by Steve John and Jason Snyder

Pandemic-induced anxieties have touched everyone, some of us more profoundly than others. It’s harder now than ever for most of us to balance work, family life, health, and well-being. Some of us are facing some scary shit right now – un/under-employment, depleted savings, chronic poor health, educational setbacks, isolation, and so much more. We’re lonely and sad and tired. The residue of trauma has settled like fine dust on nearly everything we see and do. It’s pervasive.

As a leader, you aren’t immune to pandemic discomfort. Your team is looking to you for guidance on how to cope, and you’re on the line to model behaviors that may feel entirely at odds with how you’re feeling. You’re uncomfortable with your new role as caregiver, but you’re in it. So, how do you deal with all the discomfort you’re feeling?

Accept Your Discomfort — Know Thy Enemy

Start by accepting what is. We are more than a year into the pandemic, and barely manageable challenges have snowballed into an outright crisis for many of your teammates. Much as you may want to, you cannot run from the current public health crisis and all the stressors that come with it.

The sooner you come to terms with the things you have no control over, the sooner you’ll be able to figure out a workaround. Modeling acceptance will empower and inspire your team to face the hard truths they’re struggling with day-to-day.

Communicate Honestly — Listen and Then Talk

Maintaining an open line of communication with your team is a prerequisite to healthy team dynamics. That’s true in the best of times. Before COVID, professionals up and down the corporate ladder demanded greater transparency in corporate strategy and leadership decision-making. Long gone are the days when the rank and file did what someone in a position of authority told them to do. Expectations of how you communicate with people on the job have shifted dramatically over the last couple of decades, and savvy leaders have to embrace that shift.

Anxieties, born out of uncertainty and fear of the unknown, weigh more heavily than at any time in our working lives. Your teammates and colleagues need to know what you’re thinking and how leadership plans for the future. When the workload changes and the organization comes to its people to ask for more, your team needs to know why. Be honest with them.

If ever there was a time for honesty and transparency, this is it. Tell your team why they are being tapped to do something and why it’s essential. Now is not the time for busy work for the sake of being busy. We all want to know why we’re being asked to do something that will take precious time away from other responsibilities.

Ask for Candid Feedback — Even Therapists Need Therapy

Invite your team to give honest, unfiltered feedback. Do it in a safe, non-confrontational way, so they don’t feel you’re putting them on the spot. Make it clear that you’re asking for feedback because you honestly want to know what they need and how you can help.

Connect with people outside your professional circle. It’s good to speak to others who are not in the same field to get some honest feedback. We sometimes feel like only people who have the same jobs can understand the stresses we’re going through. It becomes an echo chamber of yes-men. We all hear the stories, and we all know the pressures, and no one has any new ideas. Asking someone who is not in the same business as you can open doors to ideas you might not have considered.

Be Realistic About Productivity — Reach for the Stars and Shoot for the Rooftop

Those who create a to-do list and get through every item by the end of the day, I commend you. You are absolute superstars! But for us mere mortals who never seem to get through our lists after weeks of trying, remember: you are not alone. Creating to-do lists and sticking to them is tough. Life gets in the way, and there is always more to do.

While we can ask our teams to develop better habits, the best way to motivate others is to let them witness the change that’s happening to you. Start by looking at your routines and habits. Is there just one thing that you can do each day to make your life a little easier? You don’t need to start getting up at 5:00 am to meditate, then run a 1/2 marathon, and answer every email before the rest of your family gets up. Start small.

We can all be better. Change one small thing today that you’ve wanted to change and continue to make that change. Keeping track of the changes you make helps to keep you motivated. While you may never get to the point in life where you’re able to mark off every to-do list item by the end of the day, you can get a little further by making good habits. Life is about all the little things that add up to something bigger.

Model Empathy — Be Nice!

Try to be nicer. More than any other year, this year has been a hard one for human connection and understanding. It’s hard to show your smile or concern from behind a mask.

Listen to your colleagues. Listen to your family. Listen to your friends. It’s no longer about showing up and being heard; it’s about showing up and listening to the people who look to you for direction. There may be times when others talk more than they should. That’s true for all of us. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Hear them.

However, if listening to and caring for others is starting to feel like a drain, just remember, stress and exhaustion get in the way of feeling. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. So, step away, sort out your thoughts, and recharge your batteries. You need it! So do the people who count on you.

Focus on the Silver Linings — Embrace the Change

Most of the country will be getting some form of a vaccine by summer. By fall, we will be settling into our new normal, one that will give us more options. Will we all go back to the office? Will we work from home? Will there be more of a work-life balance (was that ever really a thing)?

So? What do you want out of your job once the pandemic is over? Do you want to return to an office? Do you want to work from home? Did you enjoy spending more time with your family, or would you prefer to spend less time with them and more time with colleagues?

Many of us are getting ready to restart our lives and maybe start something new. Remember, there is no going back to the way things once were. Choosing to embrace the change and move forward is one path. As a leader, where will your new path take you?