Leadership in Challenging Times
In normal circumstances, leaders do (and should) bear a strong weight of responsibility for their followers. In fact, this responsibility can be so great that it’s not uncommon to hear leadership described as lonely. Few other, if any, individuals in an organization can understand the unique struggles of their leader. Another function that makes leadership lonely is once you are at the top, there’s no one above you are affirming your decisions and telling you “good job.” Your followers expect you know what you are doing and don’t need affirmation from them. These are just a few struggles with “everyday leadership”. Now add the responsibility of leadership as you navigating a global health crisis and many of us are in uncharted territory. As a bit of encouragement, here are five concepts to refocus your leadership during a time of upheaval.
Give yourself and your team grace
Chances are you are accustomed to being an extremely high performer and take a lot of pride in your ability to produce results. You’ve had several years to “learn the game” and figure out how to succeed in your current environment. But now… that environment doesn’t exist as it did. Realize the environment is different. No one in our lifetime has been through a pandemic with this much daily life interruption. Flexibility is an increasingly important skill and will be an essential tool as you navigate the next few weeks. Right now, many people are disoriented and trying to create a new normal both at work and at home. Things will settle down but embracing the idea that we are in a state of extreme disruption currently is key to managing long-term success for your employees. Your leadership response in a difficult time is an important retention tool for your highest performers right now.
Depending on the nature of your work, your ability to complete your current goals may be inhibited by current social distancing constraints. Instead of coming to a production standstill, what other things can you be accomplishing during this time? Are their company documents that need updating? Are their software/equipment updates to complete? Productivity doesn’t have to stop during this time, but your priorities may need to shift. A popular tool for determining priorities includes the urgent/important matrix. Using this matrix requires you to consider all of your tasks in a space of Important and Urgent. Focus on the tasks that are both important and urgent first. These tasks should be followed by Urgent/Not Important (and/or) Important/Not Urgent. This tool should help you sift though the Not Important/Not Urgent tasks.
Consider your “optimal productivity time”
The idea of getting in a solid 8am-5pm workday may seem impossible right now. Instead begin thinking about your day in a “time blocking method” of time management. To avoid frustration when synchronous work hours don’t happen, determine your most productive work hours available and be intentional about maximizing those times by blocking them out on your calendar. Perhaps, you have two hours during your children’s’ naptimes. Or it may mean getting up a little earlier than your family for uninterrupted time. Ideally, consider finding 2-3 pockets of time. In a perfect day, you are able to work in all three segments of time, but if not – there’s a better chance you have at least one block of time if you plan for multiple options for uninterrupted work time.
Additionally, consider the “most important thing (MIT)” time management tool. What is the one thing you must get done today? In their book, “The One Thing,” Gary Keller and Jay Papasan ask, “What’s the one thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”
Communicate daily with your team
An easy way to continue to have normalcy in your workday is to communicate daily with your team. Whether by e-mail, phone or videoconferencing, communicate with your team and keep everyone posted on your projects and progress. Consider communicating at the same time each day to create a sense of consistency. Additionally, you may want to provide some sort of recap or digest of topics and information for those that may not be able to connect.
Reflect on your progress/system daily
At the end of the day, take a deep breath and reflect on your day. We know that without critical reflection, it’s difficult for adults to learn. What went well? What did you learn? What didn’t go as planned? Why? Options to practice reflection include talking through your day with a friend or significant other. You can also reflect through journaling. Bullet journaling offers a succinct way to get your thoughts on paper. Simply make a bulleted list of wins/surprises/mishaps. Celebrate the wins and manage the failures. Tomorrow is a new day. And you’re doing a great job.