3 Winning Strategies to lead through COVID Uncertainty

by Cariona Neary

The rollercoaster of emotions we are all experiencing can make the task of leadership all the more challenging. And yet, this is a time when your leadership skills can make the significant difference. Right now, leaders need to help keep themselves and their teams focused, upbeat and productive. Undo any of these three elements and people become despondent and fight the small stuff, negatively affecting their own health and wellbeing as well as business outcomes.

#1 Strategy – Diagnose the Team Mood

Leadership in the Great Unknown
Image Courtesy Jonny Caspari

Are you seeing a drop off in performance or in the general mood, after the crazy but highly productive phase as we launched into COVID? There is no doubt that people pulled out all the stops at the beginning of the pandemic. People felt creative, energised and buzzed up by the speed of change. Are you now witnessing a level of detachment and tiredness creeping into your team’s mood? Often called ‘War Room Fatigue’, psychologists identify this as  the ‘Regression Phase’, when we seek to batten down the hatches and protect ourselves from the storm. As a leader, you may find that some of your team are hard to contact; others are just tired. You may also be feeling the same so make sure you put your oxygen mask on first because you are going to need all your strength to become a disruptor.

For further information on recognising the Regression Phase, check out HBR’s article on this topic.

#2 Lead through Uncertainty

Let’s hope you don’t think leading is about having all the answers or being right. Because this sure is one time you can forget about being ‘The All-Knowing’! Some leaders feel guilty about giving advice that subsequently proves to be wrong. Or you may be uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news all the time and so are tempted to get someone else to front up the negative messages. Worse still, you might hide behind written communications. Wrong! This is the time that CEO stands for Chief Empathy Advisor. If you get it wrong, apologise in person and give the correct advice. If you’ve bad news, this is the most important time to meet with your people – even if this is a remote session – and allow lots of time for questions and even venting.

# 3 Create a new Day One

In the absence of certainty about when we will emerge from this crisis, you need to disrupt the potential regression phase by creating a new ‘Day One’. Work on short term goals and build in agility and flexibility, to allow the plan to pivot in a new direction. Don’t waste a pandemic, a time when people view radical change as normal. This is a special opportunity for leaders to bring in valuable changes. One way that I work with companies to create Day One focus is to use Sprints, lasting three weeks, to focus on testing a new behaviour/policy/initiative. Create energy around the Sprint event, bring your most senior stakeholders to help you launch your Sprint. Support your team through the sprint phase and then involve everyone in the debrief: what worked, what could have been better, what do we want to embed as our new practice?

Cariona Neary specialises in Marketing Strategy and Leadership