Barbara Hoese: Keep Calm and Carry On, Or What I Learned from Reading 50 Articles About Leading in a Crisis

By Barbara Hoese, Leadership Coach

As I write this, the Covid-19 outbreak continues to accelerate, and healthcare professionals are feeling torn between their natural instinct to help those infected and a fear of being overwhelmed—and infected themselves. As one health care leader shared,

“I’m torn between thinking that I am the best person to lead this response and just wanting to crawl into a hole with my Clorox wipes.”

These are scary and difficult times. How do you lead and not lose your head in this crisis?

Begin with yourself first. Feeling fear, frustration and anxiety is to be expected. In fact, the more quickly you acknowledge what you are feeling, and embrace its normality, the more likely you are to gain control and explore other emotions available to you. Take deep breaths to help you calm yourself and focus, which will allow you to take a broader view.

Research has demonstrated that how you are feeling is as infectious as this virus. It takes a fraction of a second for people to sense what you are feeling; in fact, it’s hard-wired in us to sense others’ feelings. Because you are a leader, people look to you for guidance, and your feelings are their first indicator of what is going on. If you show up fearful, fatigued and anxious, that will often be their response as well. If you show up with calm, compassion and hope, they may respond with similarly positive feelings.

How do you move to a place of hope and compassion? Here are some things you can do to help yourself become centered and feel in charge of your choices and how you show up in this crisis.

  • Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Step back and think about what you can do now to help yourself, your family, your patients and your colleagues. Write down at least three actions to take, and then do them.
  • Ask for support or assistance when you need it. Human beings are social beings. Draw on the strength of those bonds—with your colleagues, mentors, friends and family—to help you connect with your best self.
  • Manage your emotions. If you can’t talk about what you’re feeling, try writing. Expressing how you feel, whether aloud or in writing, helps you normalize those feelings. Remember that emotions move through you (note the word ‘motion’ within ‘emotions’) so you don’t have to stay stuck in what you are feeling now. You can choose positivity.
  • Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in difficult circumstances. You are a brilliant, talented health care provider and a very capable leader. You are wired with strengths to meet this challenge. How can you leverage your strengths to help you through this crisis?
  • Reconnect with your purpose. Now is an especially great time to find meaning in the work you are doing, in your leadership and in your life. Your purpose and values are what anchor you and help you find resilience. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote, “People with a sense of purpose face the worst crises and most difficult change with a sense of choice.” Living out your purpose can remind you that what you do matters and makes a difference.
  • Celebrate small (and big) wins. Response plans are changing rapidly, so it may feel as if you and your team are not accomplishing what you had planned. Intentionally look for, share, and celebrate each positive action or accomplishment. Recognising positive responses and celebrating their completion can be very rewarding and not just recharge your own batteries but refill your team’s energy bank as well.
  • Use the self-care techniques you know from experience will renew your energy and your leadership: exercise, eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, meditate, pause and practice deep breathing frequently. It may sound prosaic to write these down, but these suggestions keep coming up because they actually work!
  • Finally, take time away from work and distract yourself with a hobby, a great film or playing a game with your family. We all need to intentionally give ourselves mental, physical and emotional breaks from our work. They are the best antidote to the anxiety we all feel and can build our resilience now.

Leadership in challenging times is not easy. But it is also a valuable learning opportunity, although not one you asked for or anyone would wish for you. As Anne Mulcahy, former CEO and Chair of Xerox Corporation, once noted, “This is not a tidy world, and there are no precise answers. Leadership is defined by the complexity of the times and the challenges you face. Your leadership is defined by how you face these challenges. It is tough, and it is aspiring.”

As you navigate the coronavirus pandemic and managethe impact it is having on you, your team and the world, I hope you are inspired to be your best and to lead others in being and giving their best.

To learn more:

More COVID-19 resources

©Barbara Hoese • Pentecore Coaching, LLC 1.612.760.1624 •

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