How to Lead Through a Global Pandemic

Having to tell your employee “today will be your last day” is what every people manager dreads most.  Also difficult?  Having to tell your team they’re taking a pay cut but you still expect them to show up and work hard.  But, perhaps the most difficult part about being a leader is leading when you’ve also taken a pay cut, you’re emotional, and your future is uncertain.  If you are managing people at work during these difficult times this Hey HR Hotline is for you.

Q: Do you have any advice for people managers right now? I’ve been asked to take a pay cut and had to let go of some of my team members, all while taking on more responsibility.  I’m finding it hard to stay motivated and lead my team. Should I quit?

People management on a good day takes a special set of skills.  Throw in a global pandemic and social justice movement and you may be feeling overwhelmed and under-equipped. Leading people through tough times is even more difficult when you’re impacted.  You are navigating the front lines of two important and impactful shifts within our work culture and we definitely need you.  So, go ahead and quit the job that’s not working for you but please don’t quit leading!

As a leader within an organization, or a business owner you are probably being asked to model resiliency, flexibility, compassion, and adaptability through uncertainty all while riding this wave.  Instead of focusing on leading, you’re questioning how your organization has responded (or hasn’t) to the racial justice movement in the US and it’s hard for you to put on a smile on Zoom.  Or, perhaps you’re feeling guilty that if you prioritize your own career you’ll abandon your team and what kind of leader does that make you?

So how can you show up for others right now and be a guiding light when you’re on an emotional roller coaster too?   It’s crucial you allow yourself to receive. Your needs have to be met in order to give to others!  And in this case, it probably means you have to ask for support navigating the uncertainty of your own career before you can show up for others.

How you care for yourself outside of work will directly impact how you show up (for others) at work.

Leadership isn’t about having all of the answers or even doing the “right” thing.  It’s about navigating vulnerability so you can show up for the hard parts, have open conversations, and do the best you can do, given the circumstances.  When the world around you is feeling uncertain and you feel like you have no control over what happens next, please take time to care for and lead yourself before you go about the business of leading others. You are worthy of receiving the support you need to do your best work.  The cost of not caring for yourself is not being able to share your gifts and expertise with us – and we need what you have to offer!

How to Lead (through a global pandemic):

  1. Make space to feel your feelings.
    Give yourself permission to be angry, scared, frustrated, confused and/or overwhelmed.  And then lead yourself so you can lead others.  Whatever emotions have come up this year, use them to identify your root feelings and fear(s). Are you stressed about your financial future?  Are you sad to say goodbye to great team members? Are you feeling guilty that if you quit you’ll abandon your team?  Are you angry that no one has asked you what you need?  Check in with yourself to identify what isn’t working for you at work so you can get clear about what you need to ask for or what you need to let go of.  When you make space for your emotions you’ll be able to make decisions from a place of power and peace rather than fear and scarcity.  This applies to both your personal career decisions and business decisions as a leader.  Be compassionate with yourself and to others no matter the feelings that are flying around you.
  2. What’s your ideal outcome?
    If you let go of the need to know how things will turn out and instead ask yourself what your best case scenario looks like, despite what’s happening in the outside world, what comes up for you?  If you weather this economic storm with your organization, do you want a promotion? Is your ideal outcome a new job in a new industry after a successful job search? Or, is your ideal outcome getting more support at work – from an outside resource or from your boss? Notice if you are letting fear lead you instead of trusting in yourself, your team, and your ability to adapt, learn, and find solutions.  When you identify your ideal outcome you can look past what’s not working and start to see what’s possible for the future and why you want to get there.
  3. Take action.
    What is within your control? What do you have influence over? Focus on what you can do vs. what’s out of your control.  What’s one thing you can do today to care for yourself so your responsibilities seem less daunting? What’s one thing you need to say to your team today? Sometimes taking action means going back to step 1 – feeling your feelings. Other times taking action means patiently waiting, and sometimes it’s taking bold action like having a frank conversation with your boss that you’re not able to get that project out the door by the deadline.  By taking action you’ll feel a greater sense of power in your day which will allow you to respond to your team and their needs.  Then, repeat steps 1 through 3.

Remember at the end of the day doing your best is always enough, even if your best is less than perfect (because there’s no such thing in life or leadership)! 

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