Coronavirus (or COVID-19) started making headlines late last year, but really entered our common vernacular in March 2020 - and not in a good way.
Now, we have all been exposed to extraordinary levels of media coverage regarding COVID-19 and most of us have been impacted in one way or another. We are all dealing with unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety with the future of our jobs, our companies, our health and the economy being uncertain.
We are the fortunate ones if all we have to complain about is a touch of 'cabin fever' from self-isolation, because so many other people are really struggling. Some people can't afford to put food on the table; or are stuck in a home plagued by domestic violence. Many people are suffering with mental health issues and our mental health support service provider organisations are unable to keep up with demand. Some of these people may work for you.
So as a leader, what can you do?
In times of crisis and uncertainty, a leader's job is to demonstrate 'superhero leadership.' Does this mean that we don't feel uncertainty and fear? Definitely not. But it does mean that we need to deliver extra doses of courage and compassion.
There are different aspects of courage, ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and innovation. In times of crisis and uncertainty, once aspect of courage that is necessary, is to 'feel the fear, yet choose to act.'
As Nelson Mandela said: "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave [person] is not [the one] who does not feel afraid, but [the one] who conquers that fear." Displaying courage requires us to 'dig deep' and provide our people with what they need. So what do they need?
As leaders, our people are counting on us to provide guidance, empathy, compassion, support and positivity.
You've heard the saying used by politicians "never waste a good disaster"? Well this is true. During times of crisis or uncertainty, we have a wonderful opportunity to build trust and an even stronger bond with our people by demonstrating guidance, empathy, compassion, support and positivity. It's a very powerful and positive opportunity - but it all depends on your mindset and how you respond (not react).
When you react, you make a purely emotional and subconscious decision, often with little thought of the long-range consequences which rarely yields the best results. On the other hand, when you respond, you make a constructive and conscious decision, considering long-term consequences and impacts, by being self-aware with your brain fully engaged. Your people need you to 'respond' not 'react.'
Our mindset (or our attitude toward life) is the most important choice we have to make during challenging times. It revolves around the simple choice to either embrace a positive or negative attitude. We often forget that we have this power to choose. And this choice, made consciously or unconsciously, impacts everyone around us as leaders. Your people need you to choose a positive mindset.
Another aspect of courage is 'persevering in the face of adversity.' As Mark Rutherford said, "when we are afraid, we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavouring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger." So choose to look at your situation in a positive light, consult with your people regarding the best plan that you can put together to strengthen yourselves in spite of the current challenges and implement it together as a team. Your people need you to engage with them and then guide them.
As mentioned, 'superhero leadership' also requires extra doses of compassion. Unfortunately, in stressful situations, our compassion usually goes out the window. That is why it takes a 'superhero' effort to focus on delivering those extra doses of compassion when it is hardest to do, which is also when it is needed most.
According to Monica Worline, a research scientist at Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, “when we’re under severe stress, we go back to coping patterns that are familiar and we have a hard time seeing that there’s any other way to do what we’re doing. We think we’re right and others are wrong. This isn’t good for your interactions with your colleagues. We unwittingly break our relationships with coworkers, causing more suffering.”
According to Harvard, this is not a time to move away from kindness and caring, even if our brains nudge us in that direction. It’s important to try to find ways to remain open to compassion, even when we’re overtaxed. A book titled Awakening Compassion at Work, highlights that showing compassion correlates with your own level of job satisfaction and the degree to which you find your work meaningful. Your people need you to show compassion.
As per Worline's research, we have a hard time seeing that there's another way to do what we're doing when we're stressed. So purposefully expand your horizons, learn new approaches, consult with experts and let go of 'the familiar' - by choice. If you inculcate a positive mindset, you will see that our current challenges are presenting us with a growth opportunity to envisage and implement new ways of working. In reality, change is happening anyway, so you may as well encourage your people to roll with it, embrace it and get ahead of the wave for a bright and positive future!
COVID-19 is challenging for everyone and it's not easy to demonstrate 'superhero leadership' in times of crisis and uncertainty. Please reach out to us if you need some support to demonstrate business courage and compassion as a leader in your business. We've been in your shoes and we're here to help.