Opinion: 5 ideas for leading from your living room
Whether you lead a team of five, 50 or 500, some principles of leadership are taking on new forms during this crisis. With most of the world quarantined, this is a rare moment when the entire world is having a collective and shared experience. With fear and uncertainty bubbling under every industry and within every human, our job as leaders is to balance optimism with realism and ensure we are ahead of the realities we will face in the coming months.
Listening to the experts, it is clear nobody really knows what comes next for industry—especially if you are not in a critical segment of the economy (i.e., healthcare, first responders, food supply, etc.). What I do know for sure is that, as leaders, it is imperative that we do our best to guide our people, our companies and ourselves through this moment.
Here are five ideas to help you adjust to the new normal of leading your teams from your living room, bedroom, porch, home office or the fantasy Zoom background you’ve created:
Without your own well-being in a good place, you cannot take care of others. The danger of isolation and increased stress is to slip on taking care of yourself every day as you normally would. This includes reading, exercise, meditation, hygiene, eating properly and finding new ways to connect with others. Having a clear mind will help you to be a better, more level-headed leader when the inevitable tensions arise during a crisis. This is also a good time to look back and learn from people who have strengthened their leadership during times of crisis, such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.
A large contributor to the well-being of a team is to adhere to your normal routine as closely as possible: waking at the same time you would to follow your morning routine, dressing for work (even if you will not see anyone), eating your usual meals and engaging with your teams as you typically do. This moment is anything but normal, but the psychology of navigating each day with a sense of purpose and focus will help your teams move through this with grace and determination.
Having an open-door policy has now shifted to having an open-channel strategy. Being available in multiple channels is critical, especially for the people on your team who you don’t typically engage with on a regular basis. This goes beyond email to include all social channels, communication platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams and even giving your mobile number to those who may not have it. Also, shifting open office hours to open video conference hours is a smart way to allow some people to drop in to ask questions or offer ideas to help the company continue to thrive.
A positive byproduct of a collective experience such as the one we’re going through is that people are coming together and empathizing with each other’s unique set of challenges. With parents having children at home yet still in school, adult caregivers unable to take care of their parents or people isolated alone (or with roommates) in small apartments, everyone is doing their best to maintain a high level of performance in their work while balancing the increased levels of stress in their lives.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure the health of our folks while balancing the health of our business. People will need flexibility on how they can achieve the best results, whether blocking out hours of the day for no meetings or understanding the life flow of each person on the team and building around them.
During moments of crisis, blind optimism is irresponsible, as is heavy negativity. The tone to strike with our teams during this crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. With a situation that is evolving as rapidly as COVID-19, the strategies and plans to protect your people and business will shift, as well. They may be hard to see now, but there are silver linings to every crisis, as witnessed from those that have come before—new healthier policies, new societal values, new ways of working and a new approach to innovation.
Be clear and direct with your teams as they ask hard questions about the impact to the business. That answer may be “it is too early to tell,” but balance it with the plans and process to protect the sanctity of the business as best as we can as a team. The best leaders are often forged in fire and have led companies through post-9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. I am confident that we will come through the other side of this stronger, more resilient and assuredly more innovative. Together as leaders we can guide our people, companies and industries through this moment of change. And for those who are not currently leading people, don’t forget that leadership is a role, not a title. You can engage with positive energy, be helpful to those who may need it and ensure that your leadership teams have the information they need to make wise decisions.