"How do you want to be remembered?" This question jolted Bill* into a long silence during a recent coaching session.
As a brilliant CEO of an engineering firm, Bill had successfully steered companies through turbulent times before. To his surprise, the COVID-19 crisis had been like a punch in the stomach - it winded him.
He was angry, and it was showing when interacting with others. His behaviour ranged from avoidance and limited communication with his team to overworking and becoming exhausted, leading to abrupt and abrasive interactions at work and at home.
It took time, compassion and a meaningful question like "how do you want to be remembered?" to help slow Bill's racing mind. After a few more questions Bill was able to articulate his overwhelming emotions, which sounded very much like grief. In a way, he was relieved to come to this realisation.
When an activity requires more of our attention, such as dealing with strong emotions, it makes the cognitive load much heavier, taking up more attention space. Once Bill was able to view his behaviours as "byproducts of grief", he experienced an internal shift and the immediate reduction of overwhelm.
Together, we worked through feelings of deep sadness and loss of "what could've been" and instead accepted that EVERYTHING was changing, and will continue to change. Paradoxically, embracing this new reality was freeing for Bill.
Bill is now better able to focus on leading his organisation through the Covid-19 crisis, whilst we continue to work through his grief in more adaptive ways. This is a work-in-progress (as we all are). Some of the keys areas being covered in our coaching conversations summarised here:
- Safeguard the physical and psychological health of all employees as a priority. Make sure only evidence-based sources of information are used. These include the WHO and local health authorities (be mindful of local versus international requirements). Having the right information goes a long way towards reducing stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
- Go beyond resilience. Is it helpful to keep thinking of "bouncing back" when the crisis is over? That would imply that things will go back to the way they were, which is unlikely to be the case. Perhaps a better goal would be to build our capacity to adapt to a rapidly and constantly changing reality.
- The leader's character inspires others to follow. Use this time to review your values and build your character. It all begins with developing self-knowledge, which is the first pillar of the SCIENCE of Leadership coaching framework.
- Create resonant relationships for effective leadership and avoid burnout. Having the whole workforce work from home (WFH) is a new challenge for most senior leaders. Leaders need to be more mindful of communication within the limitations of a "virtual space" with all stakeholders. Poor relationships create stress and, when chronic, may lead to burnout.
- Leading through the crisis versus managing it. Leading involves guiding people to the best possible eventual outcome over this arc of time. That means seeing beyond the immediate to anticipate the next three, four, or five obstacles. Large organisations must set up multidisciplinary teams with a focus on coordination, collaboration, depth, breadth, access to information, ability to think outside the box, to take action, to execute and to communicate effectively.
- Building positive psychological capacity (PsyCap) within the organisation. This is comprised of building hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism in deliberate ways. Embedding PsyCap may be significantly improved by adopting a transformational leadership style and other key leadership capabilities.
*Bill is not a real person but rather, a composite of several clients. Clearly, we cannot disclose real life case studies to respect the confidentiality of our clients. Notwithstanding this, we hope you found this semi-fictional case study of benefit.
We'll continue sharing crucial information to help leaders be effective during these turbulent times, encouraging everyone to stay healthy, safe and connected. So please stay connected with us through our LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (links below).
Science will find the solution(s) to the pandemic. Kindness will get us through it. Together.
Please take great care and stay safe,
Ruby & Associates