Leading Through COVID-19: The New Normal

Since March 16, 2020, our situation has gone from surreal to very, very real. Being faced with the possibility of having to shift to remote work on the fly or being barred from public spaces is one thing, but actually going through it is something else entirely. As we further adjust to our new normal, good leaders must remain keenly attuned to the constantly changing needs of their followers as they continue to provide guidance and support through this unprecedented situation.

In the past week, most organizations have been forced to shift their offerings, repurpose entire business units and throw out job descriptions. When this amount of change occurs, everyone looks for answers and if leadership cannot supply the needed clarity, people will come up with their own.

As we move into the week of March 23, 2020, people need their managers to provide them with clear and constant direction based on the ever-shifting landscape and changes in strategy. Now that the initial shock is behind us, leaders need to refocus their followers quickly so they can begin to achieve a high level of performance through a time of duress.

Stay and lead in the here and now. With the amount of frightening news we are constantly reading or hearing about, it’s very easy to play out all the horrible scenarios in your mind. There is no doubt: This is going to be a hard time for all and a personally tragic time for some. It’s easy to let your mind wander and see a scary future filled with sick loved ones and financial hardship, but leaders must personally discipline themselves to make decisions and take actions based on the current reality. This is not a time for wondering aloud or speculating about potential outcomes with your team. When communicating the new strategic direction, rely solely on facts and data available in the here and now.

Challenge others to take charge. Now that we are more physically distant than ever, it’s never been more important to challenge your followers to communicate their needs to you openly and clearly. Whether the need is direction for a new set of tasks or support and understanding for coping with and navigating through these difficult challenges, you are going to need their help in letting you know what is needed. Work hard to understand the challenges they are facing and ask them to tell you in their own words what you can do to help them be successful.

Set daily priorities. If you read our post last week, you may recall that this one is basically a repeat (and I cannot imagine it coming off the list anytime soon). Once you better understand what your team is going through by working with them to keep you informed on their needs, be sure to clearly communicate daily priorities. Do not assume that anyone on your team will be able to perform at the same level they did a few weeks ago with this level of change and stress. Clear team objectives, role definitions and personal activities will have to be regularly communicated throughout this week and beyond. If roles have shifted drastically, you will have to put even more time, effort and energy into providing specifics that will enable individuals to complete their new goals to standard.

Lastly, as hard as it may be right now, we must keep in mind that this is going to end someday. All things do. Based on your level of personal impact, life may never be the same but, at some point in time, the fear and anxiety brought on by COVID-19 will have passed. Leaders that work hard to provide the right level of direction, support and understanding throughout this pandemic will, at a minimum, be able to relieve some of the pressure everyone is feeling right now on our road back to normalcy.