Leading Through COVID-19: Maintaining Motivation

The week of April 6-10, 2020 proved to be the most trying and difficult of the crisis to date, yet somehow it was easy to leave the week with mixed feelings. Last week saw a significant uptick in the overall death tolls and the loss of many millions more jobs. On the other hand, we also saw the first legitimate glimmers of hope emerge in the form of announcements made that the number of overall predicted deaths are now far fewer than we originally thought. We are already starting to see a flattening of the curve in several breakout epicenters. Although the situation is still dire, one can take some solace in the fact that, at least for the moment, things are not getting worse.

After five weeks of either working and living in extreme or (at a minimum) unique conditions, it becomes very easy to lose motivation. The initial boost of energy felt by many has been replaced with a general malaise now that the reality of the situation is fully recognized, and there is still no definitive end in sight. There are some signs that things may be at their worst, but nobody seems to know that for a fact. Even fewer people have an explicit idea of when we are going to return to our normal lives. We are at the point in the challenge where, in the absence of great news, a clear plan or an official return date, you simply must find a way to continue being mentally tough and achieve results of significance with your team. Consider the following.

Stay Connected

Although you may have no new direction to provide and they have already heard your same attempts at motivation countless times, don’t stop communicating! In times of crisis, the worst thing for a leader to do is “go dark.” A lack of interaction with you will cause some on your team to wonder things like …

  • “I haven’t heard from my manager in a few days …”
    • “Does that mean they’re going to lay me off?”
    • “Does s/he not care about how hard I have been working in the middle of this mess?”

Even if you do not have new directives or updates, stay in touch. If you are not filling the information void for your team, they will fill it themselves and, in all likelihood, with something that is anything but positive. Be sure to communicate with your team on an almost daily basis even if it’s just to say, “How are you?” or, “Nothing has changed.”

Direction and Support

For those of you that have read earlier posts in this series, you probably have picked up on the fact that there is a motif of direction and support throughout. At the end of the day, that is the primary responsibility of any leader. So much of the success of a leader comes down to their ability to know how much direction and how much support to provide at any given moment.

When our lives were first thrust into chaos and we were being forced to do things we had never done before, the strong advice from this series was to provide high degrees of both. It is likely that this has changed over the course of the past couple of weeks. Spend some time asking yourself these questions about each of your teammates so you can better know what they need right now:

  • “Which priorities have I set for _____ these past few weeks?”
  • “How have they been performing each of their job responsibilities?”
  • “Do they need more direction and/or support from me or are they performing at a high level and should I just be checking in to see how they are doing?”

Work on You

Now that many of your followers have been performing their new roles in their new surroundings with their new goals for a while now, you may be finding that you do not have to be as high-touch as you were a few weeks ago. Knowing that every organization is going to be facing challenges of one sort or another into the foreseeable future, do what you can to “take your game to the next level” from here on out.

Whether your future problems come from working in an organization that is growing too quickly, stagnating or rapidly declining, you will be best prepared to face these challenges by improving yourself. Take an honest account of yourself as a leader (and involve others, if possible) so you can develop and put a plan into action that will elevate your ability to effectively respond to the challenges that are on the horizon.

We are coming off a trying and difficult week and, by all indications, we have more hardship ahead. It is strange when news of things not getting worse can leave you with positive feelings, but heading into the fifth week of the COVID-19 pandemic—that’s where we are. The initial shock is well behind us and we continue to wade into uncertain waters as we still do not have final answers as to when we will begin our return to normalcy. We don’t know where the finish line is, but we know there is one. Keep after it!