Woman working from home - covid-19

Are you showing up as a leader during the Covid-19 pandemic? You might be wondering what you can do to practice leaderships skills in the current climate, and in the context you’re in – whether that’s working from home, or socially distanced in the real or virtual community. You are probably leading already! In this post, written to accompany a recent interview I had with Suzy Walker of Psychologies Magazine on Facebook Live, we discuss the importance of everyday leadership in troubled times. 

Suzy Walker: So how can we all show up as leaders in the face of this pandemic?

Palena: We know that leadership has evolved from more traditional models focused on a role with its accompanying authority, to the inclusion of influencing processes, and more recently, leadership involves relationships and interdependencies between people across levels. So, if we think about leadership as a positive influence process, by which we encourage others towards the achievement of common goals, we can see how we all have opportunities to lead – and we are all leading. Ken Blanchard (1999) put it beautifully: ‘You can be a leader as a parent, spouse, friend or citizen.’

Since the onset of the pandemic, we are all exercising leadership in our daily lives, and these leadership roles are even more prevalent and necessary during this pandemic. We have demonstrated leadership in organising ourselves, our families, and our organisations to comply with national calls for confinement and ‘lockdown’ in response to the global pandemic. We have taken on multiple roles that call upon our leadership – as professional, parent, caregiver, teacher, shopper, emotional support, and PR/communications – for employees, family and friends. Even our children have demonstrated leadership in quickly adapting to home-schooling and life-style changes – operating as teachers, learners, child-minders to younger siblings, carers, cooks, gardeners, entertainers or lunch monitors. All these various roles, and their management, involve building trust; acting with integrity; exercising innovation; encouraging, coaching and developing others and, of course, managing relationships. These are all key leadership interventions and expressions of leadership. We are all leading in our daily lives.

Suzy: What can we do, to lead for resilience?

Palena: As you know, there are many different definitions of resilience out there, from the common ‘bouncing back after an upset’ to achieving personal growth from trauma and tragedy. And we need to develop and demonstrate resilience in our leadership. Leaders of all kinds need to reassure, encourage and support employees, families, communities and nations to build resilience. This involves tapping into sources of hope, optimism and trust in order to build enthusiasm and momentum for the future.

Given the importance of resilience in times of crisis, I’d like to focus on strategies for leadership and resilience. To that end, I’d like to share 3 strategies that we, as leaders, can use to build resilience:

1. Celebrate success and focus on the positive:

Create uplifting moments by sharing positive stories to praise, celebrate and spread joy. Find the humour, where possible.

As an employer

  • Share positive stories of how your organisation is responding to the crisis.
  • What can you share about people successfully adapting to new ways of working?

As an individual and/or parent

  • Share a successful learning moment you had with your child.
  • Explain how you successfully managed to keep your toddler out of your zoom meeting!
  • For those of you who are living this alone: share your best entertainment strategy, thus far. Or your funniest lockdown moment!

Bringing intentionality to the positive and celebrating successes builds resources, spreads positivity, and offers tips and tools that are useful and uplifting for others. This is one way we can lead with resilience.

2. Help others. Or help people to help:

Helping others is a great way to improve one’s well-being and reduce stress. In the midst of crisis, help is needed, and people look for ways to contribute.

  • An employer – how is your organisation positioned to assist? Many companies have pivoted to assist in the crisis. For example, Rolls Royce, Dyson and Vauxhall Motors having adapted their production lines to make ventilators and their parts. Universities and schools are using their 3D printers to produce protective visors for healthcare workers, and Louis Vuitton and Chanel are producing hand sanitiser.
  • As an individual: What can you offer? Practical skills and help? Time? Advice? Resources like people, materials and equipment? Money? A beautiful example of an 11-year old showing leadership was a young girl who recognised her parents’ overwhelm and stepped in to schedule and organise her and her siblings’ learning. She made detailed plans for the day, allocating time for different subjects, exercise, break, and lunches. Or the Canadian boy scout (Quinn Roney) who used his 3D printer to create ear guards, so that medical staff wearing face masks don’t get sore ears by the end of their shifts.

Many volunteering opportunities exist. Who can you help? What can you do? Whether it’s you or your staff sewing face-masks for key workers and volunteers, shopping for elderly neighbours or running a call-line for lonely people – you, or people you know, can help.

3. Connect:

Human connection and community are even more important in turbulent times. Not least when social distancing and shielding leaves many people isolated and vulnerable. So, planning and/or participating in a community-building activity is a great way to connect.

We have seen great examples of innovative online connection – from zoom weddings and bar mitzvahs, remote book clubs, quarantine cocktails, virtual pub quizzes, online exercise and yoga classes. Or a universal ‘clap for carers’ – whereby people come to their doorsteps and applaud key workers at a given time each week; ‘sing at six’ – when a neighbourhood organises everyone to sing a certain song out of their windows or doors each night; or setting up community Facebook pages, chat groups and competitions. All create connection, combat isolation and create community.

So, what can you organise – either via social media or in real life?

Those are 3 very practical ways we, as leaders, can lead for resilience.

Suzy: How can we replenish our own reserves, for leadership?

Palena: Leadership reserves include our ‘resources’ a sense of confidence and self-efficacy; our hope, optimism, and belief that we will succeed now and in the future; our perseverance towards goals, and our resilience.

Replenishing these reserves is really about self-care – putting your oxygen mask on, first. This is something that leaders – especially women – are often not particularly good at doing. But now that we all have a much bigger leadership role, self-care is more important than ever.

My clients self-presenting as ‘busy leaders’ with ‘no time’ for self-care challenged me to come up with some replenishment strategies that take very little time but give a great return on investment.

Here are three of my favourites:

1. Celebrate your superpowers

At the end of your day, once you have closed your computer, grab a post-it and ask yourself:

  1. At the end of your day, once you have closed your computer, grab a post-it and ask yourself: What superpower am I most proud of using today? E.g. patience with my spouse and children; innovation in that Maths lesson I did with my child in the kitchen; my creativity in preparing that surprisingly tasty casserole out of bread, mustard, and potatoes because there wasn’t much in the house!

  2. Write your superpower down on a post-it and attach it to your computer (or bathroom mirror!) so you can start the next day reminded of one of your superpowers.

  3. Repeat, each day.
2. Practice acceptance – not comparison

As Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it: ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. Reading social media posts (or boasts) about people ‘doing it all – perfectly’ can trigger a negative spiral of doubt and inadequacy in some people.

  1. Take a break from Social Media (try a day, or if this is too much, a half-day)

  2. Rework Teddy R’s quote into a new mantra: ‘acceptance is the bearer of joy’ and when you next visit that site, make sure you have your new mantra in hand.
3. DO ‘no’ (move beyond just learning to say no, to actually doing no)

It is virtually impossible to say yes to everything. Furthermore, nobody wins if saying ‘yes’ compromises you, your work, and ultimately, your health. So, every day, as part of your morning routine, grab a post-it and answer this question:

  1. What do I choose NOT to do today? (bake homemade bread; conduct additional research for my son’s science project; send a second reminder to my team about the Friday deadline).

  2. Write it on a post-it.

  3. Rip it up and/or throw it out.

  4. Don’t do the thing!

  5. Enjoy the sense of achievement.

So, you have 3 simple, quick, and effective strategies for your leadership self-care tool-box. I invite you to give all these a try as you continue to lead yourself and others during this crisis (and beyond) – and please do let me know how they work for you.

Let’s show up as leaders and get through this together.

Stay safe!