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Leading in today's difficult COVID-19 times

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

We are living unprecedented times due to the COVID-19. I don't believe anyone anticipated how quickly this pandemic was going to spread and how many people was going to be impacted. I have to admit, I didn't. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has changed the world, and people's lives.

In difficult times like the ones we are living today, leaders play a very important role in looking after their team's and organization's best interest and helping those around them get thought the oppressing challenges and uncertainty.

From my perspective these are some things as leaders we need to think and focus on:

Take care of yourself and others: You can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself. As a good leader you are probably feeling the need to help others, but be sure of one thing, you will not be able to care for others if you are not strong physically, mentally and emotionally. Take time to take care of yourself.

Stay calm: Projecting a sense of calm and using your position to influence others is one important role that leaders play. Leaders can help their teams remain focused and productive even in the face of uncertainty. You might be afraid, confused and overwhelmed, just like your team might be, but it's imperative that you stay calm. Being calm should not be confused with being passive, as a leader you need to play an active role in this or any other crisis.

Stay connected and genuinely care for your team: I've seen a role model very close, my boss does this very well. He is very busy and even if he doesn't show it, I know he must be very stressed with the current situation and the important role he is playing to drive this topic in our company, but he makes the time to connect with everyone in the team and checks in with each and every one of us on how we are doing, how are our families are doing and how our teams are doing. He demonstrates his genuine interest in our well-being. For me this speaks very highly of a leader. That is what people will remember even after this challenging time is over. If you care for your team, they will in return take care of the work and the organization and will be more engaged.

Stay empathetic and listen to your team: People in your team will have questions and concerns. As a leader it's very important that you listen to your team, and not only listen but listen with empathy. Put yourself on the their shoes and provide support. You will not have answers to all their questions, and you will not be able to solve all the problems, but you can listen, acknowledge and comfort them.

Stay flexible and adapt: The situation is very fluid, things are changing every day, sometimes by the hour. As a leader you need to remain flexible and adapt to the new developments. Sometimes we might feel changing direction so quickly can be interpreted as you don't have your act together, and the fear of coming across that way in the eyes of our team, stops us from adapting and changing. There is a lot of uncertainty, don't be part of the uncertainty, help others navigate the uncertainty by providing clear direction while staying flexible and constantly adapting to the changing environment. If you do with humility and transparency others will understand and respect you as a leader.

Flexibility also applies with things like finding creative ways to get the work done. More and more companies are asking their employees to work from home and keep social distance. I am very grateful I work for a company that embraces workplace flexibility. Workplace flexibility is part of our culture. This makes it much easier to adapt. If your company does not have such a culture look at the current situation as an opportunity to embrace it. It will not be perfect, and you need to be ok with that. Stay flexible, learn quickly and adapt.

Communicate clearly: Communicate promptly and factually, acknowledge what you know and don't know, and share what your company or team is doing and needs to do and focus on. Do not minimize but also don't exaggerate or take things out of proportion. Stick to the facts. Stay away and stop rumors, gossip and assumptions that will only create more chaos and insecurity. You need to step up and assume your role as a leader vs staying at the level of the rest of the team, fueling uncertainty and fear. As John Maxwell says, "The leader's voice is a different voice than the voice of the crowd". Be realistic and factual and at the same time stay positive and encourage others to do the same

Focus on the critical things, and help others do the same: In these difficult times when we faced so many challenges, it's important that we focused on the most critical aspects of the business. As a leader you have the responsibility to help your team identify what are those business-critical activities and help the team focused and prioritize those.

Don't lose sight of the future: This will pass, just like every other challenging situation that has come before. So, don't lose sight of the future. While focusing on the pressing short-term challenges continue to invest in the future. Don't stop completely the projects and initiatives that are key for future success. You might need to re-prioritize, maybe reconsider some risks, adapt to the current situation and even maybe slow down a little bit, but don't press the brake.

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