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Is There Calm in This Pandemic Storm?

leadership transition Jan 18, 2022

- By Sophie Pinkoski

For so long now, we’ve been operating in crisis mode, responding to emergencies keeping us from moving forward with our lives.

Remaining caught up in a holding pattern of waiting for the worst of the pandemic to pass to return to a semblance of normalcy is no longer a viable option in the long term.

It’s time we pull out of our autopilot of simply surviving and shift to a new mindset to move forward in an environment of seemingly endless uncertainty. We need to make calm in this pandemic storm.

It’s uncertainty, however, that keeps us paralyzed, unable to move on to the next thing. The inability to predict even a few months from now makes it difficult to make any concrete strategic plans. That uncertainty has become exhausting in its own right.

When negative outcomes are more likely than anything else with no end to the pandemic in sight, it’s hard to keep morale within your organization.

It’s easy to slide into unhealthy mindsets in response to uncertainty, much of which revolves around the perception of control, or lack thereof.  

So how do we maintain control when so much is out of our hands? 

Find certainty in the uncertain – Think of it this way: the weather is an ever-changing aspect of our environment. In colder locations, we go for weeks, stuck at home during a snowstorm. But we always know it’s inevitably going to pass. So we find ways to work around adverse conditions, knowing it will subside. This notion of impermanence of our situation is key.

While the pandemic has taken away a great deal of our control, there will always be things still within our reach.

With long-term uncertainty, however, the only way forward is to embrace the uncertainty and build our decision-making around it. To do so, it’s important to identify the risks and implications that come with every decision you make. By assessing every option critically, you can build a flexible operating model that lets you adapt to change, rather than managing a rigid strategic plan. When you view setbacks as merely temporary, you’re more likely to succeed. 

Focus on your goals – Unprecedented times lead to unprecedented actions. Many of the traditional ways you’re used to running your organization are no longer an option, which is where innovation steps in. Reassess your big picture. What does your organization intend to achieve and what must be done to make it happen? We’re no longer in the stage of the pandemic dealing with immediate emergencies.

Waiting until the pandemic is over to resume working toward your biggest goals is actually counterproductive to your organization’s long-term success.

After all, anticipation is far more stressful than moments of action. Your team deserves to know your goals for the organization so they can bring their skills to the task. In short, this gives them a sense of purpose and reminds them why they’re involved in the organization in the first place. The forward momentum will be far more effective in the long run than no action at all. 

Lead with compassion to remind your team of their value – The daily grind of working amidst an unending pandemic means tensions are high, leading to a rise in anxiety and depression. It’s important to build resilience amongst your team by frequently letting individuals know that their skills are appreciated and needed. At the same time, you must lead them with defiance. The urge to fight or flight is strong, and now’s the time to fight. Build up your team members so that they know what they’re fighting for, instead of wading through the unknown. 

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable as a leader – Now is not the time for overconfidence. With so much information constantly changing, it’s impossible to have the answer to everything all the time. Be honest about what you do know and what you don’t. By talking about it with your team, it opens up the discussion of what can be done next. These conversations are crucial to avoid falling into an optimism bias–anticipating a certain date for things to go back to normal, rather than working with the current environment. Ignoring or burying the problem won’t make it go away, so bringing your doubts and concerns to the table allows your team to share their own concerns. By addressing those concerns, you can more easily identify what is still within your control. 

Accepting our current situation is challenging and often demoralizing, but with acceptance comes resilience.

By acknowledging long-term uncertainty, we can face it head on, and begin to build our lives around it.

There is power in rising up above the fear of the unknown. Keeping what’s in your control within your sights will lead you through the storm. 

Further Reading: 

Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty, Greater Good Magazine 

Covid-19: Confronting Uncertainty Through and Beyond the CrisisDeloitte 

When Nothing is Normal: Managing in Extreme Uncertainty, McKinsey 

Exhaustion from Uncertainty Fatigue/Feeling Helpless and Overwhelmedkickstartology.com  

“Coping with Covid-19-Induced Threats to self, Department of Psychology”, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Vol. 24, Issue 2, University of Maryland  

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted - And You Are Too, Harvard Business Review 


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