For most of us in leadership roles, the last four weeks have brought about the most radical changes we have seen in our business experience, perhaps even in our lifetimes. These days we are scrambling, doing the best we can with the current, scary realities that seem to change hour by hour and put our flexibility and resilience to the test. But as business owners and leaders, we also carry the fears, anxieties and real stresses of the people who work for us and about the sustainability of our businesses. We worry about how we will survive in the long term. We try to imagine what the new normal will look like. But we are human too, and on top of our business concerns, we worry about the impacts this virus is or may have on our families and loved ones, and how we will move forward in the future.
Unfortunately, many leaders don’t have anywhere to go with the sometimes crushing weight of it all. It’s critical during these times that leaders do whatever they can to protect themselves against the damaging drive to take it all on, hold it together, and press on without a plan to ensure personal wellness and resilience. Here are some practices that may help you come through this crisis with your feet on the ground, and your mental and emotional well-being intact.
During this time, it’s more important than ever that leaders prioritize self-care. Survival requires putting on your own oxygen mask first. Empathy and compassion are wonderful attributes as you care for your staff during layoffs, shorter workdays and their financial impacts, but it can’t come at the expense of your own mental health (and by extension, your family).
Survival requires putting on your own oxygen mask first.
Prioritize things that make you feel better and keep you sane and whole. Hiking, exercise, solitude, reading, having fun, working on hobbies or personal projects, meditating, prayer – whatever it is that helps you feel grounded, do it. Every day. We are likely in this for a long haul and if you burn out in the first few months you may find yourself struggling to hold it all together when it matters most. Don’t dismiss this as something you’ll do “when it’s all over”, or “after I take care of the next thing on my list.” Do it today. And tomorrow, and the next day. It may be the most important thing you do to sustain yourself for the future.
The face of business will likely never be the same and there will be grief for many, for what they have lost. But there will also be unprecedented opportunities as we move past this crisis. There will be need for leaders to be creative about how they re-establish or re-invent themselves and their organizations. There will be new business opportunities that until now, no one has conceived of. There will be ways in which the world will change that will be better than it was. Staying positive, resilient, and open to new opportunities will help us see things we never could have imagined, and will encourage and inspire those we lead.
Stop watching COVID-19 TV
We live in unprecedented times when information comes to us at lightning speed and in staggering amounts. But not all of it is good, and not all of it is true. The key to survival is taking in information calmly and from reputable sources. Taking in information calmly means limiting the amount of news you watch or read so that they don’t consume your thoughts and energy, which leads to fear, alarm, and panic.
Watch the messages from federal and provincial governments about what is expected and recommended of us to be responsible citizens. Listen to what medical professional and world health experts are saying. Then turn it all off and get on with your life and work. Surviving and even thriving during these times, requires you to focus on what you need to know, doing what is necessary and responsible, and focusing on the future.
Don’t be an island
There are thousands of people who know exactly what you’re going through! Don’t get caught in thinking no one else gets it. In fact, seek them out. All over the world like-minded people are getting together in small groups online to figure things out – TOGETHER; to help and support each other and to create positive actions in the midst of hard times.
There are likely other leaders or business owners in your industry or network. Consider inviting a group of people with whom you are connected, to meet online on a regular basis to encourage, share ideas, brainstorm, and keep each other grounded. We need each other now more than ever, and I’ll even venture to say we’ve never been more ready and willing to be there for each other.
Reach out to those in need
There are so many needs in our community right now. If you’re out of work, or are working less, ask yourself whether there are (safe) ways you can volunteer to help others in need. Contact Volunteer organizations or a local non-profit to see where you can contribute. They’re all scrambling to meet the needs. Very few things will lift our spirits and shift our perspectives more than helping taking our eyes off our own troubles and helping others who are in need.
Use this time of work slowdowns to catch up on and/or accelerate your learning. Read those books that have been sitting on your “someday when I have time” shelf. You have time now. Sign up for that webinar, take advantage of online tutorials, take an online course. As you readjust your family and work time, make a commitment to yourself to stay mentally active. Keep your mind sharp and continue to hone your leadership strengths. You’re going to need them in a few months.
COVID-19 will change the way the we live and work in the future. There will undoubtedly be grief and loss, but there will also be new – maybe even better – ways of doing things and great opportunities we may not have had before. While we don’t know yet what that will look like, as leaders we need to rely on all the resources we have used in the past to help us get through tough times. We need to embrace doing things differently and seeing our businesses and leadership in new ways. If we remain focused and compassionate, collaborative and creative, and open and positive in the face of what’s ahead, we will thrive, even in these uncertain times, and be ready to apply our leadership skills to those who will need them in the future.