By Tim Stratman
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Consider the range of emotions you’ve personally experienced from the early days of the pandemic to today. It’s been a unique struggle, unlike any we have previously experienced.
Many executive teams are struggling physically, emotionally, and spiritually as the pandemic drags on. It makes sense given the personal and professional challenges of the past ten months.
In many respects, this your defining leadership moment. During the American Revolution, when the colonists were clearly losing their military campaign, Thomas Paine famously said, “These are the times that try men’s souls”. This was followed by: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Paine was inspiring soldiers to stay the course and continue fighting, even though they were taking a pounding. He was delivering on a key leadership responsibility: transferring energy. He was also giving patriots a Reason to Believe they would ultimately prevail.
We talk often about energy. Now more than ever, your team needs energy. They are likely thinking, feeling, or saying things like:
“I’m anxious and overwhelmed; I miss being around people.”
“I am absolutely burned out and struggle to remain optimistic.”
“This is insane, I don’t know how much longer I can keep going”
While team members aren’t battling the British Army, they are experiencing unprecedented stress. Consider those you’ve personally known who became sick from Covid-19. What about those who have lost loved ones? In addition, most businesses have experienced a “Covid Contraction” affecting individual’s financial and professional security.
I want to share some practical things you can do to transfer energy and help your people. While grit, perseverance, and adrenaline may have helped your team muscle through the virus’s early days, the high-energy sprints have long since faded. Now people are just downright tired and need a boost.
Project Bounded Optimism: I spoke frequently about this back in April but it bears repeating. You need to display inspiration, hope, and optimism tempered by reality. Things will get better; however, they will never be what they once were. Life will be different and perhaps even better. Consider:
We have learned things during this period that will stick with us. We have moved faster than we ever thought we could and overcome obstacles that seemed overwhelming. We have learned more about each other and adopted new, innovative ways of doing business.
Listen deeply and show personal vulnerability: Create space and time for your people to share how they are truly doing…the raw truth. LISTEN for understanding and resist the urge to dominate the conversation. This requires vulnerability and, in this regard, you need to be a role model. One of my clients brought her team together for a Zoom check-in…no agenda. She kicked off by sharing a recent and serious personal health scare. It was authentic and emotional. Her team knew nothing about it. After her “share”, the team opened up and “got real” about how they were each really doing. The anxiety dropped and the energy rose. She received several personal letters of gratitude for sharing her story.
Another client scheduled 30-minute, one-on-one check-in calls with team members every ten days or so. Again, no agenda. He just wanted to hear how they were really doing. How was their family holding up? What can I do to help you? Admittedly, the first couple of calls were sometimes awkward; but over time, they became highly valued opportunities for human connection.
Encourage personal growth: Arthur W. Frank, professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, found there were three archetypical responses to being chronically sick or permanently injured:
Restitution – individuals yearn to go back to the way things were, engaging in a “restitution” narrative focused on how much better their lives were before illness.
Chaos – individuals have lost sight of the past and cannot imagine a better future. They exist only in the present and assume chaos is permanent.
Quest – individuals meet their unchanging circumstances head on, accepting them, and incorporating them as part of their identity and journey.
Individuals who adopted a “Quest” mindset, thrived despite of their illness. They found meaning in suffering and used it to build a positive future. This ability to grow and develop, especially during times of stress, is a high-priority leadership “muscle”. It needs to be constantly exercised.
How strong is your leadership muscle? How about your people? I suggest sharing these three mindsets with your team. Ask them to do some soul searching on where they stand. Emphasize that growing this muscle is an expectation. While no one wishes for a pandemic, we need to understand what have we learned about ourselves and use it to create a better future.
I look forward to our next conversation. In the meantime, protect your energy and share it generously.