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Leadership in the Times of COVID-19: Part 1

A crisis can bring out both the best and the worst in all of us, and the current COVID-19 Pandemic certainly qualifies as a crisis. Simply recognizing this fact can act as a dramatic first step towards managing this global crisis in your own personal and professional sphere.

How is your organization holding up? How are you, as a leader, holding up? 

None of us at Pathway Design Group have ever weathered a global pandemic, but we have had our fair share of experience when it comes to navigating crises. We’ve learned that, while there’s no magic spell to fix it, there are always methods you can employ to make the experience more workable, liveable, and productive in the long run. 

We want to recognize the incredible burden a leader has to bear in these kinds of situations and have put together a list of things to keep in mind as you lead your team through this uncertain time. 

Make self-awareness a priority.  

In times of crisis, people look to their leaders. Whether they’re the leader of a country, a small town, or an organization, the fact is that, for them, the pressure is on. 

So, how do you navigate leadership during something so huge, uncertain, and disruptive? It needs to start with you. A practice of honest self-awareness is one of the most important tools a leader can have. It will not only help you see opportunities for success but can also help you avoid or augment situations that tend to cause you difficulty. So where do you begin?

Take a moment for an honest look at yourself and determine what your typical reactions are in times of stress. Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Does a deadline inspire creativity? 
  • Does a large to-do list cause overwhelm, or does it give you a boost of determination?
  • Are you skilled at navigating conflicts between other people? 
  • What are your irritability triggers? 
  • Do certain topics elicit a more emotional response than others? 

Remember: there are no right or wrong answers. The key is knowing yourself so that you can move past you and focus on your team. 

Be diligent in meeting your needs. 

This is one of those situations where a cliche is borne from the truth: you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’re going to look after a team of people — many of whom are feeling uncertain and unsettled — you must take steps to ensure that you’re physically and mentally up to the task. 

Assess your needs during this time, whether they’re physical or emotional. How do you react under continual, elevated stress? 

Do you focus better when you’re physically active? Then it’s important to put exercise and movement in your schedule and stick to it. 

Do you struggle with your emotions? It might be time to schedule an appointment with your therapist, even if it’s just for a check-in. 

Do you get so busy you neglect your social needs? Schedule time to talk with loved ones and spend time with your family. These relationships will still be important when the crisis subsides and will likely help sustain you through it. 

Be honest about your limitations. 

Think about the team you’re in charge of: do you deliberately place employees in positions they aren’t qualified for? 

Unless you’re training someone for a new position, the answer is: probably not. The same goes for you as a leader. As we move through this uncharted territory, approaching your skills and abilities with honesty is imperative. Delegating tasks and bringing in new talent if needed will allow you to focus on your areas of expertise.

What does that look like? Some examples include: 

  • Investing in a counseling program or finding ways to provide mental health solutions for employees. While many leaders possess excellent interpersonal skills, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are qualified to help team members work through the emotions brought out during a crisis. Providing these services can ultimately improve morale and productivity during an unpredictable time. 
  • Hiring a consulting firm when difficult decisions contribute to negative dynamics. The awful reality of this crisis in particular is that many companies have been forced to let longtime employees go, dramatically change shifts, and postpone promotions. These are heartbreaking circumstances and can breed uncertainty, fear, anger, and despondency. Seeking help now can ensure that your company is still intact on the other side. 
  • Learning how to delegate. While incredibly important, we recognize that the above examples often cause extra expense, which might not be doable for you right now. Sometimes, the simple act of delegating tasks to others within your organization can work wonders. It can be hard to admit you’ve got too much on your plate, but once you’ve freed up your time and mind for the things you’re best-qualified for, the possibility of success increases dramatically. 

Remember: this pandemic is a crisis of global proportions, and it’s okay to not have all of the answers! In our next post, we’ll take an outward step by addressing the way a leader approaches their team during these scary times and provide some tips designed to nurture and empower your team.