Nothing normal is going on right now. What’s happening is a direct reflection of choices leaders are making. The values, characteristics, and morals of a leader create an environment and inform their actions and the actions of those they lead.
Now is the perfect moment for all leaders to step back and reflect on the kind of experience they create day to day for their teams and their organizations. How do you define great leadership? What kind of culture are you contributing to with how you lead? What kind of environment does that culture create?
Great leaders will make the difference in how their teams and others around them walk through these times. Great leaders are not reactive. Instead, they respond thoughtfully. They are aware. They are empathetic – and they are inspiring.
During and after the events of January 26th, we’ve seen great leadership and we’ve seen the kind of leadership that declines into uncontrolled chaos. Which one is sustainable? Which one supports innovation, collaboration, and organizational success?
Leadership begins with you. How you lead is a direct reflection of your values, your characteristics, and your strengths. Leading is challenging enough in day to day life. Human beings are complex. They not only bring their talents, skills, and experience but they also their fears, biases, and insecurities. As a leader, it is your responsibility to know not just the person in the role, but also the person as a whole. When you truly meet another human being in that space, a completely different level of relationship, understanding, and teamwork becomes possible.
Think back to the events of January 6th. Think about the choices that were made by leaders leading up to the moment when our Vice President and the other members of the Cabinet had to be spirited away to an unknown location. Think about the choices made in the aftermath as the Senate reconvened and navigated through the process of how to move forward. There is so much for all of us to learn from these choices and the resulting outcomes.
As we move forward through the aftermath while in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic and economic uncertainty for so many, how can we lead ourselves and others?
Here are 5 Steps to help you lead through chaotic times:
1. Check in with yourself. It’s critical to stay aware of your stress level. Uncertainty can be difficult to navigate, as can change – and we’ve all spent what will soon be one year living with significant change and unpredictable times. This kind of stress impacts our productivity, focus, creative thinking, and how we communicate with others. It is detrimental to our wellbeing and can cause things such as anxiety, headaches, loss of sleep. Set several check points in your day to do an internal inventory on whether you’re feeling stressed or at ease. If stress is rising, use a strategy that works for you – for example, take a walk, do some deep breathing, put on some calming music.
2. Check in with your team. Most people will try to shore themselves up and push through stressful times so be sure to check in and ask your team how they are doing. Stress triggers are different for everyone. Some may be struggling financially if a spouse or partner has lost their job due to the pandemic or if their own hours have been reduced. Others may be having to manage parenting while working from home. Culture can also play a role in stress. For example, for immigrants who came to America to escape political unrest and unstable governments, the events of this week and going forward where our democracy is being challenged can be particularly destabilizing and frightening for them.
3. Listen. Ask open ended questions and then stop and listen. Ask things such as, ‘with all that’s going on right now, how are you doing?’, ‘what are you doing to cope with the uncertainty that is helping you?’, ‘what, if anything, can I do to support you?’ Prefacing questions with statements such as, ‘you are a valued member of this team and as we navigate through this unprecedented time I, we want to understand how we can best assist everyone on the team’, builds rapport and demonstrates you really do care about their experience and how they are coping.
4. Maintain structure. Stress creates distractions. You and your team members may find it more difficult to focus than usual. Maintaining a structured, organized approach to the work can help. Break longer meetings into shorter, single topic sessions when possible. Allow for breaks between meetings to help minimize zoom fatigue. Provide agendas ahead of time and use them to stay on topic. Continually evaluate priorities and see what can be tabled for now versus what is essential.
5. Practice self-care. Why do we keep hearing about this? Because it is essential to take time to fuel your body with nutritious food, exercise, breath fresh air, spend time in nature, and get a good amount of sleep. Our usual stress distractions such as social get togethers, going to the gym, browsing through a bookstore, or going to a sporting event are off the table right now. Our brains and our bodies need a break to be able to lead well and sustain our day to day efforts in our roles.
How you lead colors every part of your life and those around you. The choices you make have an impact. Slow down and take time to make conscious choices that will help you lead yourself and others through this chaotic time while doing meaningful work and continuing to move your organization forward.