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How to lead in the time of a pandemic

I discovered recently while preparing to deliver a keynote on the new face of leadership, that Amazon has over 60,000 leadership book titles currently available.

Good grief.

Why should that be so?

Is leadership such a difficult or complex subject that we need to have so much written on the topic?
Are most of these mere rehashes of previous ideas with a few extra forgettable anagrams and opinions?
Do leaders actually buy any of these books for themselves or take note of the content?

That said, leadership in the time of a pandemic has to be different because:

There is no playbook on what’s best practice for dealing with a novel virus.
There is no known timeline for how long it will take to come out of the crisis.
The situation remains fluid, with the virus seemingly always at least one step ahead of where we thought we were.
There has been no opportunity to simulate, practice emergency drills or formulate policies and procedures to predetermine what to expect or predict the outcome to be.

What we can do is to adopt a flexible, adaptive approach that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers, where we remain aware of the need to maintain vigilance, and to update or change our response as more information and understanding comes to light.

Traditionally we have berated our leaders and politicians for changing their mind or for breaking an election promise. But this is exactly what needs to happen when we are learning more every day, where the situation is changing rapidly and when our assailant the virus continues to mutate and change the rules of the game.

Fortunately, our brains that are massively plastic are more than capable of helping us to change our mind, rewiring to meet the ever-changing needs of our environment.

Effective leadership today requires each and every one of us to step up to consider:

  • What do I need to find out more about, change, let go of to be most effective in managing what’s happening in the present moment?
  • How can I be best prepared for a post-Covid world?
 

There are six facets to include:

1. Tune in to your reality.

How has the pandemic affected you, your health, your relationships, your financial situation?
How have the changes to your work pattern, study, socialising changed what you feel is important to you now and for your future?
Has the pandemic shifted your goalposts of expectation and dreams?

Accepting your situation, regardless of whether you see it as good, bad or indifferent provides you with a base point to compare to in 3-or-6 months’ time.

If you’ve packed on a few Covid kilos, recognise you’re in poor shape because you stopped going to the gym 15 months ago and you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills because you’re now in the “underemployed” group, what can you be doing differently to improve the situation?

 

2. Choose the right props.

We all have a range of different props, those rituals, routines and past times that help us to stay sane and level-headed because they provide us with a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation.

What have you found helpful to get you ready for your day? Do you have a pattern of exercise or meditation, or simply aim to get enough sleep?

 

3. Dial down the noise.

I need to book myself a hearing check. Being exposed to the cacophony of noise, the perpetual drum of negative news over the prolonged period of time of the pandemic has been deafening.

This is where being selective about your sources of information, how often you choose to listen and ensuring you take a regular break from all the updates, news alerts and general bad news is essential to protect you from falling into the slippery downward spiral of negativity, anxiety or depression.

 

4. Engage in regular self-care.

If work, your kids and all your other commitments currently take priority, it’s time to include yourself in the mix. You cannot give from an empty bucket. Which is why taking the opportunities that you have represented to you every day matter. The science has shown how your choice of food, your level of physical activity, the quality and quantity of sleep make an enormous difference to your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

It’s not about being perfect. Rather acknowledging that as a human we can choose to optimise our thinking, our mood and performance by taking better care of ourselves.

 

5. Mind your mind.

Your mental wellbeing is essential to how you show up every day. What strategies do you have in place that support your mental health and fitness? Do you seek to spend time with people who lift your spirits and make you smile? Do you engage in those activities that make you feel good, relaxed and less stressed? Whether it’s taking a walk in the park, going for a cycle ride, listening to music or undertaking a meditation practice – they all contribute to you enjoying a more positive state of mind.

 

6. Choose the right mindset.

Your mindset is your set of beliefs around your capabilities, and how you choose to respond to the world. It’s shaped by your experiences and who you got to hang out with as a small child, meaning your parents had a huge influence here.

You may have noticed how your mindset varies according to the situation. You may be more fixed in your outlook in some domains compared to others. Neither is right or wrong. It’s about being aware that if you are very fixed in your world perspective you may be missing out on seeing the various options and alternatives that allow you to broaden your perspective and find the best way to solve a particular problem.

Having a level of realistic optimism is where you appreciate the difficulty or danger the world is facing and while you know the crisis will eventually pass, you expect the way forward will be littered with obstacles and setbacks. But by being prepared for these, along with knowing that we have to update what we think we know to be true and to be willing to accept that we will make mistakes along the way, it becomes easier to find the amount of tenacity and perseverance required to get to safely to the other side.

 

Leadership. 

When you start by getting better at knowing how to lead yourself, you are then seen as someone worth following. You’re seen as real, authentic, or as Brene Brown would describe as being “wholehearted.” 

You can stand firm in your convictions, accept there will be mistakes made, remain curious to learn what could be done better and to always come from a place where whether delivering the burden of bad news or making what is expected to be an unpopular decision, you are acting with the best interest of others at heart.

How do you see leadership changing during the pandemic?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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