Where do we even begin? Many of our leaders are feeling insecure, insufficient, and exhausted in light of the challenges COVID-19 has brought to their organizations. Perhaps one leader said it best when he shared, “I am overwhelmed by the whole thing. There’s so much to process. I’m tired. Our team is already exhausted, and some reports suggest that this thing will get worse before it gets better. My head is in a fog right now. I’m just concerned that I won’t lead well through all of this.” There is no denying we are living and leading in uncharted territory, so how do we effectively navigate this time and space?
- Acknowledge the emotional toll. COVID-19 is impacting some people’s bodies, but nearly everyone’s mind is affected by the pandemic. The emotional contagion that accompanies this virus is impacting leaders at all levels. We’re worried about our families, our friends, our businesses, our communities, our nation, and our world. When we see even moderate increases in anxiety and worry, research tells us that our cognitive skills are hampered in fundamental ways. For instance, we aren’t as self-aware, nor are we as attuned to the emotions of others. Our decision-making is negatively impacted, meaning we may take more risks than appropriate or we may experience “paralysis by analysis” and be rendered incapable of making even the simplest decisions. Unfortunately, it results in an insidious cycle. The longer we deal with frustrations, disappointments, anger, and sadness, the more likely we are to struggle in connecting with people and in decision-making, which adds more frustration, disappointment, anger, and sadness. So, we have to STOP and admit (to ourselves and others) the toll this is taking on our minds.
- Mindfully bring compassion, joy, and hope to our work. This moment is heavy on the hearts of many people. To combat the negative emotions, we need to experience compassion and moments of laughter with our families, colleagues, and friends. We need to know that we are not alone. As we are interacting with others, we should listen for the feelings behind their words (sometimes “okay” doesn’t mean it’s truly okay); ask questions about how they’re doing; and explore if there are unmet needs or concerns that we might be able to address. To bring some joy to our interactions, we can listen to our favorite songs or tell our favorite audience-appropriate joke (it’s okay to laugh, even in this challenging moment). The key is to be attentive and actively engaged in the emotional battle being waged in our hearts right now.
- Take care of yourself: mind, body, and soul. Our team loves the Snickers commercials that remind us that “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” We all have factors that impact our moods and, right now, we are experiencing some of them collectively. We have contagious negative emotions all over homes and workplaces! We can either relieve those pressures or contribute to them, so we need to prioritize self-care and personal renewal by doing things that spark joy, bring energy, and rejuvenate us. Sadly, for many of us, self-care as we knew it is not an option, so we need to find new paths. For example, our gyms are closed, but our living rooms are open for burpees, floor sprints, sit-ups, and push-ups. Our spa oasis is unavailable, but we can draw a warm bath, pour a glass of wine, and listen to soothing music. We can’t go out to dinner with friends, but we can use a video chat platform to have dinner together and talk about our favorite books and movies. We can’t go to our places of worship, but we can join online and/or listen to podcasts of people who inspire and encourage us.
Critical Takeaway. All of us are trying to navigate the COVID-19 chaos and its emotional toll. As leaders, we must tend to our own emotional health and support the emotional health of our families, friends, and colleagues – mind, body, and soul.