3 Ways Leaders Can Support Their Teams During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Hello out there! Despite ongoing stressful circumstances I hope you’ve been able to define the “new normal” we’ve been hearing about, and what that looks like for you. The beautiful spring weather we’ve been getting a taste of here on Canada’s east coast has been a good reminder for me that although much is uncertain right now some things – like the cycle of the seasons – remain unchanged.
Today I want to talk about leadership and the implications of these chaotic times on people and groups who are meant to be guiding others. Anyone who’s heard one of my keynotes or attended a training session with me knows how broadly I define the word “leader”. I’m not just talking about someone in a managerial role in their work context. To me, a leader is simply one who leads so it’s just as often an unofficial position that comes about organically. Think of the last time you and your coworkers encountered a particular challenge, like the assignment of an important, time-sensitive team task that had everyone nervous, or there were layoffs happening in your department. Perhaps you can think of someone who, during that stressful time, had a knack for helping everyone to stay calm and focused. If you’re a parent, maybe you’ve found that over the past couple of weeks your teenager has been more reliant on you than usual to provide reassurance and structure. And of course, if you’re a designated team lead in your organization you’ve almost certainly experienced added pressure in one form or another, whether you’re an essential service and now required to work in a more mentally taxing and potentially physically hazardous environment, or you’re supporting your team in staying positive and productive while navigating the challenges of suddenly working from home. Leadership comes in all different shapes and sizes and it’s a hat you’ve likely worn yourself at one point or another.
Let’s explore three ways effective leaders can help their teams during these trying times.
1. Acknowledge your “human-ness”
You don’t have to put on a brave face at all times. Of course you’re stressed. Of course you’re worried about the future. Of course what’s going on is impacting you in many of the same ways it’s impacting those you’re leading. Your team needs an authentic leader right now, not someone who’s superhuman. You’re probably being asked questions you don’t know the answers to fairly regularly. Know enough to know what you don’t know. Don’t try to come up with an answer in effort to appease the asker – if you don’t know, be honest about that and acknowledge that there are a lot of unknowns right now and everyone’s just doing the best they can. Allow your team members (and yourself) some flexibility and know that deadlines and other plans (again, both those of the folks you’re leading and your own) might need some leeway right now. You’re human too, and your team will feel more connected to you and respect you for acknowledging that.
2. Sometimes it’s the little things…
Strong leaders are ready to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done, which sometimes includes tasks that go beyond the scope of their regular duties. Being a parent is a great example of this. A parenting role is ever-evolving and on any given day you might find yourself teaching a valuable life lesson one moment and bandaging a skinned knee the next. You’re not just there for the “big moments”. You have to roll with the punches and be prepared to give what’s needed. Professional leadership roles are very similar. You might be able to help a struggling team member immeasurably just by taking one small logistical item off of their plate right now. With the chaos surrounding us today, you’ll find good leaders down in the trenches with their team members.
3. Lead by example
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Leaders can set a good example by modeling good self care and prioritizing their own mental health when needed. We’re so focused on the present threat to our physical health that many of us aren’t tuned in to the impact that the giant surge in stress and rapid changes to our day-to-day life are having on our psychological wellbeing. Don’t get so caught up in supporting others that you underestimate the toll this is all taking on you. Taking time to care for your own mental health is both crucial and selfless. You’ve heard the expression “Do as I say, not as I do”? Those are not words a good leader should ever utter. Show — don’t just tell — your team that caring for their mental health is important, especially during these challenging times.
A leader’s job isn’t always easy. Scratch that, a leader’s job is rarely easy… but every team needs someone with compassion and courage at the helm, now more than ever. The author and historian Peter Stark wisely said that “in times of crisis, reactions set the leaders apart from the followers.” As we navigate these uncharted waters together, let’s all be prepared to lead and support when and where and in whatever ways we can.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.