Pandemic Leadership: Find Your Focus

Pandemic Leadership: Find Your Focus

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting our world, nation, communities, workplaces, and families, as Angela Duckworth says, “If you’re not stressed right now, you’re not alive!”  That does not mean that we must become victims of the stress, anxiety and fear that are currently front and center in many of our lives. As leaders, we must be in tune with how we, ourselves, are feeling, how our staff members are feeling, and how to get the support we and others may need.  Find your own focus to get through stressful times.

What is the Difference Between Stress, Anxiety and Fear? 

They may feel the same at times; however, they are quite different.

Definition of Stress:  There are several definitions, however, for this blog, the most relevant definition is: “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

With the shock and uncertainty that have rocked our world, it is no wonder most of us are experiencing some form of stress.  As companies are moving forward with “getting back to work,” most are dealing with how to keep their staff members Physically and Psychologically Safe, which leads to stress for the leaders of the company and the staff members. 

Here is an interesting article from Alexander Alonso for CNN Business regarding the future of work after the coronavirus pandemic. 

This article suggests “the importance for a strong CHRO (Chief Human Resource Officer),” meaning, once again, it is all about the people!  All of us have to learn to adapt to our new world and learn how to support our staff members. We must help them not only survive, but thrive through the changes, while they continue to work so the business can also survive and thrive.  Leaders must be agile and constantly looking to support their staff members to serve their customers. Leaders must be present and hands-on during this time of uncertainty to create confidence and build trust.  They must be willing to listen, check in with their staff members weekly (or at least bi-weekly,) meet with their staff face to face (with a mask) or virtually, one on one, to check in and let them know they are there for support and appreciate all they do. 

Touch Base with your Staff

Here are some questions leaders can use to check in with their staff members and build strong relationships, trust, and confidence in the leadership of their organization:   

  • What thoughts are running through your mind today?
  • How are those thoughts impacting you?
  • What are you in control of right now?
  • What does physical safety mean to you?
  • How can you create a sense of physical safety for yourself and our team during this pandemic?
  • What does psychological safety mean to you?
  • How can you create more psychological safety for yourself and our team?
  • Would professional help/support be beneficial?
  • How can I help you get the support/professional support you need?
  • What suggestions do you have that may be beneficial to our staff and the people we serve?

By engaging the staff members with ideas for the organization and their team, they will focus on problem solving versus the stress of these uncertain circumstances.  Leaders must be in tune with their team and demonstrate high levels of Emotional Intelligence. 

Stress and Remote Work

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently found:

  • 71% of employers are struggling to adjust to remote work
  • 65% say maintaining employee morale has been a challenge
  • More than 1/3 are facing difficulties with company culture

Remote work, morale and the company culture, are all people-relatedLeaders will absolutely need to be on top of these three potential challenges along with the stress, anxiety and fear that may have shown up the last two months, may be showing up again with the re-opening of businesses, along with the roller coaster of emotions around the uncertainty and unknown factors of the future. 

Anxiety and Its Impact

Let’s move onto Anxiety in the workplace, what it is, how to identify it and what to do as a leader. 


Definition of Anxiety:  All of these definitions are applicable right now!

  1. “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” (Wondering, what will tomorrow bring?)
  2. “Desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.” (Going back to work at the office, going to the grocery store.)
  3. “A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”  (Creating physical responses:  feeling cold, irregular breathing, and a rapid pulse.)

Many of my clients have shared with me that they have experienced some of the physical responses and did not realize until we talked what was causing those physical symptoms.  All caused by the Anxiety of the Pandemic itself.  Most of it related to the unknown and feeling out of control of our immediate environment. 

So the key difference, from my perspective, between Stress and Anxiety is that Stress is more mental and emotional where Anxiety can create a physical response on the body.  Leaders need to be paying attention to their own responses along with their staff members’ responses and get the support needed.

Fear and Overcoming It

Finally, what about FEAR?  What is the definition and how does it show up in the workplace?

Definition of Fear: “An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”

I would say there is fear around contracting the Coronavirus.  There is so much information around COVID-19, the news continues to focus on the number of people who have contracted the virus and the number of deaths.  In the state of Colorado, it has just been reported that these numbers are inaccurate.  Anyone who dies is being tested for COVID-19; if the test is positive, whether they died from the virus or a car crash, they are being added into the numbers of COVID deaths.  As we all know, there are many who are carriers of the virus with no apparent symptoms.  Very interesting!  So, a lot of the information being reported may or may be true, and the larger the numbers, the more fear those numbers can create for many of us.  Limit the number of hours you are spending researching this Pandemic. 

One of my favorite acronyms for F.E.A.R is:  False Evidence Appearing Real

The Solution is:  Face Everything And Rise 

Fear can paralyze us mentally, physically, and emotionally.  When this happens, we are functioning in our Sympathetic Nervous System.  This is where the Flight, Fight or Freeze response can be triggered.  Our decision-making capability basically disappears, and we move into survival mode.  Position, Title, etc. does not matter, this can happen to leaders and their staff members.  This can be devastating to the entire staff and impact the organizations ability to deliver their product. 

Working Through Negative Emotions

So, how do we as leaders work through the Stress, Anxiety and Fear for ourselves and our staff members?

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask questions to guide them out of their fight, flight or freeze response and back into their rational brain, so they can problem solve versus react (Examples shared above)
  • Allow them to share their concerns, feelings, and emotions about the pandemic and anything else that might be bothering them
  • Focus on bringing them into the Present Moment
    • Focus on taking 10 deep breaths – Taking 10 deep breaths can shift people from the Sympathetic Nervous System, back into the Parasympathetic Nervous System
    • Noticing & Acknowledging current reactions & emotions
    • Not judging what is happening as good or bad
    • Guide them to focus on what they are in control of right now
  • If necessary, help them get the professional support they need
  • Practice Emotional Intelligence
  • Demonstrate Compassion & Empathy
  • Stay connected with your staff
  • Stay connected with the families you are serving
  • Stay connected with your community
  • Great Opportunity to Educate & Elevate! 

As leaders, we have an opportunity to Find our Focus by being self-aware of what we are experiencing and processing those experiences effectively and supporting our staff members, by being the Light in the Dark for others. A Pandemic is a global phenomenon – we really are all in this together!

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