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How to lead through crisis

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We’re all affected by the current Corona-situation, in one way or the other. Some more than others. Some still feel very disconnected from “the crisis” and even express that there’s “mass hysteria” going on. Some express their deep concern and worry about where this is heading, based on facts and statistics, and some small businesses have already started to collapse, taking families down with them. When the Covid-19 hits your country, it’s like being at war, with an alien you can’t see. One of the advantages in my role as an executive coach is that I get to hear a lot of different opinions, perspectives, and thoughts around the challenges that leaders, business owners, and individuals are facing now.

The Zoom meetings from last week evolved around how to lead through the crisis. The conversations were so valuable and impactful, I’d like to share some of the greatest takeaways from this past week’s discussions, from both virtual group coaching sessions, to the individual sessions and also a mastermind group consisting of a CEO of a company specialized in multi-cultural communication, a CFO of a financial institution that has gone through incredible change and transformation over the last year and a CEO and founder of an architect firm. All of us come from different countries, different cultures and religions, have different family situations, with similar values but different opinions and perspectives. I hope this will bring interesting reflections and an encouragement to you as you lead your team and/or family through this period.

For teams who are not used to teleworking, one BIG issue is going to be TRUST. If you as a leader worry about your team members keeping productive and put in their workhours, the biggest mistake you can make is to impose morning check-ins and require them to report in a way they never have before. If you don’t trust your team; inhale deeply and do it anyway. The worst thing for an employee, is to have to report to a manager who is clocking, measuring and checking every move you make. Instill trust in your team and lead them to want to take full responsibility during this period.

Another challenge, for small businesses, is that the laptops your team members have at home may not be able to perform the tasks they do in the office on a daily basis. What to do? Acknowledge this is a crisis situation. If everything just continued as usual, it wouldn’t be pronounced a state of crisis. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Focus on something else; encourage your staff to study, take an online course to help them become even better at what they do, so they can add even more value as soon as this is over.

“I worry about the effectiveness and self-discipline of some of my team members working from home.”

Here are ten things to help keep your team motivated and committed to their work.

  1. Encourage your team to schedule their work hours when it’s most compatible with their family routine. In my household, there are three children and for them, it’s easier to focus on school early in the day, so our rule is after breakfast, we all work. During that time, I know I will not be interrupted, so I schedule my 1:1 coaching clients then.
  2. Acknowledge to yourself and your team that the same number of hours you do at work, may not be happening during this period, especially if there are family members and children at home. However, during the focused working hours they can fully commit to, they will most likely have increased productivity, focus, and speed, knowing they have limited time to perform their tasks.
  3. Let them know you are available for a 1:1 talk if they need to ventilate with you or are stuck with work.
  4. Schedule a group meeting and ask them to show up with a cup of coffee or tea, and the topic for the meeting is to check in on everyone and ask how they feel. It’s not about quick reports on where they are, what’s done and what’s not done. The lack of social interaction is taking its toll on many, so to be able to have a coffee together and share the nice things about time at home, and the challenges is a great thing for a continued sense of togetherness.

    “We do a cup of coffee online with the team. We can surely bring up regulatory issues and production, but it’s more about coming together. I let them know that if they need to have a talk one on one, just ping me”.
  5. Show up! If you’re not used to doing webcam meetings, when you talk to your team, remember to look straight into the camera. That way, you will massively increase their feeling of being seen, heard and understood. For those who are home alone, with no family, this moment can be worth everything. It can be a difference between mental health or starting to feel really isolated and depressed.
  6. Listen! If your team has questions you can’t answer, show and tell them you take note and that you will do your best to find the answer for them. Let them express their fear and frustration.

    “I am super compliant in my personality. I know I am more scared than I admit, but I have to be strong for my children. The worry around what will happen to my business makes me very tired.”
  7. Be authentic and share what you find the most difficult with this situation.
  8. Ask your team members what suggestions they have to stay efficient during this period. Don’t ask IF they have suggestions, invite them to really think and be part of a movement that creates new solutions. It can be about systems, about automation, about how to stay sane and healthy in a situation of crisis.
  9. Share great resources to stay in shape from home, a really great book someone read, a recipe that is delicious or an online quiz you’ve discovered. Tip: Google the name of the city you live in + quiz, or create a company/family quiz for one of your team meetings.
  10. If you’re a parent, and especially an independent, this one is for you:
    You are not supposed to be a teacher, you are not paid to be a teacher, and it would not be normal through a time of crisis to have all students return to school with no collateral damage. There may be more screen time, there may be more Netflix, and that’s OK. Turn off subtitles and that’s a language lesson right there! This is an international emergency, not an opportunity to push productivity, performance, and results through the roof. A positive thing is that there will surely be more family time, make the most of it. Your time with your children needs to be peaceful, positive and enjoyable. That can be challenging during normal times. Allow yourself to have long family breakfasts, long lunch breaks with a family quiz, playing games, reading together or repeating vocabulary if you’re up for it. The priority now is to create mental and emotional space to be okay for the coming period.

“I grew up during the war. I remember my mother focused on making fun times for us kids back then. In my family today, we definitely needed this pause, we were living in a crazy speed”.

To all the moms that feel like they are about to go crazy, feeling like they’re about to explode from fatigue, frustration, overwhelm and irritation about the constant noise, cooking, cleaning, picking up and keeping the home tidy, feeling like in all this chaos there is no room for you to breathe, remember that you don’t HAVE to be perfect. Would you rather have your children look back and remember a childhood with a grumpy, irritated mom who was always cleaning and making your home look perfect, or would you rather have your children remember wonderful moments of snuggling together in the sofa, reading a favorite book or just talking over dinner? You want it to be perfect, but does it really have to be?

Together with my three children we now start the day with a breathing exercise guided by Wim Hof, which is not only nice time together, but strengthens the immune system and self-awareness. This is something we definitely didn’t have time for pre-Corona.

In a crisis, under pressure, there will be lots of bad decisions made. Instead of fearing to make a wrong decision, consider this a boot camp in decision making. Try to limit the number of bad decisions and focus on moving forward and correcting as you go along. Invite your team to bring their best thoughts to the decision-making process, and be OK with the fact that some decisions may have to be re-considered.

Multiple times this past week, I’ve personally experienced the power of opening up to different perspectives. That’s not an easy thing generally speaking, simply because we are stuck with our own best thinking, and we believe our own thoughts to be right, right? Or we wouldn’t be thinking them! I’m sure you’ve seen the meme of two persons standing on opposite sides of a line with a 6 and/or a 9 drawn in front of them, depending on which side of the line you stand. A shift in perspective can make us change opinions in very important matters, even the ones we are most sure about. But again, only if we’re willing to open up to the fact that there ARE other perspectives. Another thing that makes it tricky to open up to other perspectives is our ego. Dare to step into a space with curiosity and lots of courage, open up to looking at different perspectives, you’ll be amazed at how much further a conversation around a “hot topic” can go.

Together, we will get through this. And when the storm is over, we will rebuild whatever needs rebuilding, together.

A special thank you to Tatjana von Bonkewitz, Anders Nielsen, Sahar Azari, Lena Baraka, Elfi Koufogeorgou, Aadhan Aazhi, Irene Masiku, Joshua Lee, Claudia Marotto, Madhumalti Sharma, Robert Eh McKenzie and everyone who’s contributed to the conversations of last week.

Enjoy your virtual coffee breaks with the team. Photo: Brooke Lark

Photo credit: Ante Hamersmit from Unsplash.

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