Leading through the pandemic – what can you do?

Whether it is extending the lockdown, offering aid, deciding paycuts, announcing layoffs, or reimagining the work an organization does – leaders around the world, across sectors, are having to make difficult decisions in the face of the pandemic. Nothing prepared us for this. It’s nightmarish, and we just don’t like uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss of control.

In such times, how can you lead people best and navigate the murky waters?

  1. Start with meaning-making. Few moments in history have brought as much uncertainty as the current pandemic. According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, inability to handle such massive change emerged as one of the primary causes for executive derailment. What can you do to stay on top of your game? Make meaning of what’s in front of you. Discover the new terrain, map it.

Perhaps you could speak to a cross-section of your employees to understand how they feel right now, how is their function/ work/ vertical affected, and how do the numbers look for you. You gather a range of data. Then maybe put together a team of advisors to support you in understanding the insights from the data, because sensemaking demands different perspectives. It asks us to break through our existing knowledge frameworks/ stereotypes and make way for new ones.

  1. Filter the values you want to live by. When thrown into the unknown, we all need guidance. Your employees will look to you to show them the way. Says Paul Argenti of Dartmouth College, “You’re teaching people how to succeed in a crisis. This is the ultimate test of your leadership and an opportunity for you to show what you’re made of.” So, reflect on what values do you want to live by and also project outwards for your teams. The values could be optimism, risk-taking, honesty, support, self-care, investing in dialogue, etc. List down 3-6 core values and align your actions with them. That’s how you can create order from chaos and give your team a blueprint to work with during the crisis.
  1. Over-communicate with people. If you’re watching the emails you’re receiving from the different businesses you engage with, you’ll know what this means. Reach out to your people and let them know what you know. Get honest about what you can do and what you cannot. That will offer some clarity amidst the uncertainty. But don’t sugarcoat or resort to half-truths. Lay out the challenges, share the plan of action, and then offer support and assurance. That’s how leaders guide change.

As John Finley, the English mathematician tells us: “Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty.” While we don’t exactly have a roadmap, this is the time to build such maturity. Are you ready?

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