Living in Uncertain Times – How to Motivate and Lead Teams During a Pandemic
We are living in an unprecedented period in human history. This means that it is becoming increasingly challenging to keep our ‘heads in the game’ when it comes to work.
Naturally, we all have a personal role to play in this. We need to, in the words of the British during World War II, “keep calm and carry on.”
All the same, as employers, managers and leaders, we can play a part in keeping our teams motivated. This is a time for encouragement, not finger-pointing and pointing out mistakes or missed deadlines. I would like to discuss how we can go about this.
This, more than ever, is a time for empathy and understanding. The personal connection – and the trust that comes with that – has been lost in many workplaces. We need to engage in active listening, not offering empty platitudes. An empathetic approach has been shown to drastically improve workplace communication. This, in turn, will surely enhance morale and performance.
If a colleague sees fit to confide in us, we must be prepared to understand where they are coming from. Don’t sit in silence, hoping they’ll be the one to break the awkwardness and change the subject. Look at a situation from their perspective and try to understand their mindset. You don’t need a master’s degree in psychology to display a little basic human empathy.
- Set time aside for genuine one-on-one conversations with each of your employees. People want these anyway, and if you can’t find the time now, when can you?
- Set a rule where, for a fixed time only, no work-related conversation is permitted. Swedish workplaces take this very seriously, with the practice known as Fika.
- Brush up on the key fundamentals of emotional intelligence, putting your learnings to good use.
Understanding the Change Curve
Right now, the whole world is experiencing something akin to the grief curve – also known as the Kubler-Ross Change Curve.
As a refresher, the Kubler-Ross Change Curve follows the following stages:
Too many of us are actively grieving the loss of loved ones, taken too soon by COVID-19. The rest of us are grieving a drastic change in lifestyle.
We’re all at different places on the curve. Some of us are worried for ourselves, for our parents, for our siblings, for our friends, for our children. Even if we – and our loved ones – are fighting fit and look likely to see this pandemic out without major health concerns, it could be bringing painful memories back to the surface. What was deemed a minor illness a while ago may suddenly be in sharp focus now.
Even if we don’t have a previous illness to contend with, stress and anxiety is at an all-time high during this pandemic for otherwise-healthy individuals. It’s easy to be flippant and say that there are worse things than staying home for a few months, but the rug has been yanked from under our feet in dramatic circumstances.
Take exercise as an example. It’s no secret that exercise releases endorphins, so losing access to this can have major implications. Not everybody that attends the gym does so to preen in front of the mirror after lifting weights. For many, it’s a way to set out the stresses and concerns of everyday life.
It’s going to take some time for all of us to adjust to this. Movement is ingrained into our everyday lives, whether that’s attending a Zumba class or chasing runaway toddlers all over the place. Losing the ability to exercise is comparable to an extremely painful and unexpected relationship break-up. Let’s encourage each other to move out from the fug of discontent that surrounds such a situation.
- Permit staff members time for exercise and physical fitness – encouraging social distancing and responsibility while doing so, naturally!
- Make it clear that everybody is entitled to feel how they feel – and encourage them not to fight this. Fighting negative emotion is damaging in the longer-term.
- Stop managing and start coaching people through the change curve.
Further Reading and Exercises
Hopefully, we’ll all still have jobs to do at the end of this pandemic. In addition, this unique and unforeseen set of circumstances will have provided us with the skills and experience to perform our roles outside the conventional nine-to-five office attendance pattern.
The sad reality is, however, that the future is currently uncertain. Signs point to an impending global recession, and many of us remember the fallout of the banking crisis of 2008 all too well. At worst, we’ll speed past recession and into full economic depression.
This could be an opportunity to encourage education in new fields. In an ideal case scenario, these could be skills that will aid people performing their existing jobs. Learning a new language to enhance communication with a sister company overseas, perhaps, or undertaking a course in skills such as digital coding or online video making.
