Leading People Through Covid-19 Surges—Again and Again and Again
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Leading People Through Covid-19 Surges—Again and Again and Again

Leading People Through Covid-19 Surges—Again and Again and Again


“Are we there yet? Is the pandemic over? Can we get out of the car now without a mask on?”

This has become my running joke, always asked in the exaggerated voice of a bored child in the back seat of a car. While it’s obvious that I have no second career as a comedian (to say the least), do you find that you’re starting to feel the same way?

Every major change sends us through three stages: Losses & Endings, Transition, and New Beginnings. The tricky part is that these stages are only roughly in order, not perfectly sequential, and Transition is by far the longest.

And the pandemic, while one of the biggest global changes of our lifetimes, is hardly the only big change impacting people’s lives. You and your people may be feeling sad, tired, agitated, angry, inspired, and hopeful—all in the course of a single day.

So how on earth do you lead people who are going through all of this, while also going through it yourself?

Lead with empathy

This pandemic has a very, very long Transition stage, which is likely to last 2 – 3 more years.

It’s your empathy, not your intellect, that will allow you to read the signals that indicate what they need from you to remain focused, hopeful, connected, and productive over this long period of time. By understanding how they feel and what’s going on in their lives, you can choose helpful leadership behaviors.

You won’t be alone. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s obsession with empathy is well known. He has been increasing his own and others’ empathy over the past five years, as a means of driving innovation, another significant benefit.

But this isn’t just unique to Microsoft. Stanford professor Shirzad Chamine and his research team conducted a factor analysis of over 500,000 people across multiple studies. They found empathy to be one of only five positive habits correlated with both the highest performance and personal happiness.

There used to be a widespread belief that empathizing with others was the opposite of getting results, that empathy would cause leaders to get less out of their teams. However, it turns out these are, in fact, not opposing mental forces. Empathy is a necessary enabler, and the more your team is experiencing crisis and pressure, the more vital it becomes.

Five Ways to Improve Your Empathy

There are dozens of techniques to improve empathy. Here are several that I’ve found work well for nearly anyone looking to improve this vital skill.

Think like a communication detective: watch closely and listen for cues about how the person feels, not just what they are saying.

  1. Acknowledge their feelings, or that the situation is difficult.
  2. Ask what is most challenging in their lives right now, and problem-solve together on ways you or the company can help.
  3. Listen carefully. Each time you find yourself thinking about your response instead of listening to what they’re saying, tell that unhelpful thought to buzz off, and refocus your attention on the person speaking.
  4. Give empathy to yourself, too. Not empathizing with your own feelings makes you less empathetic toward others.

Empathy is like any other skill. Practice it every day and you’ll be much better at it in a month, even better in a quarter, and astoundingly good in a year, even if today you are not very empathetic at all. It’s a muscle that needs to be worked out regularly in order to get stronger.

Go work that muscle!

If you’d like to use the most effective tools to lead people through this enormous time of change, you can complete my two-hour webinar, Covid-19: Secrets to Lead Your People Through the Emotional Upheaval of the Crisis, at https://www.illumeo.com/courses/covid-19-secrets-lead-your-people-through-emotional-upheaval-crisis.

The course provides two CPE credits for the following licenses and certifications:

  • CPA
  • CPD-IES7
  • CMA
  • CFE
  • CIA
  • CRMA

You can purchase the course a la carte, but please check with your employer first, because many companies already have Illumeo subscriptions to meet their employees’ CPE needs.