In the COVID-19 world, leaders are being asked to do what can feel like impossible tasks. Not only are they dealing with the uncertainty brought on by this crisis at a societal level, but also they’ve had to figure out how to lead virtually, manage family schedules and dynamics at closer range, think through their COVID-19 business recovery plan, and stay in touch with and care for their people.
Quite frankly, it can feel like too much. The stress can quickly overwhelm a leader who has only the best intentions.
Great leaders put the needs of their people above their own, focusing on others first. They do that by bringing the best version of themselves to the team each day. In these times of extreme stress, it can be easy to put self-care items on the back burner. However, putting others’ needs first for weeks (if not months) on end is unsustainable. In these uncertain times, leaders must lead themselves first, manage their stress, and find healthy outlets that replenish the energy needed for their people and businesses.
Here are some tips to bring out the best version of yourself as you operate in this new version of normal:
- Take an emotional inventory. Make a list of the basic human emotions: frustration, anxiety, gratefulness, embarrassment, etc. Then, make a column with the heading “Frustration.” List everything or everyone that frustrates you. Have plenty of paper handy as you continue through the full list of emotions. Now put your pen down and reflect upon the list. How do you feel? Being honest about our emotional states is critical when we have to be present for others. It may feel like there’s no time for this as you jump from crisis to crisis. However, leaders need to recognize that by slowing down and acknowledging their own emotional tolls, they’re setting themselves up to be more productive in the future. Staying unaware of your current emotional state can sabotage effective leadership.
- Discuss your emotional state. Leadership can be lonely; social distancing only complicates matters and can lead to feelings of isolation. Identify one or two people whom you trust and make it a new habit to connect with them on a daily or weekly basis. Rather than talking about the pandemic, discuss how you are doing―the good, the bad and the ugly. Human beings were not made to be vessels for stuffing unwanted or unpleasant emotions. Get them out! Once you’ve acknowledged your emotions, talk through strategies for dealing with them. What do you need to do differently as a leader? How can you show up for your people more effectively? What behaviors do you want to demonstrate with your teams?
- Be honest with your team. Now more than ever, it is essential to be honest and authentic with your team. Remember that the most successful leaders display empathy with their teams. Odds are good that if you are feeling stressed or frustrated, they probably are too. Discuss calmly with your team how you are processing what is going on and role model ways for them to do likewise. This is the time to be candid and vulnerable, and to admit the challenges you’re facing. Your people will respect you for showing up as your authentic self (just be careful not to get pulled down into doom and gloom).
While acknowledging emotions is critical, leaders also need to act. There are four areas leaders can focus on to regain balance and create more energy and satisfaction throughout their week. As you review these areas, think of them as fuel gauges and see which one(s) you may need to spend more time focusing on.
- Mentally―How has the COVID-19 news barrage impacted your mental health? Have you set any boundaries around how much is too much? When is the last time you read, listened to a podcast about a topic of interest, or focused on a hobby? You need to find something that stimulates you mentally, versus just reading all of the depressing news.
- Relationally―Social distancing has isolated us from the people we typically interact with at work. How are you connecting with them now? People have been looking for ways to leverage technology to keep those personal and professional connections alive. How is your relational health? What can you do to strengthen it?
- Physically―How well are you taking care of your physical needs? Are you getting enough sleep? Eating the right foods? Getting some form of exercise? Do you need to form new habits to make sure you keep your body strong and immune system firing on all cylinders?
- Spiritually―This gauge may include faith, mindfulness, prayer, meditation or another spiritual outlet. These are powerful stress reducers when practiced consistently. Being outdoors―especially in nature―can be a great way to fill the spiritual tank. Extra credit can be earned for taking a hike with a friend (while social distancing, of course!) to fill three or four gauges at once.
These turbulent times call for authentic and centered leaders. Self-care is not about being selfish; it’s about taking care of yourself for the sake of your team, which deserves the best version of you. Leaders worldwide are dealing with an unprecedented situation that is causing high stress levels. It is all too easy to ignore those feelings and focus only on what you need to do next. Leaders should acknowledge the emotional toll that they are facing and center on positive behaviors to ensure they continue to lead effectively over the coming weeks and months. Get creative with your time and incorporate activities to help with stress management. Your team, friends and family will thank you!