Across the world, people are making extraordinarily difficult decisions that there's no rulebook or benchmark for. And they're making these decisions at breathtaking speed – because time isn't a friend in a Covid-19 world, and the survival of businesses depends on us being capable of acting fast and making the right choices.
The very human, mental toll of this is pretty indescribable. It’s not just one business that’s being crippled by Covid-19; it’s almost every business. It’s not just one leader or manager having a hard time; it’s almost every leader and manager.
Nothing is normal about what people are experiencing right now.
It feels to us like the focus of much of the attention to date has been on employees – in many ways, rightly – because good people do not deserve to be furloughed, laid off or made redundant, and to have their livelihoods ripped from them for reasons wholly disconnected with their performance or potential.
But there’s another group that’s suffering horribly too – those who haven't been furloughed and who remain ‘responsible’ for the toughest decisions (blamed for them, even), and who must continue to work, often twice as hard and with fewer resources and help, to keep the lights on.
These leaders and managers, who are simultaneously grappling with the challenges of isolation, childcare and home-schooling, caring responsibilities, sickness and the loss of loved ones, must at the same time lead and manage like war-time leaders, making impossible choices and staying mentally alert and focused.
In this episode of our Covid-19 rapid-fire video series, we speak to Cresano Consulting’s inimitable Tracey Gray, expert in supporting leaders and managers in times of transformation and challenge, enabling emotions and feelings to play a critical part in leadership – because much of what we're all feeling right now are emotions linked to a sense of grief for what was.
Tracey’s advice is essential listening. Here we interrupt her hugely busy schedule to interrogate her on how to frame the current Covid-19 environment so that, as leaders and managers, we can see things in perspective and apply the right methods to stay strong, be accepting of our emotions, and plan to lead our teams and businesses beyond survival mode and once more into success.
How are we showing up as leaders and managers in tackling the challenges of Covid-19?
The first question we asked Tracey was about behaviour, in the clip below, Tracey describes what her clients are experiencing, and she narrates several key framework models that help us to contextualise this experience.
We particularly love her very human-focused explanations of Barrett’s 7 levels and the Iceberg slide.
Her advice to focus on the immediate next period was also super useful: how to do that well, and how to re-evaluate whether the corporate mission that guided your business when it started 2020 is the right version of the mission for right now.
Having clarity on these factors, as Tracey says, helps to drive balance, anchors people, and enables leaders and managers, as well as those they're responsible for, to move forwards constructively and more positively.
How we get back to being ‘Above the Line’ leaders, with all that that entails in Covid-19
Tracey is well known in the corporate world for guiding leaders and managers so they retain ‘Above the Line’ leadership characteristics and practices.
But she’s also very realistic about the fact that however good you are, and however well-meaning your intentions, we all fall ‘Below the Line’ sometimes and experience sentiments and behaviour that's necessary but unhealthy if allowed to fester for too long – especially as it can be very attractive to stay there and blame/pass responsibility for fixing the hard stuff to someone else.
Covid-19 has tipped almost all of us into ‘Below the Line’ traits. Tracey talks us through the context of this, reassures us that this is unavoidable, and discusses how we get back to being ‘Above the Line’ leaders with all that that entails in Covid-19
Where can we go, as leaders and managers, for strength and inspiration?
So, we know that managers and leaders will go below the line. But, even accepting that, how do we get ourselves back on track?
Our final question to Tracey focused on how we can cultivate the right mindset, and where we can go for strength and inspiration as leaders and managers.
Massive thanks to Tracey for the content contained in this blog.
To find out more about Cresano, please visit Tracey’s website.
How to stay positive and strong - some final tips, based on our conversation with Tracey
Be clear on whether your mission for the next 3 months is the same mission or needs to change, at least temporarily. Galvanise people behind a clear sense of collective purpose for the weeks and months ahead. You’ll likely find your own immediate purpose there too. Why we exist, for ourselves, our business, and our customers, right now, are vital questions to answer so that we can power forward in the right direction and with realistic prospects of success
Keep your routine as far as you can; and where you can’t, substitute it with something suitable, so you still have a sense of timing, progress and achievement through your day
Be kind – to yourself (in not beating yourself up for the tough stuff, the moments where you don’t know the answers, the mistakes or the things you wish you’d done better) and to others (don’t judge; we will all handle what’s happening in our own individual ways, and we all need some slack in digesting what it means for us and how we will each choose to respond to it)
Check in with colleagues and with your friends; goofy and funny moments are fine, as are serious conversations when they’re needed or appropriate. As Tracey reminds us, we’re all dealing with these circumstances in our own, different ways. Staying connected is what matters. It’s the little things, the thoughtful reach-outs and, of course, the laughter where we can find it that often bind us far more than the big conversations
Give yourself headspace; be creative: cook, paint, read, hammer nails into something, whisk eggs like a fiend – whatever works. Have something tangible to show for your time... and then share what you’ve created with others...
Even when you don’t feel like connecting or focusing on something, or even getting out of bed, make the effort – you’ll feel better for it. Defiance is stronger and more productive than defeat
Address the challenges head on – don’t delay them... progress only comes once obstacles have been quantified and tackled
Be honest about the stuff that’s tough. Share it. You’re not alone... We personally love the current trending analogy between small businesses in times of Covid-19 and the heroic and determined Dunkirk little boats in 1940. Individually, we will struggle and many of us risk sinking but, together, by ‘joining oars’, by sharing knowledge between us, and by surging forward united, defiant and with an overridingly clear sense of purpose, we can achieve very powerful things
Good read extras:
If you enjoyed Tracey’s session and would like to read more on the topic, here’s the Harvard Business Review article that she mentions in the above video session:
Also worth a watch/read are the following:
Celeste Headlee’s witty but very practical TedTalk on 10 ways to have a better conversation, including when you’re really not feeling that you have the energy (or the answers) for it
The Enterprisers Project’s nice read on how to help your employees feel psychologically safe in these times; helping to ensure honest and open conversations, leading to stronger teams and better responses to crisis situations
The above are all good for a listen while you’re walking the dog or going for a run to escape your flatmates, or making tea for the kids (and needing to drown out the mayhem and ignore the paint/chocolate croissant smeared up the walls) for a few minutes!