As we all know, so much has changed over the last six months in ways we could never have imagined. We all talk about the impact this era of Covid has had on us, personally and professionally, over breakfast, lunch and dinner it seems. It’s the new opener to conversations and has even taken over from our British obsession with the weather – well almost!

Against this backdrop of an ever present threat/problem/fear – call it what we may – the demands of leadership have never been more acute or complex. The need to nurture our organisational cultures and buoy up the general mood and morale of our people, the imperative to crack on, pretty relentlessly, with the strategic responsibilities in ensuring ambition is retained, and that BAU carries on. This constitutes a massive set of responsibilities for leaders at all levels, but perhaps most particularly those in the Exec team.

No doubt the subject of leadership in a pandemic is the focus of many a white paper being researched and written as we type; there are already a raft of articles exploring the topic, and with good reason.

As one client put it today whilst we discussed our next phase of team development work together:

“It feels as though we’re at the end of the beginning’.

By this rather profound statement she meant that we have moved into a ‘second wave.’ Not in terms of COVID in this instance, but of a seemingly new phase we now face in organisations as employees continue to adjust to this new normal which no longer feels so new.

It reminded us the power of T.S. Eliot’s, Four Quartets…

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

As another Executive described it to us this week:

“It’s like we’re having to come out of the bunkers again, but this time there isn’t the adrenaline one experiences of ‘fight or flight’, now there’s even more ambiguity and uncertainty and the only certainty we have is that this is going to be a long haul of delivering BAU within the context of not knowing what’s around the corner. This is not short term”.

Sharing feelings as leader has become even more vital

In a recent article by Korn Ferry, they talk about the potential psychological implications of ‘burnout’ for employees due to the work-life imbalance created by the pandemic:

“Right now wellness isn’t about programs or activities… it is about “creating intimacy with employees to cut through the surface”.

Their suggestion is that leaders can help by ‘humanising the relationship’ and ‘sharing their own feelings about what they are dealing with’.

We have certainly seen this come to the fore in our own practice. In particular, during our workshops on Resilience and Managing the Emotions of Change, leaders have shared (with moving authenticity) their emotions, feelings, and vulnerabilities linked with the complexities of running a business at this time. As a result, the sessions have proved to be powerfully cathartic experiences:

‘As Managers, we have been so focussed on our teams’ wellbeing that I think this was an important and meaningful workshop which asked us to talk about our own emotions, in an incredibly challenging time’.

Using our networks wisely; finding our ‘safe space’

Whilst the sharing of feelings may sound straightforward, in reality this can be a very tricky balancing act for leaders in deciding how much they share with the wider organisation whilst driving the business forwards and maintaining confidence and a sense of equilibrium. This must be where the cohesiveness of the Executive team comes into play; if anywhere needs to be a safe haven then your core team should be it. Whilst a strong and unified team seems like an obvious necessity for any business, it has certainly become more intensified during this period. Through our virtual programmes, we have noticed an increase in the frequency in which teams are meeting and connecting specifically for that purpose. As one team put it:

‘Having more regular leadership meetings has provided us a forum to vent our frustrations and express ourselves in a way we might not have had the opportunity to do before. If there was any silver lining to come out of this pandemic, this deeper level of connection would be it’.

So, leaders, we will leave you with a couple of questions to reflect on and ponder….

  • Are you being brave enough in how you are sharing your feelings and your own needs?
  • Have you established a deeper level of connection enabling those more ‘meaningful’ conversations?