As a leader, during COVID-19 (or any crisis) it can be hard to find your feet and to feel confident in your path. You may feel inadequate, unsure, and out of your depth. That is to be expected. This is leadership like we have never seen before. So many businesses are closed or trying to find new ways of doing things. I believe almost every organization feels like a start-up right now. Uncertain times need new kinds of leadership. We don’t have the answers, only questions, and still, we are asked to be leaders. Being experimental in your leadership approach will help you try things, learn from them, and figure out your next experiment.
These tips will help you find a new center for yourself as a leader:
You are not responsible. It should go without saying, but this is not your fault. This is a global challenge that doesn’t have clear answers. Your people may want you to have answers, but you won’t, and you can’t. They will want certainty about their jobs, their income, and their lives. You can’t promise them the future. Encourage them to do their job today and let them know you have compassion but cannot be the answer to their future. Give up being an all-knowing leader and be human. Practice compassion and be collaborative to help your team makes sense of the crazy.
Get bad news out of the way fast. If you have lay-offs and reorgs to do, do it quickly. Make a plan–even if it is a bad plan and clear this from your “to do” list. You will be a better leader with clarity. Kudos if you can be compassionate while you do it. There are some businesses that will not survive this. Don’t hide your head in the sand like an ostrich. Embrace information and communication even if it is bad news. Work on being a good leader in bad times. Figure out what being a good leader means to you. Kindness goes a long way when you are delivering bad news.
Think about timeline. What is important 1 week from now? What is important 1 month from now? What is important 1 year from now? Some organizations need to be extending their timeline (How will we emerge from this crisis?) while others are busy changing to meet day to day needs (What do our clients need today?). Make sure to orient your thinking daily and consider multiple time frames. Make time to consider your leadership path before you face a day of decision making and are faced with the feelings and challenges of others. Find your own true north as a leader.
Be kind and firm. Your team members may be spinning and scared. Be empathetic and then ask them to get back to their jobs and produce good work. Having meaningful work is a privilege in these times and you can ask them to be achievers right now….today. You can deliver groundedness and purpose as long as they are working. There can be compassion for the challenges they face (kids at home, new environment, etc) but don’t let them off the hook. They are being paid to provide work. Your insistence on them delivering work is part of the work of leadership right now.
Practice extreme self-care. You are your own strongest asset. Experiment to strengthen your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Reach for the salad and smoothies instead of the martinis and chocolate cake. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate if that works for you. Journal or sit and think. Pause. Ask for help and love from friends. Schedule a virtual happy hour with friends or colleagues. Try and go deeper than you ever have before with your self-care. You have never needed to care for yourself as you do today. Experiment with giving yourself what you need.
You will get through this. You will learn from this. You will do your best and you will do your worst in this. As an experimental leader, it is important that you stay engaged in the struggle of leadership. Try and fail and dust yourself off. Figure out the change you want to see and what the barriers are. Figure out an experiment. Collect data. Figure out what you just learned. Ask, “What is my next experiment?” Go experiment again.
Melanie Parish is a public speaker, author, and Master Coach. An expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, and brand development, Melanie has consulted and coached organizations ranging from the Fortune 50 to IT start-ups. She is the author of The Experimental Leader: Be A New Kind of Boss to Cultivate an Organization of Innovators. For more information, please visit, www.melanieparish.com, and connect with her on Twitter, @melanieparish.