COVID 19 – A Conscious Leadership Approach in Times of Crisis
In no time at all, the Coronavirus has gone from a minor concern to those in the West, to a serious game changer. Its impact on global health systems, economy and private lives is significant. It threatens our accustomed way of living. Many people are worried, distraught, frustrated and even angry. Although, deep down, we know most will get through it, in all likelihood these current events will influence our behaviours for the long term.
Right now, leaders need to be extra conscious of their surroundings. They need to lead with high emotional intelligence, show compassion and consideration for the impact this virus is having on the physical, mental and emotional states of the people around them. We then need leaders to take affirmative action to give us hope for the short term.
Here is a quick overview of the AAA approach to conscious leadership in times of crisis:
Many of us are so absorbed in our thoughts and responsibilities during a time of crisis we become disconnected from the most basic human sense – awareness of ourselves. By reconnecting to yourself you will discover many of the elements that are affecting your actions, and reactions, during this time. Connecting to our awareness can be transformative!
Ask yourself these questions:
As you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you become aware of? As you lie there and scan your body, what do you feel? Concern, worry, tension? Or do you sense new opportunities for learning, growth and change?
As you enter the working day, what do you notice about your employees or colleagues?
If you are working from home, how do you become aware of your team’s state of mind?
If you were to list up the things your teams need right now, what would that list contain? For example, relief from worry about loved ones who are sick or could become sick? What about relief from financial worries as the global economy appears to be headed for a recession? What else?
As you look at your workload, how does it make you feel? Do your employees engage with their tasks or are they zoning out, scanning social media for news, unable to concentrate?
As you monitor your awareness level, are you mostly assessing the situation based on your own perception of it, or are you able to incorporate into your awareness, how teams perceive it right now? Are you conscious of a picture that is bigger than your own self-protection?
Here is an awareness exercise, to be conducted in stillness. Read the start of the sentences out loud and finish them on your own. Repeat 3 times. Try not to judge your words. Let them be what they are. Remember to speak them out loud, you need to hear your voice say the words:
I am aware that I feel …
I am aware that my body feels…
I am aware that the external environment …
I am aware that my team feels…
In terms of the work that awaits us I am aware that…
Please not that this exercise is not about finding a solution. It is about becoming aware of your state.
As if step one was not hard enough, this second step is a tough one to get to. This is because acceptance of what is, involves vulnerability and surrender. All this at a time when many feel vulnerable and fearful. It helps to accept that things are happening that are (to the most extent) out of our control. It means accepting that we are indeed vulnerable and helpless when it comes to bigger issues like contagious viruses and economic changes etc. We have to face the illusion of security in daily life. It means we need to admit defeat on some fronts, to be able to re-focus.
As you scan the list of topics that await your teams and yourself, working towards acceptance will allow you to prioritise differently. Acceptance allows us to let go of things we cannot control and focus on the ones we can control. As hard as it is to deal with, acceptance actually makes us more effective leaders.
As you talk to your people, you can help them come to a level of acceptance, so that they too can cope quicker. You can see a great article on how to coach your team towards acceptance here. Lack of acceptance brings denial, confusion and sometimes-futile effort with resulting frustration, and maybe depression. Whilst all these feelings are normal responses, you can use acceptance to centre yourself, to connect to what is truly important and start to regain both strength and focus. You can use this newfound level of acceptance to concentrate on your circles of control and influence. You also use it to let go of things outside of your control:
Below is a personal acceptance exercise, to be conducted in stillness. Read the start of the sentences out loud and finish them on your own. Repeat 3 times and allow yourself to sit in acceptance of your own words. Remember to speak them out loud, you need to hear your voice say the words.
I accept that I …
I accept that my team…
I accept that my external environment …
In accept that in terms of work…
I accept that our future…
I accept that…
Again, this exercise is not about finding a solution. It is about accepting our own vulnerability and helplessness. This helps to let go of anxiety and ground us. Because, it is at the heart of awareness that we find true strength.
As you come to the ‘action’ step, having completed steps 1 and 2, you already have a taken a more conscious leadership approach. you have reflected on and felt the feelings and concerns of others. you have accepted the things you cannot control or influence and have consciously chosen to concentrate on the ones you can.
The teams around you will want to support any action taken in a context that is clearly communicated to them. Especially if they are involved. The key reasons are that they feel their leader has listened to, understood and felt their perspective which ultimately makes them feel valued. Once involved in this manner, the feel that no matter how hard things look, the right issues are being addressed.
Here is an exercise that helps you take targeted and synchronised action. Please reflect on the following questions and attempt to answer them, ideally in collaboration with others.
• Am I trying to steer things with an authoritative top down approach, or am I actively involving others?
• What are the financial priorities? If under financial stress, how long is our cash burn rate?
• What are our employee priorities? What needs to be done to make them feel as comfortable as the situation allows?
• What are our customer priorities? Do we need innovative new approaches to serve them?
• How do we best organise our people and their efforts around those customer priorities?
• What are our top 3 priorities?
• When do we aim do have them done and how often will we meet to review and reflect?
For further advice on leadership in times of crisis, please check out this link to McKinsey’s latest thoughts on the matter.
So as we all move forward in tackling the COVID 19 threat, please be guided by AWARENESS, ACCEPTANCE & ACTION, using conscious leadership to align your people around a common purpose.