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From the Same Boat to the Same Storm

Ensuring mental health as a leader during COVID-19.

Photo by Freepik
Photo by Freepik

As lockdown policies start easing around the world and the onus of managing the pandemic shifts to organisations and individuals, people leaders are now faced with yet another challenge that they haven’t been quite prepared to contend with. That of balancing key business and financial decisions, driving performance and productivity, while being advocates of good mental health among their teams.

Times of distress result in grave amounts of uncertainty and it has become a leadership requirement to now manage a variety of sentiments for the smooth functioning of teams. And while people leaders contend with feelings of fear, frustration, demotivation, overwhelm, isolation, insecurity and more, among their teams, rising above the negativity to manage their own mental health has become equally imperative.

For a number of leaders, finding that ability to survive and thrive, while motivating others, is not easy to achieve. And even for the best, with the right skills and capabilities, there is a sense of being put through the ultimate test of showcasing their own leadership grit

Leadership, as we know, in the best of circumstances is never easy. However, in this crisis environment requires far more than anyone has bargained for. In fact, the pandemic has quite clearly illustrated that there is no one size that fits all and that while we are riding in the same storm, we each need to manage our own boat

As a leadership and performance coach, I have been working with a number of leaders during this time to support them as they navigate their own emotional challenges. On a weekly basis, we see our client’s sentiments shift significantly from feelings of demotivation to anxiousness to acceptance and back. And with every week of the pandemic, the challenge of steering their boat seems to feel harder not easier. This crisis has now made it incumbent on leaders to unlock their capacities, develop capabilities, take hard decisions, have difficult conversations, while still looking ahead as they try to ride this tide.

Some of the ways in which we recommend that leaders can manage themselves better and approach the challenges that this evolving external environment brings are as follows:

Manage Yourself: The most important part of being a leader is being able to successfully manage your own thoughts, emotions and behaviours. For leaders, getting curious about your own emotional and mental states, being aware of the impact of your responses and self-managing actions and behaviors will enable you to show up completely to each situation. Greater self-awareness will be key to leading more effectively during this crisis.

Be Understanding: For leaders, demonstrating empathy and tolerance during trying times especially when teams are balancing different dimensions of their life, work, family and more, is crucial. Valuing each individual’s and your own mental health during this time will be important to maintain performance and boost productivity. 

Let Go: In times of distress, it is important for leaders to be kind to both yourself and your teams. Building that social sensitivity to meet each person where they are and letting go of notions of perfection by getting more comfortable with roughly right, will contribute to building the requisite endurance to see the crisis through. 

Communicate: It has become essential for leaders to dial up the communication, take a personalised approach when dealing with teams and demonstrate authenticity. Being open with your communication serves to make you more real, connected and get the maximum buy in, which will strengthen team dynamics as is much needed at this time.

Trust: With colleagues no longer being easily accessible, there now is limited room for micro-managing and leaders have to trust that their teams are responsible and will work to finish their tasks. Using this time to strengthen a circle of trust will be key in building loyalty and team spirit to serve you well in the future. Remember to focus on what you can control.

Psychological Safety: As teams grapple with various emotional challenges in an uncertain world, it is the responsibility of leaders to address and help manage these sentiments. Bringing clarity, transparency, open communication, setting manageable goals and providing support to each individual is key to creating an environment of security at this time.

In times like this when we feel most things are not in our control, it is important as leaders and individuals to ensure that we operate from a place of gratitude, appreciation, empathy and understanding of ourselves and others. Doing our bit to support the organisation, our team and humanity at large at this time will also positively impact our mental health and well-being.

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