Leading Through COVID-19: Breathe

Nobody knows how much further we need to go on this unwanted journey, but we do have a pretty good idea where we are right now! The week of April 6-10, 2020 marks the one-month milestone of living through, and leading through, the COVID-19 pandemic. More than anyone ever thought possible only a short time ago, we feel settled in our temporary workspaces; we have established new routines; and we have wrapped our heads around our new reality. And, even though there is increasing comfort in having some semblance of structure back in our daily lives, it is difficult to fully escape what we know lies in front of us.

Even the strongest and toughest leaders amongst us are going to start to wear thin and burn out if we continue to ignore the signals. Simply stated: The pace many of us are going at right now is unsustainable. The professional and personal burdens we have taken on have been manageable to this point, but predictably they will become overwhelming as the weeks become months and there is still no end in sight. Leaders, however, are charged with a responsibility to their organizations and their team members to produce results even under these kinds of adverse circumstances. Because of this, leaders are going to have to make sure they are prepared for what could be a very long haul.

Take a Break

Due to the challenges so many organizations are facing, leaders at every level are working harder than ever before to ensure as few people as possible are laid off, furloughed or forced into taking a pay cut. In the face of dire consequences, this is the right impulse and it will help. At a minimum, you must show your team that you are willing to put in the effort with this much on the line and sometimes your extra efforts will in fact save jobs and keep the paychecks for others coming. And, even though it may seem selfish to take a real break, it is critically important that you have enough energy to get yourself and your team through this entire crisis. Spend some time this week (and beyond) doing something you enjoy and something that replenishes or reenergizes you. Take care of yourself because everybody around you needs you at your best for the long haul!

Ask for Help

So many leaders have done such a great job of bringing their teams together and providing them with hope and inspiration through the first few weeks of this trial. These efforts continue to be sorely needed right now but, at some point, there will be a waning level of enthusiasm for your attempts at motivating your team to work harder (and in increasingly challenging conditions) than ever before. For many, as time drags on, there will be a growing urge from people to want to get back to their normal lives. As dissatisfaction grows, there is a natural tendency to look to the one in charge as the source of it. Spend some time with your closer team members to ask them for their insights and perspectives on what needs to be done to help keep their teammates engaged and focused.

Reset and Push to the Finish Line

Although this post has been much less focused on tactical manager to direct report guidance based on the global events of the week than the previous entries in the series, leaders must remember that their primary role in all of this is providing appropriate levels of direction and support to their team members based on their individual needs at the time. It is beyond important to take care of yourself and ask others to share the burden. So please keep the following in mind as you attempt to do so:

  • Take a break so you can be fresh enough to put in full effort and minimize the consequences you and your team may face
  • Ask for help so you can keep your team motivated enough to keep working and achieving whatever it is you must achieve Your role in all of this is as a leader. Before any of this happened, you sought and were given a position that makes you ultimately responsible for the careers of others. Take care of yourself so you can work hard enough and push hard enough to get them through this

We are as in this as we are ever going to be right now. It’s not novel anymore and we have settled in, but there is still no end in sight. Take a moment to prepare mentally for a long road ahead but try as hard as you can to think and act in the here and now. This will come to an end at some point. All things do.