March 17, 2020 // By Jeff Nordquist
By now you, me, and everyone we know have been affected in some way by coronavirus. Whether it’s because schools are closed, work arrangements are being overhauled, or you just can’t find toilet paper anywhere, it’s a unique and challenging time.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s a pervasive cloud of fear and uncertainty hovering over all of us. This is a new experience for most; other than 9/11 I can’t think of an international crisis that has had such a grip on our society in my lifetime.
Alas, in many cases, the show must go on. Our companies still need us to do our jobs to the best of our abilities - and that puts leaders in a tricky spot! We’re asked to keep doing “business as usual”, but we know that’s not going to happen.
So - what can we do as leaders to not only keep the wheels on the bus, but support our teammates and provide the best possible environment for them to succeed?
First, Take Care of Yourself
Now more than ever, make sure your head is in a good place. Just like the flight attendants say, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting other passengers. The rituals you follow to get ready for work - showering, listening to music, going for a run, etc. - are especially crucial here.
If you or a family member are sick, that’s your top priority. Don’t be a hero - health and family always come first!
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Right now people’s circumstances are changing from one minute to the next. You probably don’t know exactly what everyone on your team is dealing with. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t expect anyone to be working at peak efficiency for a little while. If you demand more than they can give, it will cause undue stress and undermine the fabric of your team long after the crisis has passed.
Instead, turn it around and ask them what they will be capable of doing. They’re smart people; let them prioritize work against everything else in their lives and have an honest conversation about where they’re at.
NOTE: If they reply, “Don’t expect anything from me for a week”, that’s a bigger issue - and one that should be handled by their manager. If they really can’t work (just like if you really can’t work), it’s time to look at PTO, FMLA, or other options in the short term. Unless they report directly to you, that situation is best handled by their manager.
Work Can Be Therapeutic
When my dad had a stroke in 2018, I spent months visiting the hospital, making his house more accessible, coordinating home visits, notifying family and friends, and dozens of other draining activities every day.
My client and my company (Magenic) were very supportive, and allowed me to work as much as I could. I found that work gave me an escape. I could set the emotional burdens aside for a few hours and focus on things that I could control. It provided a sense of normalcy in an otherwise insane time of my life. (As a side benefit, it gave me a different perspective on work - I’m always grateful to have a job that I love, but I don’t get nearly as stressed out about it anymore).
Can you provide that for your team right now? Can you find ways to turn your project into an escape from all the craziness?
As Always, Communication is Key
I talk a lot about the importance of clear, honest communication. It’s true now more than ever. Ask your teammates how they’re doing, and let them know you care. Work with them to set reasonable expectations, and find out what you can do to help. Give them an example showing that it’s still possible to get things done and feel good about it. Understand that everyone’s situation is different, and they don’t need to be afraid to share their struggles with you.
Remember, This Is All Temporary!
Eventually stores will start carrying TP again, the collective sense of dread will lift, and people will return to their old work habits. How you navigate this situation will set the tone for how the team operates in the future. It’s a big challenge, but one that you can conquer by taking care of yourself, communicating clearly and openly, and supporting your teammates in all the right ways.
If you’re struggling and would like to chat - reach out to me on Twitter. I’d be happy to talk through it with you. I hope you and your families are healthy and weathering the storm - we’re all in this together!