we grapple with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, there is one thing we can be certain of, that absolutely nothing is certain. The pandemic has challenged our sanity with opposing information coming at us from all directions, made us buy shopping carts full of toilet paper (which still puzzles me) and has businesses scrambling to adjust to the new normal with increased sanitation efforts, discounts to keep cash coming in and more delivery options to deal with stay-at-home directives.
Something happens to people when faced with chaos and uncertainty – our survival instincts kick in. We tend to focus more on necessity, get back to basics and make choices that in the end are more beneficial to our well-being, both on a personal level and as a business leader.
As leaders, we must lean into the ambiguity, which is a hallmark of great leadership, and turn our focus to the things we can control. The following are some recommendations I’ve made this week to my coaching clients. I’m also practicing what I preach within our organization and following each of these to the best of my ability.
We are leaders, and we must lead.
We are leaders of people, and our employees are seeking clarity and direction. We must help them cut the noise, communicate what’s going on in our business and make them feel safe in their roles. I give credit to my partner, Jesse Edelman, who has provided daily COVID-19 updates to our entire team. His messages are the perfect mix of facts about the situation, updates on how the business is reacting and thanks to employees for keeping things moving.
Be (at least virtually) visible.
Leaders must be visible and vocal, even when making dramatic decisions for the health and well-being of the business. Employees have to understand the severity of the situation, dilemmas we are facing and not feel like they are in the dark. We must help frame the situation so people can act. Without communication, employees invent their own reality (with the media providing the backstory) so leaders must attempt to control the narrative. There’s a balance here between optimism and transparency. We can’t scream that the theatre’s on fire, but we have to be grounded in the reality of the times.
Don’t let daily triage completely eclipse long-term planning.
We can’t come out of this unprepared for what is next. The economy will rebound. We will make it through, albeit a bit battered and bruised. We will be charged with leading through an unprecedented time of recovery. Now is the time to revisit strategic plans, adjust and create contingencies. Revisit your established priorities, determining what should stay at the top of the list. Pacing of execution can also be adjusted since the timing of accomplishing goals will likely be impacted.
Set a personal goal.
You’ve heard this before, but I want to reiterate its importance. Take virtual piano lessons or sign up for Duolingo and practice your Spanish. You can use this time to achieve something you’ve always wanted to do. Conversely, you can decide to re-watch all seasons of The West Wing. The point here is to have something to focus on that takes you out of solution-finding mode and gives your mind a breather.
Get on with it.
There’s something to be said about this mentality in times like these, times when leaders need grit and tenacity. Whatever happens, we are smart, capable and able to react consistently with our values. We know things are going to change and hard times will be had. But all we can do is take one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
I welcome and encourage you to please reach out to me and others in this time. Find your community of leaders who can provide perspective and support your efforts to your teams.