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How Leaders Are Leading Change

Leadership and Coping with COVID-19

April 23, 2020

One of the biggest concerns from this pandemic and the related quarantine requirements is loneliness. Before COVID-19, loneliness was a societal issue. It will only get worse. Vivek Murthy, the 19th U. S. Surgeon General, has been beating the drum of the significance of loneliness for years. Murthy’s new book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, stresses how social isolation or loneliness is a more serious health problem than opiates. “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity … People who struggle with loneliness have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.”

Murthy is also concerned that with social distancing, we will increase the loneliness we’re experiencing and incur a “social recession” as a result of being separated from each other for so long. If this is true, leaders need to help employees navigate their emotions to function and be healthy during this time.

Supporting Employees During Times of Uncertainty

Arianna Huffington is the founder of Thrive Global, a company that provides behavior change technology to support individuals struggling with stress and burnout. Her team has been in conversations with company leaders from a variety of industries. What they’ve heard magnified the results of their survey of 5,000 Americans: “people are craving strong leadership and clear communication. Nearly 90% of employees feel that employers need to be doing more than just implementing travel bans and/or work-from-home policies to properly address coronavirus-related challenges.” We are getting used to virtual meetings and virtual learning. But as one leadership coach says, “Remember that IRL (in real time) is as important as URL.”

One company leading the charge is Salesforce. They created a weekly newsletter with leadership, tips and resources to help employees manage through the crisis.

Last month, CEO Marc Benioff started a daily mental health call for his 50,000 employees to address the stress they may be experiencing. During this pandemic, Salesforce has focused its efforts in five main areas:

  • Open communication channels
  • Digitize processes to make “work from anywhere” easier
  • Use tools that make collaboration seamless
  • Make it easy to find information fast
  • Take care of employees whose jobs can’t be remote

Cisco is another company to benchmark because of the huge demands being place in their industry. Cisco makes networking equipment and the demand for its Webex video conferencing system has gone through the roof. CEO Chuck Robbins said, “None of this technology was designed to support the entire world working from home … The Webex teams haven’t slept in days.” Robbins also has organized conference calls between mental health professionals and Cisco employees to provide answers to their questions because of the new work restrictions.

In a recent New York Times article about how CEOs are handling the current situation, some of the themes that emerged emphasized practices I believe should be normal for creating a culture where people want to work. Leaders need to:

  • Lead by example. You are always being watched.
  • Demonstrate compassion and empathy. People want to know you care and understand their situation.
  • Be visible and accessible. The tendency is to hide.
  • Communicate in a variety of ways. When you think you have shared the message enough, say it again in a different way.
  • Listen. We often want to fix things. This is also the time to listen.
  • Connect. Reach out as often as possible.
  • Model resilience. Self-care and staying grounded helps keep the ego in check.
  • Live your legacy. Daily actions and decisions will be what people remember about you.

Most importantly, leaders need to realize we are grieving for what used to be normal. Learning how to cope with death and dying is an important leadership skill not taught in business schools or workshops. People are dying. Industries and companies, too. People are losing jobs and unemployment is peaking. With loss comes a lot of grief which affects productivity, satisfaction and happiness. As Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford University Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”

Find more information on legacy at jannfreed.com.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Find these tips useful? Find more business tools and information by visiting the Business Resources page.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D. is a leadership development and change management consultant with The Genysys Group. She is also the author of Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts.