Leading Through COVID-19: Looking Ahead

The week of April 12-18, 2020 saw us continue our trend by again seeing a rise in deaths and job loss due to COVID-19. I am certain you are beyond tired of reading sentences like that but, at the same time, it is important to stay grounded in reality and fully aware of the challenges we are all facing together. This past week also brought increased national discussion of a “return to normalcy” and the first details have started to emerge as to what that may look like. However, a deeper dive into the plans being presented by our federal, state and local governments make it quite clear that whatever we return to will be very different from what we collectively remember as “the past.”

As it becomes increasingly likely that many of us will be returning to the same physical spaces we once occupied, it is also becoming clear that our behavior within those spaces, as well as the makeup of the people populating them, could be drastically different. Over the past five weeks, we have all gone through immense change and that will certainly not be any different just because we begin reentering society. The immediate impacts like personnel changes and managing a mixture of in-office employees, as well as others that cannot safely return, will present challenges that need to be addressed in the coming weeks. The lagging effects of this event like a potential recession and long-term travel bans will continue to test us all.

Since this situation is so unprecedented, the first few posts in this series placed the focus on crisis management and how to combat the specific challenges being presented each week. Now that we are in the early stages of knowing what the first steps of a reestablishment may look like, it’s important to begin thinking longer term.

Take Time to Take Stock

With the frenetic pace the past month has brought, it is important to take some time to really look back and take stock of everything that has happened. At one level or another, we have essentially become numbed by the uncertainty and fear we have been feeling. With that in mind, it can be easy to forget how much is truly different. Spend some time this week reflecting on that and capture what has changed in your country, your organization, on your team and in your life since early March. Afterward, spend some time thinking through and capturing details on your current state. Although this is a guide for leaders and it may seem odd to ask you to do something that does not involve anyone else, it’s good to remember that before taking action, leaders should always be spending time doing some cognitive preparation on their own before setting their sights on influencing anyone else.

Prepare to Plan

Although it is still too early to figure out all the details, we should be entering a time where we can begin contemplating what we will do to address the challenges that lie ahead. After you have taken stock and you know what the first stages of a return to your workplace look like, put some time on the calendar to plan out your first few days and weeks after your organization begins to resume some semblance of normal operation. Even if you did a great job of consoling your team members and maintaining engagement through the first phase of this event, your ultimate success will be determined by the decisions you make moving forward and how effective you are at driving performance focused on full recovery.

Manage Expectations

You may know how tough the road ahead will be but that does not mean the same is true for all the members of your team. As a leader, you never want to discourage optimism, but if you have team members that are beginning to think a return to work is a return to the comfort of historical normalcy, it is important to focus their attention on the essence of what is real. Every industry, organization and team are different, so reality will be different for every leader. When in conversations with your team members, simply rely on facts and data so you can paint a clear picture of the performance you will need from them in order to get on the other side of this crisis as unscathed as possible.

One week farther brings us one week closer! We are living in times that were unimaginable only a few short weeks ago. And even though we are in the early stages of discussing how and when we will begin to return to our “normal,” we must keep in mind that we are never going back to the lives we used to have. This will especially be the case as it applies to our immediate return to public spaces. Think about how challenging and unique all of this has been and prepare for the long haul. Even though things will be different from here on out, there will come a time when it does in fact feel very normal!