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Leadership in times of Covid19

This is the first post of four, based on a talk I gave at the World ORT Educator Forum May 2020 on leadership and management in times of crisis.

Source: Touchbasepro

This post is about the implications of the crisis on people’s mental health and the role of a leader in addressing this challenge.
Feel free to subscribe and follow me in the journey of leadership. Hope you can find it beneficial. Please share your comments, ideas, suggestions and your own stories and experiences.

Source: Founder Institute

Although the Covid19 pandemic is a matter of public physical health  we found ourselves, as  leaders, having to deal with the mental health implications of this crisis.

The lock-down restrictions thrown many into a turmoil of emotions, mostly negative, some even found themselves going through stages of grief. Grieving the loss of freedom, routine, normal life, our coffee at Startbuck with a friend. Learning to accept those loses was part of the process of coping. ‘The strongest survives’. And who is the strongest? The crisis highlighted the need of resilience in leaders.  Resilience is like a roly-poly toy that whenever is pushed, no matter how hard, will always stand up, many times in unpredictable ways.

How do we do that? How do we, as leaders, continue leading when we may be stuck at one of those stages of grief of denial or anger or depression and cannot find ourselves able to stand up?

On a personal level, leaders have to ensure that they start with themselves so that they are able to make decisions and communicate in a calm and relaxed manner.  

  1. Look up for leaders that are ahead of the game. Even observing political leaders that may be stuck on one of the grief stages, is a reminder that we are all human. But there were some shining stars. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa delivered harsh news on restrictions and drastic lockdown in a warm and somehow humoristic ways. The manners in which they communicate during this crisis is something to learn from. 
  2. Reach out to your close network of friends, family and mentors for the mental support needed in this times.  
  3. Utilise the crisis as an opportunity for self-growth. All these courses/ podcasts/ books you kept on postponing due to lack of time. This pandemic and lock-down has given us time. So instead of filling this ‘space’ with non-conscious ‘binging’ on Netflix, utilise it for learning you always wished you’d do ‘if you only had the time’.

On a professional level, there are challenges of leading a team that some may be working from home and others not working, without knowing when they can come back to the office. Use this time to strengthen the organisation’s purpose and values;

  1. Remind yourself and team ‘why we are doing what we are doing’. Use the organisation’s vision and purpose as the “Northern Star’ to guide you through the uncertainty. At ORT SA, we reminded ourselves that ORT, which was established 140 years ago, went through crisis worse than today’s’ and yet it endured and evolved carrying on impacting the lives of people through education.
  2. Re look at your Values. Strong organisation’s values will serve you as anchors at this difficult times. If one of your values is increasing revenue and returns, you may need to review it as you may be setting your team for failure.
  3. Reflect on the organisation mission. What is the organisation doing? is it still relevant? how can the organisation provide solutions to Covid19 challenges? If the organisation is pivoting from the core purpose and changes how and what they are doing, it needs to be reflected in your mission statement. Create a ‘Covid19 Mission Statement’. ORT SA Covid19 Mission statement was the same with the addition of ORT2Connect the unconnected so we can continue fulfilling our mission which is making people employable and creating employment opportunities.

The fear and stress from catching the virus (especially if you are at high risk), fear from losing your job, fear from the unknown. People react differently to fear, some thrive under pressure and create amazing things but some find themselves paralysed without the ability to think, act, work, and make decision.

Be aware of this as a leader and be present. People are looking for leaders, not superheroes. Be the leader for others that you wish that you had.