To say we are facing unprecedented circumstances with COVID-19 is simply an understatement. How we respond, our reactions, and how we mentally manage this unique circumstance will be vital to our businesses, coworkers, families, and neighbors.
As leaders, we are called to restore calm, facilitate a sense of normalcy, and have a mental fortitude not to overreact to the news media. It also means we need to discern fact from fiction and not keep our head in the sand, so to speak, and be in denial. Most importantly, don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
The amygdala is part of the brain’s limbic system which processes our emotions and motivations, specifically those associated with our survival. The amygdala kicks in during times of stress and makes people respond more emotionally than rationally. This explains why you can’t find toilet paper in the grocery store right now. Many people are letting emotion rather than logic prevail.
Leaders cannot allow emotions to cloud their judgment. They have to provide clarity, hope, and optimism. Your job, as a leader, is to mitigate this natural amygdala response and get your people to understand the facts and behave more rationally. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Instill calmness. Provide your team the ability to create a variety of options in how they should respond to the threats of the COVID-19. If you are working remotely, set up a Zoom conference and ask your team to articulate the options by listing the pros and the cons. Ask them to mentally walk through a variety of scenarios based on each option. This allows people to think things through and not react to an emotional trigger. Equally important, leaders should instill a sense of optimism for the future. This means articulating a manageable way to get through the challenging times and a philosophy that “we are in it together.” We work better as a cohesive team than as independent individuals.
2) Create a sense of normalcy. We are in unique times and our new normal will certainly be different. We truly don’t know what that will look like six months or even a year from now. Help create a new normal by establishing new expectations, new processes and procedures. Ask your teams what the potential obstacles are and how we should address them. Once again, it is important for the team to provide critical and honest feedback which leads to authenticity and transparency. Leadership requires courage and the ability to make difficult yet wise decisions which enable others to have a sense of normalcy and life balance.
3) Discern fact from fiction. We live in a world where we are bombarded with news 24-7. Every moment, we can turn on the TV or radio or look at our smart phone and be overwhelmed with information. Leaders must sift through the noise and separate “emotional data” from “factual information.” Leaders must assess what we know versus what we don’t know and not be stuck in the proverbial paralysis by analysis. We hear words such as “Wintery advisory reports,” “Up to the minute storm reports,” and “Death toll of COVID 19,” and these phrases automatically trigger the amygdala, creating a flight or fight mentality. As leaders, we must gather actual data and formulate our own decisions. Yet, we must be careful not to make decisions in a vacuum or without consulting others. We all know three people’s thoughts/feedback are better than one. Thus, we should communicate with experts, our teams, and other influencers. Then ascertain their responses before we make final judgments.
Leaders who embrace this strategy tend to be more authentic and transparent with their teams, which leads to a higher level of trust, an alignment towards our vision, and a greater sense of confidence in managing the unknown future.