Previously published on Forbes
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11. Here in Seattle (America's Coronavirus "Ground Zero") we were -- and continue to be -- deeply affected. Everyone is, no matter where you’re located in the world. From working remotely, caring for colleagues globally and finding major projects suddenly put on hold, to figuring out how to take care of family dynamics due to school closures, this situation is forcing all of us to work and lead in new ways.
As a leader, your job is to keep your feet on the ground and your sights on the big picture while still tending to what is needed right now. Getting breathless and panicky isn’t going to help. You have to find coherence and calm — because people are following your lead, whether you realize it or not. Leading is a privilege, and others are looking to you to see how you respond. They’re awaiting your example, and they’re counting on you.
The message: If ever there was a time to up your game, this is it.
Recently, I was on a Zoom conference call with the faculty of the Pepperdine MSOD program. They have had to cancel international travel for the final session of the graduate program, and a big challenge stands before them: figuring out how 32 students can complete their coursework in May so that they can graduate in August. The faculty did a brilliant job of demonstrating both personal vulnerability and collaboration. They shared their fears and concerns and the fact that they have never faced anything like this before. And they listened to one another and backed each other up with friendship and loyalty. It was a joy to witness. And I learned from their example.
I invite you to turn to your team, lean into your leadership tools and communicate openly. Here are five ways to lead effectively and work more collaboratively with your team during an extraordinarily challenging time.
The Five Elements of Collaboration
1. Build Trust and Respect: During times of ambiguity, communication is key. Stay available. Share often. Be open to the ideas and concerns that others are experiencing.
2. Hold a Shared Compelling Purpose: Take time to connect with your team and remind one another why you are all in this together. Define what matters most as you navigate these dynamic times. This means you must calm your mind and heart and reconnect to the big ideal that you are working on. Turn off the news, stop checking your phone, disengage from social media for a bit. I use meditation to train the wild elephant of my mind. Most of the fear mongering thoughts I have are not useful right now. What is useful is to remain in the present, keep breathing and stay connected to how you can help.
3. Increase Competence in Four Areas – Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual: In other words, tend to the whole person at work. Pay attention to the physical health of the people around you. Encourage rest and good hygiene, and focus on stress reduction. From an intellectual standpoint, seek data and validate the information you receive. As for emotions, it’s completely normal to experience fear and sadness in these circumstances; make room for them. You might also need to make room for a little bit of levity, too. And spiritually, make a point to connect to the place that brings you peace — nature, religion, spirit, animals — whatever that is for you.
4. Build Strength Through Breakdown: Mistakes will be made as we are asked to work in new ways. Catch the mistakes, suspend judgment and blame, and put corrections in place. The game here is to experiment and fail fast so that you can get to the breakthroughs.
5. Engage the Power of Appreciation: Gratitude is a powerful thing, both to give and to receive. Reach out to those working remotely, stop by a cubicle, wander to a different floor. Appreciation has been proven to improve workplace health, reduce stress, increase engagement and motivate employees. Look for the gold and then call it out.
Adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals it. These are extraordinary times, but you’re up to the challenge. Be a true leader today.