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We can easily get focused on trying to be productive with the practical tasks we face, like managing cash flow, retaining and winning customers, innovating and pivoting. However, we often forget to allow focus on the 3 most critical things that can support this productivity:
1. Establish positive coping strategies
Effective leadership starts with you. Leading yourself through a challenging context like we are currently experiencing requires you to manage your own physical, mental and emotional health. Our thinking is prone to a negativity bias which makes us ‘threat sensitive’, perceive situations more negatively, make false assumptions, lead us to snap, say the wrong thing and damage relationships. This can lead to heightened anxiety and negative health and emotional outcomes for ourselves, and impact those around us. Our ancient brain can react in fight or flight mode as if it is still responding to the threat of the sabre tooth tiger, therefore damaging neurons, impacting our ability to think clearly, stay focused, innovate, and make good decisions.
2. Genuine compassionate connection with your team
We all have an innate need to be valued and included. Connecting as human beings and showing that you care for people as individuals create a sense of belonging and social cohesion. This creates psychological safety and lowers stress and anxiety. Not only is this critical to make others feel good and create a strong work culture, research shows that employee recognition is the top driver of productivity and engagement.
Connecting with compassion also means withholding judgement – while we are all in this together and experiencing similar pressures and stressors, we all deal with this in our own way. Try not to judge how others are coping and don’t assume you know what is going on with them. Again – listen, connect to understand, and withhold judgement.
Taking the time to genuinely listen and connect with your team and stakeholders is not always easy when you are overloaded with your own concerns and work pressures. However, the social capital it creates with employees will drive the commitment, discretionary effort, and productivity that you need from your team to survive through these tough times. Be present, put down your phone, take a breath, make eye contact and really engage. The return on investment on making time should not be underestimated.
3. Clear communication & certainty
Our brains love certainty. Knowing what to expect and feeling we have certainty about the future makes us feel safe. Since uncertainty is a key cause of anxiety, one of the best things you can do to ease anxiety for your team is to communicate frequently, clearly and with as much transparency as possible. If there is no update, let the team know that there is no update and when there will be one. Communicate as much about your current position, plans and strategies as possible. Let employees know where they stand and what you are doing to respond to the current crisis. Where there are tough decisions to be made, again communicate as frequently, clearly, and transparently as possible.
The first step in all of this, however, is to focus on your own personal coping strategies. This is the foundation for everything else. These will calm your brain, save your neurons, and ensure that you have the cognitive processing power you need to drive your business over the coming months.