What does it take to be a great leader in the midst of a crisis? Here are seven questions designed to help you become the leader your people need during this frightening and uncertain time.
1. Am I skillfully managing my emotions?
Energy is contagious. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are the Chief Energy Officer for those you lead. It’s critical to be aware of what you’re feeling, not just because naming your emotions helps to tame them, but also because how you feel so profoundly influences those you lead. At the same time, it’s equally important to regulate your negative emotions – to intentionally quiet your nervous system when fear and overwhelm arise. That’s a prerequisite to communicating calmly and clearly to your teams, and to creating a psychologically safe work environment.
2. What is my self-care plan?
Breathing deeply, feeling your feet to ground yourself, and even placing your hand on your heart are all strategies for quickly regulating yourself when you get emotionally triggered.
Your resilience also depends on the longer-term routines you put in to place at specific times until they become ritualized and no longer require much conscious will and discipline.
The most fundamental one is sleep. Every minute of sleep below 7 hours a night progressively decreases your cognitive capacity and your emotional resilience. Exercise – significantly raising your heart rate for at least 20 minutes at least several times a week — is a second critical form of self-care. It’s both an effective way to discharge stress, and to strengthen your immune system.
3. Am I overvaluing certain qualities at the expense of others?
The most traditional leadership qualities are listed below in the left-hand column, but their positive opposites — the ones listed on the right — are just as important. That’s especially true in this time of uncertainty and overwhelm, when our instinct is even greater to choose up sides. Which one or two qualities in the pairs below do you embody least well? What simple practice could you institute to better balance a left-hand quality with its complementary quality in the right hand column?
4. Am I fearlessly challenging my fixed beliefs and assumptions?
When stress is high, we instinctively double down on what’s worked best for us in the past, because certainty makes us feel safer. It’s a fool’s errand. Confirmation bias – unconsciously seeking evidence to confirm what we already believe – actually makes us less able to handle novel circumstances and solve new problems. The next time you find yourself convinced you’ve come to the right conclusion, take a moment to think about what could make you wrong. Ask yourself, “What am I not seeing here?” Then intentionally seek out and invite evidence that supports an alternative perspective, before coming to a final decision.
5. What else might be true here?
Your capacity to see your challenges from multiple perspectives is critical to making good decisions about complex issues.
Imagine simultaneously looking out from a mountaintop to see the widest and longest view, and inside yourself to carefully observe your own experience.
The wider your vision, the more stakeholders and points of view you will be able to take into account. The deeper your self-awareness, the more you can understand your own motivations, see through your blindspots, and take responsibility for your actions. The longer your view, the less inclined you are to seek short-term gratification at the expense to taking into account the long-term consequences of your decisions.
6. Am I grounded in a purpose and values I can easily articulate?
In crisis, it’s tempting to focus solely on execution. The risk is that you lose sight of the values and purpose that guide you at your best. In our own case, writing and offering virtual seminars about how to cope with this crisis has given both of us with a powerful sense of purpose and focus amid vast uncertainty.
What are the core principles that guide you? Deliberately keeping them front and center will help you navigate more skillfully in the storm. Sharing and role-modeling these values also provides comfort and inspiration to the people you’re leading.
7. What can I influence – and what do I need to let go?
Helplessness is a nearly intolerable emotion, and it’s easy to feel that way in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider practicing this version of the Serenity Prayer: Invest your energy in what you have the power to influence, don’t squander it on what you can’t control, and use your discernment to know the difference. You may not be able to change the external circumstances, but you can influence how you respond to any given challenge. And how you respond will influence the way those you lead respond.