Over the past few months, we’ve seen the coronavirus and its effects sweep across the world and into our workplaces. For many of us, COVID-19 has brought a slew of emotions – fear, uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and even anger. It’s also brought new challenges to our organizations, where we as leaders are confronted with the unknown. While it may be easier to dig into our small day-to-day tasks and ignore the riptide of emotions, as a leader it is our responsibility to lean in during these times.
Great leaders do not just excel at operational execution, they’re great at the messy work of leading people. They help shape culture and solve challenges within their teams and across the organization as a whole. One of the messy components of culture is dealing with fears and feelings. Brené Brown said it best in her book, Dare to Lead: “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings, or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”
So, whether your team is struggling with the uncertainty of COVID-19, is frustrated by the new mandate to work from home, is frustrated by having to work when they are designated as an essential worker on critical work, is mourning the loss of a team member, or is overwhelmed by change or uncertainty; you need to help them address and process their fears and feelings. This will allow your team to move forward.
Here are some tips to help get you started:
- Accept the reality of fears and feelings and address them. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. It may sound obvious, but the role of a leader is to lead people. It is your job to address the changes and fears that everyone is experiencing!
- Find the right moment and place. Connecting via video or phone with someone 1 on 1 is best. Group or public discussions run the risk of going off the rails, especially if you’re unsure about how to handle the situation. You can acknowledge the anxiety in a team meeting, but it may be best to address it offline unless you have a highly functioning team with well-established trust.
- Take time to talk AND LISTEN. This isn’t a check-the-box activity. Don’t shove an emotional discussion into a 15-minute break between meetings. You can’t rush emotional processing. Plan for at least 30 mins, maybe a good hour.
- Address the why behind the what. Human beings tend to resist change, but we especially resist change when we don’t understand something. We tend to fill in the gaps of our understanding with the absolute worst-case scenario. By being honest and explaining the reason for the change, you’ll improve overall understanding and mitigate people jumping to conclusions.
- It’s not one and done. Fears and feelings don’t go away overnight and aren’t put-to-rest after one conversation. It will require multiple conversations and touchpoints over time, especially if the issue has been bottled up.
Leading through fears and feelings especially at a time like this can be hard work. It requires great listening and emotional intelligence skills, which can be very exhausting. But as hard as it is, the cost and risk of doing nothing is higher. Think about all the wasted time and energy spent avoiding fears and feelings, that could be spent moving your team and organization forward.
So, dig in and start those tough conversations!