Don’t just focus on what will benefit a business, though. We all need a balance between our personal and professional lives. This could be the opportunity to launch a creative endeavour or change the direction of a career. In nothing else, a global pandemic is an opportunity to revisit lifetime ambitions that have previously fallen by the wayside for the greater good.
- Encourage – and, where possible, provide – further educational opportunities.
- Do not limit these to skills that will benefit an existing position. Learning pivot tables in Excel may be important in specific situations but speaking a second language might carry more weight in the future.
- Think about the future, remaining optimistic as much as possible. Change is frightening, but it could also be an opportunity.
Further Reading and Exercises
Look, positivity is hard right now. We’re all feeling a little gloomy – it’s only natural. If somebody is relentlessly cheery while the world burns outside, we’d be questioning their mentality. All the same, it’s important that we don’t let negative thoughts dominate. Our lifestyles can reflect this.
Limit TV and screen time. You don’t need to watch the news all day, every day. I’ll give you the headlines now. A lot of people, all over the world, are getting sick – and only the lucky ones get to recover. Do you really benefit from being reminded of this on the hour, every hour?
Think about the small things we still have access to, that we may have previously taken for granted. We have hot water, so we can take a shower or bath. We have access to the internet, which isn’t just for work emails and cat videos – it’s a limitless resource of information and inspiration. Above all, many of us are safe and well in our homes. Sadly, not everybody can say that.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Pay no attention to celebrities on Twitter, who are posting videos saying that you should take this time to write a bestselling novel, paint a portrait worthy or the Louvre and learn how to play the tuba, all while teaching your children to speak Mandarin. Set yourself one or two achievable targets per day and achieve them.
This could be as simple as cooking a meal from scratch with your children where you would ordinarily have ordered takeout or straightening a perpetually wonky shelf in the kitchen.
Above all, remember that it’s OK not to be OK. That doesn’t mean that you should wallow in negativity, and it certainly isn’t an excuse to take out sadness and frustration on others. There is no harm in sitting with, and accepting, that this is an unprecedented time in our living history, though.
- Count blessings, no matter how small they may seem right now
- Process emotions. Morning Pages, the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings first thing in the morning – can be invaluable.
- Limit your exposure to distressing news and images. There’s time for that after the dust has settled.
Further Reading and Exercises
This is a Time for Leading – Not Managing
Management and leadership may seem like two sides of the same coin. In reality, however, they are as different as night and day. This, more than ever, is the time to acknowledge and embrace these disparities.
Be honest with yourself and those around you. If you cannot manage everything on your slate, be up front about it. Talk to people in advance, including your boss or your colleagues. Don’t apologise for this – you’re human. Assess your priorities and communicate them with confidence. Health – both physical and mental – must come first.
If you’re on the receiving end of that conversation, be patient and understanding. You’ll likely be making a similar phone call yourself at some point. Above all, remember that this is a time for leading, not managing.
Be understanding, be open, and be mindful of what you say – the words, “cannot” and
“impossible” need to be struck from our collective dictionary. Right now, it’s a time to talk about how things might be tough but we’ll get through it – together, by all pulling in the same direction.
- Don’t put off an important conversation. It won’t be any easier tomorrow. I will just add an additional layer of stress when there is already plenty of that in the world.
- Remember your responsibilities as a leader. They vastly outweigh your duties as a manager.
- Accept leadership on your shoulders, and the responsibilities that come with that. If you wanted the big chair and the corner office, these perks come with caveats.
Further Reading and Exercises
Ultimately, solidarity is how we’ll get through this – and make no mistake, we will. There will come a time, hopefully in 2020, that the world will open up once again. We’ll be free to go about our business, to see our friends and family, to idle away hours on seemingly pointless activities like smelling flowers and pottering through markets … and, yes, to restore a little normality to our working lives. Having ridden out this storm, we’ll all enjoy the experience a whole lot more.