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Leading and creating culture in times of Change / Crisis

DATE: March 26, 2020
AUTHOR: Laura Crothers Osborn

Spending the better part of the last few weeks on the phone with leaders of companies and HR departments, I see three critical actions for leaders in defining their cultures and leadership legacy.

  • Self-care. This is more than social distancing and hand washing. This is about keeping yourself as calm and centered in this complex time of COVID-19. There is a term, psychological soreness. You know how you feel the day after a new workout . . . the soreness in the muscles that you didn’t even know you had? Translate that feeling to your emotions and heart right now. It is the exhaustion you are feeling from the constant absorption of information. You are processing it all through multiple lenses . . . what does this mean for you, your family and business, your employees, a neighbor. It is exhausting and we’re only 2 weeks in. As everyone in our cultures engage in this long period of psychological soreness, I encourage you to find and share ways to unwind, disconnect, recharge your heart and head – meditate, exercise, read a good book, laugh with a friend on-line, play with your child, do something for others. Leaders are looked to and observed by their team to LEAD in these turbulent times, so you must put on your oxygen mask first and practice self-care.
  • Communicate, communicate some more, then communicate again. In a time when we are flooded with information, you will be tempted to think: I don’t need to tell them that, they already know, it was on the news, we talked about that a few days ago. You’re wrong, you do need to tell them again. Don’t hesitate to send one more email, text or call to touch base, individually and/or collectively. People crave someone else to interpret what is going on during these turbulent times along with another interpretation of what it can mean to them. When you communicate, tell them what you know at the moment. People are looking for direction from employers, so schedule a regular communication cadence during this COVID-19 period. It’s OK to say “this is what we know today and for today this is our plan.” Lead courageously and be vulnerable during this time and please Over Communicate. If you don’t they will start making up the story and the culture will be defined by the stories.
  • Empathize and connect with your team. I assure you that there is no one in your company that isn’t having a hard time right now. They are worried about family members who are compromised and/or perhaps they are worried about themselves. They are managing the chaos of having their children at home while they try to get work done and not getting to see an elderly parent in a retirement home. They are worried about their immediate future and their long-term future (i.e. income, retirement fund, job), even basic needs such as food, clothing & shelter (along with toilet paper, bleach and hand sanitizer).

They need you to check in on them, give them clear instruction and give them grace when they are under periods of psychological soreness themselves. They need you to understand that they are in COVID-19 chaos, doing the very best they can. Get on this rollercoaster ride beside them or take the front car. The majority of them will go on the ride with you and do what they can to get to the end of the ride safely and together.

As we all do what we can to flatten the curve of spreading the virus, let’s also do our best to lead ourselves and our teams courageously and with ❤. This leadership will continue to define your culture in this time of crisis.

March 28, 2020

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