Over the past week, as international responses to the global COVID-19 emergency have escalated and become more urgent, we’ve been in conversation with our clients, partners, colleagues and others about the confusion, uncertainty, and fear so many of us are feeling. In this time of deep vulnerability, we are each confronting our fragility.
Each passing day has brought more bad news, as the stakes of this unprecedented moment have begun to crystallize. Our imaginations are running wild about what it will entail: Will the economy recover? Will our organization make it? Will we be able to afford our mortgage or rent?
We desperately want to know what’s coming… but it defies prediction.
So we’re easily frustrated. Or anxious. Or angry.
These are perfectly human reactions. Your feelings are valid. Your worries are real. Yet your leadership is calling you to this moment.
How should leaders respond?
Resource yourself. This crisis is challenging everyone’s resilience. We’re tired. We’re stressed. And as it becomes evermore clear that we’re in for many more weeks of this (probably many months), each of us must take responsibility for ourselves—our health, our energy, our capacity. You can’t lead if you’re unhealthy, nor if you’re exhausted. You must be conscious of your capacity…. You can’t do it all. And you don’t have to.
Take two minutes just to breathe.
Even if you feel there are a million things that must. get. done, take the time to step away from your desk and your work. Take two minutes just to breathe. Take ten minutes to walk in the woods, if there’s a trail that’s accessible and safe. Take an hour to focus on a book or a board game. You can’t sustain an emergency response sprint for the duration of a marathon.
Honour your relationships. If your frustration surfaces, if your anxiety shows too starkly, if your anger lashes out, relationships will erode. As a leader, you’re responsible not only to manage yourself, but also to stay in healthy relationships with those who look to you for support, direction, and tone. This is equally true at home as it is at work.
You don’t need to hide your own anxiety. In fact, you should be sharing it with those close to you. None of them expects or believes that you’re invulnerable. But this is also a time for decisive leadership. Make decisions as quickly and transparently as you can, in response to the crisis. Ask for help in making those decisions: none of us is at our best right now, with so much worry distracting us. More minds make better decisions.
Seek as well to retain the old rhythms of your organization. With so much around us changing, the predictability of a daily huddle or a weekly team meeting can be the constant that each of us clearly needs right now.
Remember your community. Freedom has its privileges—and its responsibilities. Whereas reports emerged from China of forced quarantine and even of apartment building doors being welded shut, in liberal democracies we continue to be free to move. Even in those areas where shelter in place policies are in effect, we can still step out for groceries or to walk our dogs, and essential services remain available.
Confront your fragility. Embrace our shared humanity.
The price we pay for our freedom is to take responsibility for good citizenship. Do you have an elderly neighbour who may be fearful to pick up staples at the grocery store? Call them. Offer to pick up some essentials and leave them on their doorstep. These times are disproportionately difficult on those who were already in ill-health, or hard financial circumstances, or with tenuous homes. What can you do to help? What might your business be able to do?
In this crazy, harrowing time, we are all called to confront our fragility and embrace our shared humanity.
Take the time to breathe and resource yourself.
Be mindful of the people around you.
Be a good citizen in a time of fear.
We’ll get through this together….
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion. You can reach him via [email protected].