Whether you are a Startup founder or a leader in a large organization: Covid-19 may force you to reevaluate your leadership competencies and accelerate many initiatives already underway (e.g. focus on the core business, process automation and digitization).
If you look at this systemically, the crisis does not break this. Instead, it highlights already existing weaknesses.
So, what to do about this?
As in any change initiative, the first step is to start letting go of old paradigms, behaviours, and projects. Some of these might be attached to your identity, which means it will inevitably come with a sense of loss. However, without this clear decision, you will forever struggle with conflicting priorities.
The 2nd step is to accept that you may be in no man’s land for a while, which is ok. This does not mean you are complacent and cannot take explicit steps to manage the immediate crisis. It just means the long-term vision yours might be on hold for a while to be replaced by the immediate existential needs of your business. One upside is that if you manage this well, it will create purpose in your team.
The 3rd and final step is then (after having dealt with the immediate difficulties) to start a journey of reinvention and looking at the horizon for a longer-term vision.
We are going through an ocean of uncertainties. This requires competencies leading a team through emotional turmoil.
How do you manage your own emotions and your teams’ frustrations when the world around us seems to be falling apart? In this article, we will take a closer look at these challenges and how to solve them.
The loss of team connection
We know from neuroscientific research that the most fundamental need of the human brain is the sense of belonging. This goes back to our ancestors, where the loss of the tribe was equivalent to death. Tribes provided shelter and food as well as emotional support in challenging times.
Whilst Zoom and other virtual tools may give us the platform to communicate with each other. They may still lack the capacity to establish deep connections, which are a lot more critical in times of crisis. Furthermore, the true informal nature of bumping into someone and spontaneously sharing your experience is very different from “organizing” an informal call virtually. In the book People Analytics, the authors describe how invaluable accidental meetings in the coffee kitchen or near the water cooler are crucial for exchanging creative ideas and emotional support.
What can you do about the loss of team connections?
Make sure that each team member has a buddy they can turn to when things become difficult!
Try to establish daily short virtual Standups (not longer than 15 minutes), where you quickly share your progress and challenges!
You can still do coffee chats, WhatsApp groups and other means for the more informal exchange virtually. Make sure that you don’t do work stuff in these catch-ups: ask people how they are doing and speak to them about things outside their work! Be a good listener!
Make sure you call on the introverts in your team! In a virtual environment, it may be a lot harder for them to raise their voice.
The nature of uncertainty and the impact on teams
Our planet seems to go through a deep crisis challenging many of our existing assumptions and values. Depending on whether you are a founder, leader or employee, the situation will raise different existential questions such as:
Will my company survive the crisis?
Will I keep my job?
Can I increase my worries and anxieties with other team members, Cofounder or my boss?
Will my lack of presence in the office have an impact on my job security?
It is crucial for you as a founder or leader to bring these questions to the table to address them, and people feel heard and validated in their emotions. Likely, the situation is here to stay for a while. So, adapting to the new normal and establishing new routines both as an individual and a team may be a good idea.
What can you do about uncertainty in your team?
When you have virtual meetings, make sure you are calm in the storm. Empathize with your team members and Cofounders and establish a sense of shared pain
Create clarity by focusing on the immediate actions to be taken and the role each person in the team has to solve the challenges
Provide a platform for everyone to share how they are feeling in terms of their deeply personal experiences of the current crisis
Don’t act out of emotional reactivity but rather speak and act from a considered mind. This may be hard at times. If you feel anxiety and stress creeping in clouding your mind, think about what athletes and actors do when performing: breathe in for four and breathe out for 8! Do this 5–10 times, and you may notice your parasympathetic nervous system kicking in, relaxing you!
Increased workload and lack of focus
Some companies report increased workload as a result of working from home. It seems (at least for some) that the reduced travel time, fewer lunches, and coffee breaks with colleagues lead to a situation where employees use the spare time to work more, email and meet more. This leads to others responding to this increased communication burden and equally working more and not less. Like a never-ending spiral, this seems to lead to higher stress levels, increased occurrence of burnouts and a significant decrease in productivity.
So, what can you do about this?
Set clear boundaries by protecting your health (mentally and physically)
Stay calm under pressure by using well-proven methods such as mindfulness, yoga and other techniques to manage your internal anxieties and emotional roller-coaster!
Set communications rules by not emailing people after a specific time. If you do want to write this email at night, make sure you only draft it but don’t send it
Work together with investors, stakeholders and customers to make sure they are aware of the challenges you are going through!
It is essential to recognize that technological change, pandemic crisis and political instabilities may be with us into the foreseeable future. The faster we accept this and learn to adjust to a new environment, the better we will be prepared as teams and leaders.