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Leadership at a Distance

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The Coronavirus threat has changed things -- and I'm not just talking about the TP shortage at your local big box store. Whether you're still headed to the office each day or you've set up shop at home, leading at a distance -- real or virtual -- takes extra effort. And the general uneasiness from this ever-evolving pandemic adds a whole new dynamic to the role of leader.

Here are three strategies for leading effectively during these unusual times. All are practices you may want to continue beyond the life cycle of Covid-19.

1. Use goals to set up new routines.

People's routines are all messed up. Access to places is limited; some are closed. It's weird to see empty shelves in our grocery stores. Kids are home from school. Our lives are full of routine -- and those routines have been disrupted. When our routines are interrupted, it can be hard to stay productive and focused. This is true at work, as well as at home. Routines help us stay grounded and bring us comfort. Familiarity of people and places helps us feel safe.

Leaders can support their people by helping them set interim routines. Start by reviewing personal and professional goals. Look at the 'normal' routines and how those behaviors support the person's goals -- then find ways to honor the spirit of the old routine in a new way. You might find that a 'normal' routine is not aligned with the person's goals, and an 'interim' routine may become a permanent replacement. You may also find it hard to replace some routines.

For example, I have a fitness goal -- but my gym is closed. My 6 am class is not happening, so my 5 am wake-up has gone by the wayside. The gym is providing workouts for at home, but I've never been good at working out at home consistently -- which is why I joined the gym in the first place. I had also been eating according to a meal plan, but with the store situation, it's been hard to find certain foods consistently.

Still, I have a goal, so I've been working on adjusting my routine. My new routine is like my old one: wake at a consistent time, do the workout and/or take a walk during the day (weather permitting), plan my food week to week with adjustments based on what's available, and get to bed at a decent hour each night. They are basically the same behaviors with some tweaks to match the new reality. I may not achieve my goal as fast as I'd originally hoped, but I'm still doing the activities needed to get me there.

For people who are now working at home, they may have difficulty "getting to work" each day now that they don't have an actual commute, other than to their kitchen table or home office. Your commute to work, whether 5 minutes or 50, can be a time of reflection and planning both before and after the workday. What creative ways can you find to replace the routine of your commute? A short drive around the neighborhood? Some quiet time in your easy chair thinking about the day? Could be as simple as using a travel mug for morning coffee even if you're staying at home.

Remember, routines help us stay grounded and to feel safe. When old routines are disrupted, people feel even more uneasy.

2. Check in every day.

You may not talk to all your employees every day when you are in the office. You may even prefer to let them come to you when they need help. But connecting with your people every day -- both those at the office and those working from home or elsewhere -- is essential.

You don't have to talk about the pandemic, though some employees may need to. You may be the one person they can let down their guard around when it comes to the pandemic -- someone they don't have to be strong for and can share their real feelings with. That said, you can take the pandemic discussion to positive place. I know a lot of people who are using their downtime to figure out their plans for after the pandemic -- what dreams or goals they'll pursue -- because life is too short to keep waiting for someday.

Work tasks, projects and goals are always good topics. But if the pace of work is slowing, consider finding some online or distance learning opportunities. Some colleges offer free online courses, you could watch and discuss TED talks (TED.com), and there is always a new book to read and discuss.

And as uncomfortable as it might be, consider transitioning from telephone to video chat. Most services are free for 1:1 or small group conversations. Video changes the dynamic. It offers a way to express empathy and concern in a way that can't be conveyed on any other platform. Talking over the phone has some distance to it, but video brings the conversation up-close and makes it more personal.

Whatever the platform, make your check-ins meaningful -- not only by asking your employees what would be meaningful for them, but by having a plan for each day. Maybe use Mondays to get settled in for the week or Thursdays as development day. Whatever you decide, find a routine that works.

3. Hunt the good stuff.

I learned this phrase from my husband when he was deployed overseas with the National Guard. I was bummed about something, I don't remember what. He empathized, but then encouraged me to "hunt the good stuff" -- a practice he'd taught his soldiers in their resilience training. Let's face it. We have plenty to be bummed about -- and that's without talking about the rising infection rates, the death toll, or the TP shortage. But we have good stuff, too. You simply have to look for it.

The good stuff is in the health of our family & friends, finding what we need at the grocery store and adapting to working differently. It's your little girl tugging on your shirt sleeve, wondering when you can take a break, or discovering a new favorite TV show. Any time you make the most of the situation, count that as a win. Like sitting in the sunshine, enjoying a bonfire on a Friday afternoon, talking & being together somewhere other than the living room.

Gratitude -- anything you're grateful for -- works as good stuff, as does anything that brings joy or love. It can be as simple as playing with a pet, coloring pictures virtually with the grand kids, or finally passing that level on whatever game you're playing on your phone. You know the feeling -- but we don't always take time to let it land. That's what hunting the good stuff is all about. It's about feeling good, happy, joyful in the midst of uncertainty.
For leaders, hunting the good stuff is an opportunity to lead by example -- and to build resilience in yourself and others. When it comes to leadership, everything you say and do matters. When you find, celebrate, and share the good stuff in your own life, those you lead will learn to do the same.

Building new routines, checking-in every day, and hunting the good stuff: three strategies for leading effectively during these unusual times. Your people need you, more than ever, to not just manage the work, but to offer some level of stability. These practices will help you do just that.

Photo used with permission from 123rf.com

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Monday, 01 June 2020