The last few weeks have certainly been interesting. The pandemic has disrupted our lives in ways many of us have never experienced before, and there is a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety in our world. How do you lead well in a time of quarantine? How do you rally a team where everyone is working remotely, many from make-shift offices tucked in a corner of the basement or spare bedroom? How do you get work done while also caring for and ostensibly educating your kids? How do you make decisions about the future when there’s so much unknown about the impact COVID-19 will have on our society and economy?

We don’t have answers to the myriad challenges each of you are facing right now, but we do have wisdom to offer on how to lead well, even in a pandemic. You were introduced to all of this in your year of LEAD, and we hope that this reminder will help you in the coming weeks and months.

So much of great leadership comes down to understanding living systems and being able to behave in ways that positively impact the systems you are a part of. A living system is formed whenever two or more people interact (even remotely). We are social creatures: our behavior affects those we interact with, and their behavior affects us. Anxiety is introduced into a living system when there’s uncertainty or change. I’m guessing that there’s a fair amount of anxiety in every system you’re a part of, and that anxiety is likely to continue and even grow as time under quarantine goes on.

Here are some things from the LEAD 24/7 year that might help you lead even better during this incredibly anxious time:

  • Anxiety makes people stupid (including you…and me!). All of us need to give each other a little more grace than usual right now.
  • People are less efficient during a change. Many of you had less than a day’s notice that everyone would be working remotely. This is a significant change! You should expect to be less efficient, to make more mistakes, and to use up your energy more quickly while working from home. This might be something your team should be aware of as well. You might need to change some expectations to give people time to adapt to this change.
  • Be aware of your unhealthy ways of dealing with anxiety in the system: If you tend to overfunction, look for where you are overfunctioning. If you distance, identify what you’re avoiding and deal with it. If you want to dive in and fix everything NOW (conflict), learn to sit with that anxiety for a bit until it’s the right time to address whatever needs to be addressed. And since we’re all human, we’re probably all projecting a lot. As much as possible, be aware of how you tend to react to anxiety in the system and how people on your team react. Choose to respond out of your beliefs and values, not react based on your own dysfunction.
  • Stay connected to your team, and don’t rely on email for this! Email is quick, but it is one of the least effective ways to communicate when your goal is to build and maintain relationships. It might be helpful to set up regular times to connect with your team together and one-on-one, even if it feels like there’s nothing to talk about. You might be surprised at what comes up in these conversations.
  • Overcommunicate the most important things. There is so much information flying around right now that you have to be especially deliberate in your communication. Give team members as much information as you can, even if it doesn’t seem like they need it. It will help their anxiety go down to feel like they are in the loop.
  • Keep giving and receiving feedback. Being in quarantine is not a reason to stop any new patterns of feedback you’ve started since going through LEAD.
  • Stay calm and LISTEN to people. You don’t have to solve their problems or give them false hope. Listening in itself releases anxiety.
  • Be kind to yourself. In order to have the mental and emotional bandwidth to lead well through very uncertain times, do what you need to do to manage your energy well, and encourage your team to do the same.

A few days ago, I overheard my mother telling my daughter that we are living through a significant moment in history. That stuck with me, because this is something extraordinary. I hope that a year from now you will look back on this time with pride at how you lead yourself and others during this time of quarantine.

Lead on (and wash your hands)

Image by Wen Cheng Liu (Busy). Used under CC by 2.0 license.