Q2 · 2020Leadership in unprecedented times

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on our lives in an unbelievably short time. Just a few months ago, it would have been difficult to imagine such sweeping, collective changes to the way we work and live. We have had to adapt to a new situation seemingly overnight, without any playbook for how to handle the challenges and uncertainties of this extraordinary crisis.

Many new challenges – at work and at home

As a leader, your workload may have increased, or your work may have greater urgency as a direct result of the current situation. A consequence could be the need to rapidly pivot, shift priorities, and rethink strategies, plans and deliverables. You must, in parallel, master new ways of working, communicating and connecting, as in-person teams become virtual ones. Rhythms and schedules have been upended, each day may be unpredictable, and it may be difficult for you to switch off. You are also expected to be present for, and supportive of, your teams in a different way from before, knowing that they are also coping with their own individual challenges.

Outside your professional sphere, you may also be feeling burdened by additional demands, such as organizing the kids’ studies and family activities, or looking after elderly parents.

So much rapid change and so many new challenges, at work and at home, may lead to you being more stretched and more stressed. You may find yourself more easily distracted, anxious or prone to negative emotions than usual. You may not be sleeping well, or have trouble maintaining the healthy habits and routines that you normally rely on to stay productive and focused. You may be worried about yourself, friends or loved ones, and if you live alone, you may feel isolated.

Accelerate your adjustment – Some things to consider

I have often been gratified to receive feedback from leaders who have been helped in tough times specifically by two of my books: “The Melting Point” (how to build up resilience as a leader), and “More Life, Please!” (how to lead the family so that you can all experience great moments together on a regular basis). I believe that these books can be great sources of support, so let me share the most important tips from each one that may be particularly helpful for you in these unprecedented times:

Mentally transition between “work” and “home”

Take a few minutes of silence at the beginning of each day to get mentally and emotionally ready to be at your best. For example, do a simple 5-10 minute meditation to clear your mind. Start with five minutes of relaxed breathing and then “check-in” with your strengths, reminding yourself of your best side. Make it your specific aim to be at your personal and professional best in these troubled times. Do the same check-in later in the day, when you transition back from work to home life. You will connect better with people in both worlds. Apply this ritual daily, in particular when you are working from home.

Focus on and recognize incremental progress

The key to sustaining high motivation is feeling that you are making progress on key issues. This means reserving dedicated time for these on a daily basis. In the morning, write down everything you need to do during the day. Select one or two things from the list that will make the biggest difference. In cycles of 45 minutes, do nothing else other than work on this specific task. Plan for at least two of these “focus cycles” per day. You will then make progress and experience satisfaction, rather than mounting pressure.

Disconnect from work devices in the bedroom

Carefully protect some private space in your home, preferably your bedroom, where no electronic devices can be kept, and no business-related tasks or conversations can take place. This space must be reserved for rest and recovery only, to offset the demands and stresses of work. Only make exceptions for business emergencies.

Meet, communicate, support

Hold pre-arranged family get-togethers, ideally every day at the same time. Here, you and your loved ones can agree and commit to shared activities (“family highlights of the day”), which can create many great moments. Equally importantly, these meetings can be used to plan and share chores fairly and efficiently, helping all family members avoid stress and friction. It takes some effort to create a supportive and trustworthy environment in a family. If possible, arrange to have meals together.

Offer regular, thoughtful support to family members and ask for support back from them. This exchange informs each other’s attitudes and behaviors, making you all emotionally stronger through meaningful, constructive feedback, and building an unbreakable bond between you.

Take care of your own needs

Take care of yourself – including diet, exercise, sleep and “me time”. This isn’t selfishness. When we are listening to the emergency procedures on a plane, we are told to put our own oxygen masks on before putting them on our children. In this scenario, taking care of ourselves first is so critical it could save the lives of the people we love most. Similarly, as partners and as parents we can only be what we need to be in our families when we love and take care of ourselves.

Be your true self

Too often, our interactions with others are based on fear, with our defenses high and our authenticity low. Within a family, life’s challenges often become even harder. Don’t hide from them, but be your true self. Verbalize your vulnerabilities and capitalize on your strengths. If you mess up, apologize and look for a solution to put things right. This is a new situation most of us, so don’t expect to do everything right from the beginning.

Please reach out if needed

My work helps leaders successfully handle numerous personal and professional challenges. It is more relevant than ever in the current crisis:

  • Establish how to be most productive when working from home
  • Stay a source of inspiration and motivation for your people
  • Re-align your teams to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness
  • Embed your own healthy habits and build up your resilience
  • Create the right conditions to enjoy harmony and great times at home
  • Regain the assurance of being in control of your life – at home and at work

Stay strong in these unprecedented times – and please do not hesitate to reach out if I can support you.
Go for it.

Best wishes,