top of page

Leaders Can Calm the Waters



April 30, 2020

As this pandemic sweeps the earth, creating multiple and compounding uncertainties, leaders and teams are struggling to navigate uncertain and rapidly shifting conditions. We feel under threat by the loss of autonomy, ongoing uncertainty and lack of physical connection to our teams, families, communities. In this new context, leaders must find ways to create focus, reduce anxiety and support people in moving forward. Leaders can create calmer waters by cultivating clarity, identifying choices and generating connectedness. 



There is no absolute certainty during a pandemic. We will surely fail if we believe in an ability to create it. What leaders can do is focus on creating clarity. Here are a few ideas.

  • Articulate what is changing and what is NOT changing. "Our mission has not changed, how we achieve it has."

  • Tell the truth, even when the truth is, “I don’t know.”

  • Identify the goal posts. Timelines are uncertain and there are still moments in the future when information and data can be expected. “On April 30, the CDC will provide an update, we will re-assess on that day.”

  • Make explicit anything that is implied. “Working from home means get your work done when you can and do what you can to be available for calls from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm.” 

  • Identify priorities and help your team focus on their work. We are all finding focus a challenge in this environment. Your people may need more support in the near term to understand where to focus their efforts. 

  • Create a cadence with your communication so people know when to expect updates. Local and state governments are mastering this with their daily, same time, same place briefings with public health experts. 

  • Create routines and schedules with a balance of structure and flexibility to support, not hinder the work. 



As the world changes around us hour to hour and state, local and federal directives shape more and more of our personal and professional lives, it can feel like much of the autonomy we once had has vanished. Choice still exists and leaders need to be intentional about identifying it for themselves and others. 


  • We can choose to be aware of our mindset and take responsibility for it. Even if that means, “I am really anxious today, I am going to work to be patient and you can call me on it if I am not.” 


  • We can choose our habits including, when and how much we eat, sleep or exercise. We can choose how much we consume of the news, social media, Netflix, wine, ice cream or anything else. For the last three weeks, I have chosen less sleep, too much news and ice cream and wine. Some of those choices have served me really well and others not so much, but the choice and responsibility for it are all mine. 


  • We can choose to convene and be in conversations that focus on the possibilities within the new constraints and the silver linings against in the context of stark realities. These constraints are generating new ideas and a renewed sense of purpose in the work of many. 


  • We can choose resourcefulness over paralysis.  Public school districts are using their buses to create wifi hotspots for lower income neighborhoods with less digital access. This is a choice. 

  • We can choose to set boundaries for ourselves and others around social media, being on screen for calls, accessibility outside of normal hours and how much of or how little we want to share our homes and private lives with our coworkers.


  • We can always choose to return to and further explore our values and purpose and how they shape our choices today and tomorrow. 



In the words of Brené Brown, “We are hardwired for connection and we can not do hard things without it.” Pandemic is hard. We need each other. Leaders can be intentional about how we generate connection and the methods we use. 


  • Make empathy your first priority of relationship. Choose to see how and what people are struggling with and choose to be there beside them when they share it.


  • Sharpen your listening skills, now more than ever it is important that people feel seen and heard. 


  • Find and name beauty, joy, irony. One of my favorite quotes is relevant here. “We have to laugh at ourselves, we will cry our eyes out if we don’t.” (Indigo Girls)  I have laughed and cried a lot in recent weeks with clients and teams. 


  • Be intentional with the technology we have to support connection. There are many ways technology is supporting us right now. Creative “check ins” like pet and child introductions at the start of a meeting help acknowledge these are extraordinary times and may put people at ease with the simultaneous balancing of work and home. Virtual happy hours and coffee break rooms can help people connect, especially those who may live alone. Organizations can open online platforms for staff to use for communication with friends and family during off work hours. Be explicit that virtual socializing is optional, many of us have more responsibility right now, not less.


  • Encourage people to set boundaries so they can be their best versions of themselves. All of this technology can help connect us and many people do not have private home offices or feel comfortable taking people (even virtually) into their homes and families. Leaders have to create an opening for people to identify, communicate and respect these boundaries.




The saboteurs of clarity, choice and connection are many and each of us have a favorite. These are a few to look out for.

  • Communicating too little

  • Being overly critical and righteous

  • Providing conflicting information

  • Focusing on what we can’t control

  • Checking the news + social media constantly

  • Ignoring our need for boundaries

  • Being overly prescriptive 

  • Shutting down creative and possibility conversations too soon

  • Offering advice when people just want to be heard


  • Offering worry, judgment and pity over empathy, care and concern

Clarity, choice and connection will calm the waters for leaders and those they lead. They might just be the magic that helps us find a different future. 

bottom of page