05 May

As a manager, which staff are you worrying about, and which are taking a lot of your time right now? 

Your team may be finding the workload relentless, juggling unforeseen household challenges and fearing for the organisation’s long term sustainability and their jobs. 

Use these 5 tips to reflect on where you are at, improve your effectiveness and be a brilliant manager … all while maintaining work life balance. Download my full presentation (including graphs and diagrams)-  5 steps to great leadership in a COVID world

1. Work out where your head is at 

You are experiencing huge change. Since mid-March, you may have plunged into frustration and depression, you may have come through that and started exploring how to work with this new world. You may still be in the denial phase, believing you have accepted the impact of the virus but in fact not having even started to process it. The model below shows the stages you will pass through. Compared to others, you may spend different amounts of time in each stage, but you will go through them all. Be honest, ask yourself how you're feeling right now, and use the answer to work out which stage you are at on the change curve. 

  • Shock & Denial - I tell myself, “I’m fine, I’ve accepted the virus”, but underneath I am hoping the impacts won’t happen, the virus will be over soon and we can go back to how things were before.
  • Frustration - I feel really cross with myself. Why can’t I adapt? Other people are thriving in the new world, while I feel stupid and ineffective.
  • Depression - I am starting to face up to the fact that things are not going to be the same as before. I feel doubtful, confused and uncertain.
  • Experiment - I am starting to accept the change. I focus less on what has been lost; I am keen to try out different tactics in this new world. I am creating and testing approaches, finding out what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Decision and Integration - I am starting to feel I’m getting the hang of working in new ways. These new ways are starting to feel normal, routine, ‘the status quo’.

2. Identify what you need right now

The phase you are in (step 1 above) defines what you need:

Denial or Frustration - Someone to listen and empathise, someone you can let off steam to, who will not advise you or try to fix things.

Depression - Someone to help you set your direction, define your priorities and clarify your tasks. 

Experiment - Someone to support and encourage you to experiment, to help you work out what you might trial. To keep you focussed on the positives and stop you slipping back into the depression phase. 

Decision - This is a good place to be! Keep seeking support to help you evaluate how things are going, reflect on what you have learnt, keep developing yourself and continuously improving your ways of working.

3. Ask for what you need

Don’t expect your manager to be psychic and give you what you need. Remember that your manager will also be going through the change curve, and is human too. Be sympathetic to their possible situation, while finding a way to make your request, e.g. for a space to sound-off, some clear direction, or to jointly brainstorm new ways of working. If your manager is unwilling or unable to give you this, who can you turn to? A mentor, peer, relative, trusted friend or coach?

4. As a manager, create psychological safety in your team

Each of your team members is at a different place on that change curve, has a different personality type, and is experiencing different impacts of their personal circumstances. So they each have unique needs of you. Assign time to build a safe space with each team member. Talk one-to-one every day to start with. Ask them how things are in their personal lives. 

Ask about their biggest worries, anxieties or uncertainties. Ask, ‘What do you need from me, to perform at your best?’ If they say they are fine, ask again. You may need to probe, which makes some people uncomfortable. Keep giving support by listening deeply, providing time to think, and contributing only encouraging noises or a repeat of their words. Encourage them to explain anything that isn’t completely clear. Check they understand your expectations - while the work still needs to be done, how flexible are you about how and when your team works, to support their personal situations?

Once you feel you have a good relationship with each team member, set up brief daily check-in times (most often by phone or video, sometimes by messenger/chat) to maintain your support. Be visible and available by chat or whatsapp, and prioritise it if they ask to talk. If you have a time limit for a conversation, say that up-front, find out what they most want to achieve from the conversation and then be fully present for the time you have available. This will enable your team to perform at their best, maximising your organisation’s impact. 

Run a remote team session to explore where people are on the change curve, bearing in mind personality types. If you haven't explored team personality types, then consider running a session on this as it will optimise relationships while working remotely. It is liberating to have a shared understanding of where you and your colleagues are positioned, and the process of discovery is as important as the conclusion, creating bonds and a more honest self- diagnosis.  

In daily conversations, gauge when each team member is ready to be urged forward along the change curve. The mark of a great manager is when you develop your ability to judge individual requirements, and to respond to those.

5. Maintain work life balance

You will be starting to realise that COVID19 is not a sprint, it is a marathon. As a leader, talking about work life balance is not enough. You must lead by example for your teams to see how to achieve a good balance and keep themselves healthy and effective. I’ve mentioned above that working remotely means putting a little more time into your team relationships. How can you also maintain a good work life balance?

The answer is to rethink the rest of your day and decide how to improve your effectiveness elsewhere. Brainstorm options on a piece of paper, ask your team for ideas, and test some new approaches. The solution is out there. If you feel stuck, then as a trained coach I would be happy to help you - please contact me if you would like to talk.

Some options may be:

  • Stop some activities. As a result of the virus, or of remote working, what can you stop or reduce? Which projects can be delayed or mothballed? Do you still need to plan and forecast quarterly or could you reduce your planning frequency to tie in with the likely timelines of the virus? - Encourage group coaching within your team. Can your direct reports hold group meetings where they can share and support each other, without you there? Delegate some work areas to this group, to free up your time
  • Use IT. Create a channel on Microsoft Teams or Slack, to collect work updates in one place and prevent you having to ask for updates or search through emails. While you’re there, create a team social channel t
  • Improve meeting discipline - bring in new ways of working to create shorter, sharper meetings. At the start, ask each attendee for their top aim for the meeting, and refocus the agenda to achieve those aims
  • Have a mini-break when you feel overwhelmed. Do a 10-minute meditation, make a cup of tea or lean your head out of the window and listen to the birds. 
  • Use alarms or other tools to create a fixed start and stop at the beginning and end of your day. Commit to your team and your manager that you will stick to these, and demonstrate to your team that you are not working in your personal time. If you are flexing your day to look after young children, demonstrate that by keeping off the work email during family times. A change is as good as a rest - spending time offline will refresh you to be more effective when you are back in work mode.

First Published: 2nd April 2020

By Nicki Deeson, Association of Business Mentors: Full Member

Republished by kind permission of the Association of Business Mentors

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