At this most critical moment, it’s essential that we’re ‘fully charged’ and at our most powerful so that we really perform when it counts. Whether you’re a leader of teams, departments or an entire organisation. A team or family member, or working alone. We need to find ways to thrive and be energised in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Channelling our energy to be fully charged like a mobile phone with everything available to us. And not getting worn down to ‘low power mode’, with only our essential functions intact.
For many of us the world as we know it has changed, or at least is paused for now. Some are facing much less or no work at all, whilst others are more stretched than ever. For many the workload is business as usual, having adjusted to virtual technologies and re-organised timescales and projects, but it still feels strangely quiet from behind closed doors.
Our usual re-charge sources are gone for now
It is certainly a time of extremes. In our living memory we won’t have seen the likes of mass isolation, radical business transformation, community engagement, government intervention on anything like the scale that we’re experiencing now. Staying motivated, focused, progressing (and well!) can be really challenging with all of this going on around us, whatever our circumstances. And it’s normal to find ourselves at some point feeling overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, frustrated or uncertain in response to the pandemic. What is so starkly different about this situation, is our usual strategies for coping and re-charging are in the most part on pause too. A daily visit to the gym, a meal out with friends, watching the game on Saturday, a weekend away: none of which are possible at this moment in time.
Right now, leaders and individuals need a new set of strategies to stay fully charged, powerful and present. A set of thinking habits that mean we can embrace what’s happening, accept it and find the courage to stay committed and thriving, even from our own living rooms!
1. It’s ok to be anxious
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many unexpecting organisations, leaders and individuals into a threatened and at times fearful place. Without knowing what exactly is coming next or when this will end, it’s understandable that for some the uncertainty is overwhelming.
Whilst no one likes feeling anxious, anxiety is a natural and primitive response warning us that we’re under threat. In fact, some 60-70% of the thoughts in an average adult brain are negative, for the sake of protecting us from danger.
Leading through anxiety
As leaders we need to embrace and role model that anxiety rippling around our teams and organisations is a normal and healthy response to the scale of what’s going on. Particularly as we begin adapting to our new surroundings.
In order to keep ourselves and our teams fully charged, we need to consider that Corona related anxiety is something we can live alongside without it paralysing us. We can be anxious and still do a great job.
Accepting that anxiety is going to be here for some if not all of us is an opening to bring it to the fore and to make it ok. Not to let it fester, distract and overwhelm our thinking. But to acknowledge it, share it, and then grant ourselves permission to enjoy and embrace what we can do right now without feeling pressured to ‘be ok’. Giving people time to share their concerns means they can move on to a more productive headspace and give time to being focused too.
Tips for leading through anxiety:
- Discuss it. And make it OK to discuss it. Invite people to discuss anxiety openly within your teams. Empower them to share concerns as a way of airing them and not being dominated by them, without fear of looking weak or negative.
- Listen don't fix. Listen, and acknowledge that people’s anxiety is real and reasonable. Help them to feel heard and understood by not jumping straight to fixing the problem.
- Open up. Ask questions to help one another work through your thinking and consider any possibilities that might help. Showing your own vulnerability can also help people open up and speak freely
2. Let go and embrace the present
The second habit of staying fully charged is letting go of control so that you can be really present to the here and now. As humans, we all share the same illusion that we are in some way controlling the world around us. That there’s a way ‘things should be’. We buy in to this sense of control so that life feels safe, predictable and organised.
The illusion of control
For leaders, not appearing in control is often likened to incompetence or lack of direction. But in truth, none of us knows what’s actually going to happen tomorrow and nor have we ever known. The pandemic we’re facing makes us feel like we’re more out of control than normal because so much in our lives has changed. The way ‘things should be’ have been undermined: our freedoms, our health, our livelihoods. Our perception of what life is like is being challenged and it somehow doesn’t seem fair. This can make us feel despondent and as though our goals, projects and ambitions are somewhat insignificant or irrelevant.
It may feel bleak to some of you reading this, as the structures and order that were holding your goals in place have been swiped from beneath you. That the control you thought you had is now gone. The good news is, this needn’t be the end of your goals or your energy!
To ‘let go’ of control we need the realisation that we have never actually been in control in the first place. What we’re experiencing when we think we or someone else is in control is actually commitment. The commitment to achieve something, to lead something, to enjoy something, to see something through. People see commitment and assume that a leader is in control. But in fact they’re just taking responsibility and showing the determination it takes to lead and succeed. And commitment doesn’t require any set of circumstances to make it possible, commitment is entirely in your hands.
The sense of losing control can be demoralising and frightening. We might become chaotic, disengaged or simply grind to a halt. But when we profoundly accept that we were never in control in the first place, a new option becomes available to us. We can get completely committed to what really matters, here and now. In the face of the pandemic, we can stop trying to control the longer term and get really focused and energised about what we need to do today, or this week, to thrive and make a difference. When we let go and focus only on the present and what’s directly in front of us, we are freed-up and empowered to take positive action. Every day is a fresh start and an opportunity.
Tips for letting go and being present:
- Make and share commitments. We can’t control what’s happening around us, but we can control how we respond. Rather than focusing on what ‘shouldn’t be’, focus on being a great leader by making and sharing commitments.
- Understand its okay to act in the here and now. Ask yourself, what can I achieve today that will make a difference? To your project, to your team, for yourself or for your community? Keep your planning short term to stay focused, energised and high impact.
3. Make time work for you
The final ingredient in staying fully charged in the face of the coronavirus pandemic is time. Something we’ve all complained there’s a lack of for what feels like forever! Time itself, like control, hasn’t actually changed at all: there have always been 24 hours in a day. But what has changed drastically is our perception of it. How we can spend our time has been transformed almost overnight and for a lot of us it’s not unlike being imprisoned in our homes. But it also throws down an opportunity that could come just once in our lifetime.
Because there are constraints on where we can go, we have the perception of more time. And the perception of more time brings with it a wonderful freedom to reinvent how we spend it. To innovate, to learn, to rest, to reflect, to connect, to be compassionate, to exercise, to teach, to help others in society. To consciously spend time and take time. To appreciate and maximise the time we have got as others around us so tragically lose theirs. We finally have the opportunity to stop and think and to spend our time wisely.
So spend it wisely…! Commit to that online course you’d been thinking about for ages, have longer chats with your friends and family, play with your kids, notice the view, be healthy, decorate the house and most of all, invest time in YOU. In the same breath, organisations and leaders are faced with the same choices of how to turn the current constraints into an opportunity. There might be time to design, innovate, re-organise and reflect.
There’s no doubt of the huge amount of uncertainty and sacrifice happening for people, leaders, teams and businesses all around the world. But we must seize the gift of time, seek opportunities and be generous with how we spend it.
Tips for seeking opportunity:
- Use 'downtime' at work to make Breakthroughs happen.
Consider what actions or initiatives would make the biggest difference to your team and your business performance. Prioritise these in any ‘down time’ at work to make the most of this opportunity.
- Ask your future-self what you wished you'd have done. Imagine yourself when the whole pandemic is over and all the constraints are lifted. What would you most wish you had spent your time doing? What would have made the most difference? and what story would you want to tell? Then, do it!
No one knows how long Covid-19 is going to impact our daily lives or our businesses. But whilst it is here, breakthroughs are going to be happening every day. Be it in the speed of developing a vaccine, manufacturing agility, digital communication and the way we lead through adversity, to name a few. As leaders and individuals we need to find ways to stay ‘fully charged’ so that we can maximise what’s possible both as people and organisations. Making the sum of our learnings, achievements and kindnesses a tribute to those that we will so sadly lose along the way.