“Leading in Place” During the Covid-19 Crisis

Leaders are experiencing the Covid crisis in a variety of ways. Some are overwhelmed with skyrocketing workload and fire drills, some are pinched between full-time child care and working from home. Some are isolated and anxious. Others are actually happier than before. 

A recent HBR article on grief seems to have hit a chord—many are grieving the loss of how things were. Our daily lives and routines are so different now than they were just a short time ago. We miss “normal” as we struggle to adapt.

Below are some of the more successful approaches I’ve seen my clients take, along with links to the best leadership literature I’ve seen on Covid in recent weeks. 

Remake routines. Think about routines that you and your family had in the past. Is there a way to remake those in this new situation? I bought an exercise bike for our living room that enables me to continue my morning workouts. Right now my wife is doing a Pilates class via Zoom.

Adapt to kids at home. Taking care of the kids full time has become a reality for many executives who are used to nannies and schools doing much of the heavy lifting.  HBR’s Guide For Working (From Home) Parents and Fast Company’s 11 Quick Tips provide practical suggestions. If you find yourself thrown into the role of teacher (many people have a whole new appreciation for that job), the New York Times provides helpful advice.

Be self-compassionate about your lower productivity. You just can’t be as productive right now. One organization I’m working with has measured that they are at 65% productivity. Many appear much lower. Be kind to yourself about that. Aisha S. Ahmad, an author with considerable experience of crisis and forced isolation points out that we should ignore all the coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure and slow down to authentically process the change, so we can emerge more creative.

Be compassionate to others. Your colleagues are not as productive either. Some are anxious, stir crazy or depressed. Now is a good time to be more accepting, because what your coworkers need right now is compassion.

Practice ruthless prioritization. A corollary to lower productivity is that we have to get even better at prioritizing. Write a list of the top three things you need to complete today, the most important things. Get those done. Say “no” to requests more than usual.

Make the most of virtual meetings. Pay attention to how you look on the video—can people see your face? The nuance of facial expression is important, and only works with good lighting and when you’re closer to the camera. Can people hear your voice well? Ask someone. Continue to use meeting agendas and do what it takes to run a great virtual meeting.

Get outside and keep moving. Take more frequent breaks: some people are having trouble with eye strain on top of everything. Also, your new routine may take a toll on your body in other ways. I woke up this morning with unexpected back pain, due to long hours sitting in a new way, and less walking.

Keep yourself and your team connected. We are deeply social creatures. Think about who on your team may be more vulnerable to loneliness, and reach out to them more often. Single leaders are especially hard-hit, but even those living with family are isolated by virtue of being shut in. Social events by video can help, witness the recent plethora of online happy hours (though watch the alcohol, which can impact your sleep). 

Finally, keep leading. Now is a good time to get back to leadership basics: share an inspiring vision and clear direction, stay connected with your team, offer support and encouragement and hold people accountable. Be open about your own challenges and attempts to juggle responsibilities and emotions.

However you’re experiencing this time, you’re not alone. One unexpected silver lining of social distancing is that people are becoming more human: we seem more willing to be vulnerable with each other about how we are really doing. This represents an opportunity to connect more deeply in your most important relationships, and let others do the same.