Leading Through COVID-19: Staying Connected

As we begin to take the first steps toward our return to public spaces, it is important to take some time to reflect on everything that has happened these past two months. The list below provides only a handful of events that have occurred since early March. Any one of these would be the most significant event of most years.

  • In early April, COVID-19 surpassed all other causes of death and has claimed more than 65,000 lives in the U.S. alone
  • More than 30,000,000 Americans have filed for unemployment since early March
  • The U.S. has released trillions of dollars in stimulus making it the largest relief package in our history
  • Millions of businesses have shut down day-to-day operations until further notice
  • No major sporting events have occurred
  • Tens of millions of students have not been able to attend school to continue learning in a traditional way

Today is May 4, 2020 and, based on the above, it is safe to assume you are having a more difficult time than you ever dreamed possible leading your team and managing the challenges presented in your daily life right now. We have all been through an incredibly difficult stretch of life since early March. In addition to these collective events, leaders must also recognize that people on their team may be experiencing a set of highly difficult personal circumstances as well.

  • Someone they are close with may have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (or perhaps even passed)
  • A close family member or spouse may have lost their job leading to increased financial struggles
  • Someone on your team may be in an increased risk group that will keep them from returning to normal far longer than the rest of society and, as a result, may be dealing with a highly increased sense of anxiety about their health
  • Many are taking on increased responsibilities at home since their children are not going to school or engaging in extracurricular activities

This is not an easy time to be a leader, but leaders are needed most when times are tough. Your team is going to need more from you than they have needed before during the hours you are working together. They will also need more understanding from you so they can manage the array of personal challenges they are facing at home.

The following guidance continues to mirror the advice presented in the first blog in this series titled “Going Remote.” Although the specifics have been amended to reflect all that has happened since March 16, the steps that a leader should take in navigating change due to crisis bear striking similarity.

Inform Yourself and Your Team

Know as much as you can about the evolving plans to make a return based on where you live, what you do and how your organization decides to react. Relay information constantly by solely relying on facts and data from a reliable source or expert. Also, ask your direct reports how they are being impacted and relay that information up to your leadership so they can make more informed decisions.

Build the Relationship

If this has always been important to you as a manager—that is great! If not, hopefully you have initiated that investment process at some point during this crisis. After return plans have been communicated, connect with each of your direct reports to ask some basic open-ended questions:

  • How are you and your family?
  • What’s on your mind?
  • Based on your personal circumstances and health risks, what does a return look like for you?
  • What else are you going to have to do for the foreseeable future to take care of yourself, your family or your friends?

Set Immediate Priorities

Once you better understand your organization’s plan and what your team is going through, establish their priorities’ return in specific terms. When this much is in flux, you are going to have to be doing this more often than normal right now and in the months to come (even for high performers).

Although our first steps toward an actual return may be a long way off for some, it is starting to happen and it will not hurt anyone to begin preparing for it. As some of us begin to return to something resembling our normal lives, we must do it with the understanding that we are in this for the long haul and everyone will need more from their leaders. These are trying times for all so leaders need to recognize that and step up for their team. The “new normal” is coming. It is good to not only recognize that but become an active catalyst in ensuring that it does.