Social Distancing Versus Physical Distancing: Part I

Consider for a moment amid all that is COVID-19 that the last thing we want from anybody we look to for leadership right now is social distance. Physical distance—absolutely! Social distance—absolutely not!

Where We Are and What We Feel

There are a number of lenses we can look through to help us process all that goes on around us. The one thing each of them will illuminate are the trials and tribulations that are inherent with temporary chaos. The rug we were standing on 10 days ago has been unceremoniously ripped out from under us. That is unsettling or (massive understatement) distracting or (at a minimum) concerning:

  • Some of us are well-situated to work from home but find ourselves impacted by the reality that many of the people we rely on to do what we do, are not. Now what?
  • Some of us are not only working from home for the first time, so is our spouse. Our kids can’t go to school or participate in any previously scheduled activities. Understandably, but no less frustrating, they seem like they have a question about every 5 minutes. And, does that dog really bark this much … every day?
  • Pretty much all of us at one level or another are wondering about the bigger picture. Am I going to be working from home forever? Realistically, how long is this going to go on? Am I going to have this job “on the other side?”

What We Want and What We Need

Net-net, we want all the things we know people want when they are forced to endure any cycle of unforeseen and disruptive change:

  • We want to pretend this isn’t happening, will be over soon and really isn’t that big of a deal
  • We want control back
  • We have exercised patience for the better part of a week now—and we want all of this to go away (or at least get much better very quickly!)

If all that isn’t going to somehow magically happen (which it isn’t), we need some leadership:

  • We need to have leaders understand, and care about, the details of our situation
  • We need leaders to tell us what to do. We actively seek that direction (when it can be given) perhaps more than at any other time in our professional lives
  • We recognize that we have some questions our leaders simply don’t know the answers to. Believe it or not, we get that. When we can’t get answers, we need straightforward, reality-based, transparency

What Leaders Should Do

People who are unsettled, distracted or concerned typically do not respond well to leaders who take a hands-off approach to the circumstances described: “Just use your best judgment!”

Conversely, and into the foreseeable future, leaders need to actively consider:

  1. Overcommunicating: Leveraging every mechanism of connection at their disposal (outside of in-person discussion) to lessen whatever social distance there may be between them and the people they work with that need them most!
  2. Listening: Like they have never listened before!
  3. Taking action: Providing explicit guidance or direction when they can! (When they can’t, being clear about that and becoming a conduit of communication that, at a minimum, connects those with questions to those in a better position to provide answers.)

For all the apprehension we may feel, we are also aware that we will indeed emerge from all of this. In the meantime, consider effective leadership through social connectivity as the adhesive that will keep us united, despite the physical distance we are currently required to maintain.


  1. Ask the members of your team open-ended questions about their emerging distractions and concerns.
    1. Listen intently to their responses.
  2. Act decisively where you can and be clear about your limitations when you can’t.
    1. For unanswered questions or concerns, connect your team to others that may be in a better position to help or offer perspective.