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How to lead your way through it all

6 Apr

The pressures of confinement coupled with trying to balance our work and home life are challenging to say the least.

Close up of a red and cream flower

My home space has been invaded - there is my husband, my son who at just under two needs a lot of entertainment and my mother who has come to stay thanks to her job being furloughed which is a massive help and a hindrance at the same time. Not to mention the cabin fever that is building amongst us - none of us able to escape except to walk the dogs which we now all battle for. The household pets have increased by a third because along with my mother comes her dog, and her cat to add to my already considerable brood. Oh, and did I mention the chickens which we got for Christmas?

But the fact is I am not alone, many of my clients, friends and family are experiencing the same thing. The pressures of confinement coupled with trying to balance our work and home life are challenging to say the least. In fact, one couple I am friends with are also dealing with a power shift in their relationship. He as a Sales Director has always been the breadwinner, therefore the childcare has mostly fallen to her. However she is a Respiratory Healthcare Consultant, in the current climate her job is more important and yet he still has sales targets to meet. But at least they can share responsibility, for single parents, it is a whole different ball game!

The big question is how long will this go on for and when will we get back to normal? The truth is we don’t know and it maybe never. Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a war. Its legacy will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. But don’t worry, before your heart starts thumping in your ears. I want to offer some insight into us as a species and why we will come through this. As humans we are resilient, emotional, intelligent creatures who have an amazing ability to learn and adapt. We have done it many times before and will do it again. In fact, it is being a human that will pull us through.

In this new reality, the playing field has been levelled, everyone is vulnerable. It is up to us as humans and leaders to lead with compassion and emotional intelligence in order to inspire resilience and growth. As leaders, we need to turn our attention to our most valuable asset - our employees and support them in this new world. The rest of this article is an offering on how best to do this by understanding how our minds adjust, which will be the difference between those who succeed and those who will fail.

Adjustment comes in three stages;

Stage 1: Security

The first few weeks in a crisis are crucial, you should allow for your own mental adjustment and accept that others are doing the same. It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel low and lost during this time. No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity.

At this early stage, you should focus on food, family, friends, your team and maybe fitness. Be realistic about your expectations: you will not become an Olympic athlete in the next two weeks, so don’t put ridiculous expectations on yourself. Remember this is time for your mental adjustment. Cut yourself some slack.

Next, ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media. It is OK that you keep waking up at 3 am. It is OK that you forgot to eat lunch and cannot do a Zoom yoga class. On that note reduce your social media, reading the latest death count before bed is not going to help you sleep. Instead, focus intensely on your physical and psychological security. Get sensible essentials (that does not mean stockpiling pasta or easter eggs!). Clean your house, Set up a work environment if you haven’t already got one and make a coordinated family and work plan. This includes work and home routines around working hours, childcare and space. Have reasonable conversations with your loved ones about emergency preparedness. Similar to the one you are having at work for your Business Continuity.

No matter what your family unit looks like, or your organisation you will need a team in the weeks and months ahead. Devise a strategy for social connectedness with your team as well as a small group of family, friends and/or neighbours while maintaining social distancing in accordance with government guidelines. Identify the vulnerable and make sure they are included and protected.

The best way to build a team regardless of whether it is for your work or your family is to be a good teammate, so take some initiative to ensure that you are not alone. If you do not put this psychological infrastructure in place, the challenge of necessary physical-distancing measures will be crushing.

And finally, recognise that during this adjustment stage we are not at our best. We are working from survival mode, therefore we need to exercise patience and compassion with ourselves and others. Everyone is on their own journey and it will take some longer than others but we will all get there in the end. This can be hard for achievers to deal with but right now pushing for performance is not going to help you or anyone else.

Stage 2: The Mental Shift

Once you have secured yourself and your team, you will now feel more stable, and you will crave challenges that are more demanding. Given time, your brain can and will reset to new crisis conditions, and your ability to do higher-level work will resume.

This mental shift will make it possible for you to return to being a high performer, even in extreme conditions. However, do not rush or prejudge your mental shift, or that of others. This can be hard for achievers to swallow.

Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience, a focus on real internal change. These transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, and beautiful. And they will be slower than we would like. But that is fine, be slow - let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Let it remove all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage to be bold and embrace something new. This is what sets us apart as true leaders and is the difference between those who succeed and those who fail.

Stage 3: Embrace a New Normal

On the other side of this shift, your wonderful, creative, resilient brain will be waiting for you. When your foundations are strong, build a weekly schedule that prioritises the security of your home team, and then carve out time for different categories of your work. Don’t put stuff off, a habit of successful people is they get the jobs they don’t want to do first. Wake up early. The online yoga and HIT training or run will be a lot easier now.

Things will start to feel more natural. You will have more clarity, and you will be more comfortable about changing or undoing what is already in motion. New ideas will emerge that would not have come to mind had you stayed in denial. Continue to embrace your mental shift. Have faith in the process and understand that this is a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you will throw up on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised.

To conclude, in order to lead from the forefront in this situation you need to:

  1. Realise you and others are looking for security and that will need to come from you
  2. Give yourself time and space to allow for your mental shift as to how you are dealing with this
  3. Embrace a new normal, let go of all previous assumption and be brave.

In the end, we will all return to our offices and restaurants, our borders will reopen, and our economies will recover from the forthcoming recessions. You will look back at this time and either know what you did, or what you should have done. We are all vulnerable and we all have the same opportunity to be brave and inspire. To do this we have to go through the essential process of acceptance, allowing us to reimagine ourselves. On the other side of acceptance are clarity, strength and resilience. We will be creative, we will have projects we cannot imagine today, and we will inspire people we have not yet met but this change must come from you and being conscious of the actions you take. So, what sort of leader are you?

If you want help stepping up and leading the way. I am offering packages specifically to help leaders grow during this time. For more information on how I can help you and your business prosper, get in touch. I am also offering free coaching to NHS workers if this applies to you again please get in touch and stay safe.

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