So, you get to lead your team—probably virtually—during the time of an international pandemic. Score! While it can seem incredibly daunting, and you likely have days when you’d like to just pull the covers over your head and tell the world to wake you up when the coast is clear, that’s not an option for most of us.
So what to do instead? Here are a few tips to help you be the leader your peeps are needing now.
“Virtual” doesn’t mean “remote”
Your team may be working from home, but don’t let them be “remote.” By that I mean do what you can to create a sense of community among your team members, and to let them know your (virtual) door is definitely open for them to share concerns both work-related and not. You may want to do some extra reaching out to check in on individual team members, especially the ones you are not hearing from much.
Feeling seen during times of high stress is even more important than usual. When someone does share a concern with you—especially a personal one—step 1 is to normalize it, meaning to let them know that you hear them and then share some version of “I can see how that would be frustrating/challenging” or similar. Resist the temptation to “fix” it for them. Your job in that moment is simply to be a sounding board. If it feels right, you can offer to do some brainstorming with them around possible solutions or work arounds.
If you are even halfway paying attention to the myriad articles available on managing a team during this time (spend a few minutes on LinkedIn if you’re curious), then you have seen this admonition all over the place.
THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.
You want to turn up the communication—from you, to you, and among team members. Besides making sure everyone is clear on their role, their projects, and what success looks like for each and every thing they are working on, also make room for the fact that each of your team members is a human being having a very human experience right now. Encourage the sharing of tips, resources, funny moments, etc. If you use a communication tool such as Slack, consider starting a channel reserved for this, so that everyone knows this is encouraged, but also that there is a specific place for it. At the same time, gently encourage people to focus on their jobs—that doing so can actually be a welcome “distraction” to everything else going on around them. Watch your language on this last one, as it’s a little tricky. You might start with your own experience of this, assuming it feels true for you. That way, you avoid sounding preachy about it.
Remind your team of their strengths, which are STILL PRESENT and more helpful now than ever. You can invite your team to share which of their own strengths they are finding particularly useful and share examples. If you haven’t done a strengths assessment, consider investing in one (I recommend CliftonStrengths by Gallup). It may sound odd to consider doing this now, but one could argue this actually is the perfect time, especially if there’s less work to do than usual. And, doing so signals to your team that you (and the other powers that be) value their contributions and have faith in them and in the organization over the long term.
I’m going to assume you already have regular 1:1’s with your team members. During these important meetings, be sure to check in to see how each person is doing personally. If you’re not a manager/leader who typically tracks your employees’ personal lives (relationship status, name of partner, etc.), I encourage you to develop this habit. Take notes if you need to—nothing wrong with that. If you need to make the 1:1’s slightly longer to accommodate this element of the agenda, then do it. It will return the investment of time and effort to you and your organization many times over in terms of loyalty and willingness to get the job done.
Take care of yourself (that’s an order)
Most of us don’t expect a flashlight to work properly if its batteries are depleted, so why would we expect ourselves to? Your team actually needs you at your best, or as close as you can get right now. So view this as part of your job description. The good news is, you probably know what to do, but just in case, here are a few reminders:
- Get enough sleep, which because we’re all stressed, may be more than usual
- Move your body multiple times during the day. Stand up at least every 30 minutes. A walk around the block can do wonders for making you feel better.
- Stay hydrated
- Model what it can look like to be taking care of oneself and be visible that you are doing so. Remind your team to do the same for themselves during the day. That could look like encouraging team members to spend 15 minutes 3 times a day in some kind of self-care: stretching, walking around the block, listening to music, meditating, reading pages from a favorite book, reaching out to a friend, etc. The more you make room for the very human experience we are all having, the more room your team will be able to create for themselves to bring their best self forward.
- Be patient with yourself. You get to have your own moments of overwhelm, too. Allowing yourself to have them and offering yourself the gift of patience can help you to empathize with team members who WILL be having their own “moments” from time to time.
- Note regarding your own overwhelm moments: despite the fact that you do get to have them, also remember that your people are always watching you. For more on that little topic, see my article here.
Let’s wrap this up
If ever there was a time when we need good leaders, this is definitely it. I invite you to choose to lean in, to step up, to call forth the best of your team and yourself. I’ll be rooting for you all the way!