Resilience in a Time of Crisis – March 2020

I’ve been doing some form of this column for nearly 20 years (how can that be?!), but this one was probably the hardest one to write.  A few weeks ago, I had an article ready on the topic of creating a winning culture – building an elite team or organization that would be successful in any industry.  It’s a great piece (saying so myself!) that featured some insights from our upcoming conference’s opening keynote, Coach PJ Fleck.  With our conference now postponed until late summer, a couple of days ago I started writing a second column on the emerging insights of managing our organizations through COVID-19 – insights that focus on contingency planning, leading through crisis, managing a virtual workforce, changing business models and supply networks.  No doubt those thoughts will be important soon.

But I put that article to the side for now too, thinking the best thing I could offer today are simple but powerful thoughts on how we as leaders, professionals, and individuals stay resilient, manage our growing stress, and somehow navigate through this crisis…

These are unprecedented and uncertain times.  I believe we are only at the beginning of a long, complicated, highly stressful time that will have significant implications and involve significant disruptions to population health, our social fabric, lifestyle, relationships, and our economy and long-term wealth.  People and families will deal with illness and loss; many businesses and organizations will experience deep economic challenges (and some will not survive); we may be forced into a pattern of “sheltering in place” – rolling national quarantines that feel more like house arrest – for what some experts are saying could be 12-18 months.  Our country was already experiencing high levels of depression and mental illness; I can only imagine what many more weeks or months of this experience will do to our collective well-being.  In many ways, this feels like the 2008 Great Recession (possibly even the Great Depression), 9/11, and the 1918 Spanish Flu rolled into one. 

I don’t mean to scare you all.  In fact, I’m sure many of you reading this already have considered the picture I just shared (and the rest of you undoubtedly will come to that realization soon).  But I mention it because I think this is our new reality for longer than any of us want to imagine.  And I wanted to get your attention before offering this vision of hope: we will get through it.  Humans are resilient, strong-willed, and intelligent beings.  We are problem solvers; we adapt and evolve.  We’ve already seen emergence of clear leadership within our communities; we’re seeing widespread modification of social behaviors for the greater good; and we’re seeing generosity begin to spread from those who can to those who need it.

I believe that the United States – and most other countries of the world – will find their way through it: we’ll have a vaccine within a year or so and will eventually eradicate this virus; we’ll take drastic action to stabilize the economy as best we can and eventually we’ll grow out of it again; we’ll learn from this crisis and work to prevent the next one; and we’ll also discover new business models, innovative products and services that eventually enhance our lives – after all, necessity is the mother of invention.  For many or most of us, we will emerge on the other side.  But for all of us, we will have to endure significant and unimaginable disruptions to how our lives used to be.

For this reason, I offer these five simple recommendations:

First, be human.  We’re all in this together.  Show kindness; assume positive intent.  Reach out to your neighbor; check in with your family and loved ones.  Try to stay connected professionally and socially, if only virtually.  Listen to those in your life – your colleagues, your family, your friends.  Hear and validate their fears.  Show empathy; be authentic; show love and concern.

Second, take care of yourself.  We may experience some of the most challenging times of our lives – many of us will feel isolated, stressed and anxious for the future.  So take deep breaths – literally, take three long, deep, mind-clearing breaths a few times a day.  Find a new hobby; read a book or several; look at pictures of family, friends, favorite trips; listen to music.  Exercise, do yoga, or take walks.  Get outside to connect with nature.  Do anything to manage your stress and maintain resilience.  As one of PEN’s partners, Brianna Harrington of Seek United, frequently says: “self-care is not selfish.”  I think it’s true even more during times of crisis.

Third, stay positive.  That may prove difficult at times for us all, but there are people who count on you – your teams at work, your family at home.  They need hope; they need optimism; and they need a vision of what’s on the other side.  You obviously don’t know how this will unfold any more than any of the rest of us, but focus on the positive and try to spread hope.  Positivity is contagious; so is negativity.  Be deliberate and choose carefully.

Fourth, be creative.  Experiment, both in your professional and in your personal lives.  Never tried baking before?  Go for it.  Been putting off a minor house project?  Maybe it’s time to do something constructive (my 17-year-old son has been cleaning all day, something we’ve been asking him to do for months!).  At work, try video meetings instead of just conference calls.  Or change your staff meeting formats to give everyone 60 seconds in a round-robin to share something personal – as a way to remember we’re all human and have lives outside of work.  Crisis sometimes provides an opportunity to create deeper, more meaningful relationships.  They also can stimulate new interests, new patterns, new ideas. Try new things at home and at work.  There could just be a silver lining in all of this.

Fifth, communicate.  This suggestion is more about professional communication, now that many of us are asking to keep our social distance and work from home where possible.  Leaders and teams need to communicate frequently and candidly – talk regularly, giving your people updates and a predictable forum to hear, learn, share, and connect.  During times of crisis, communication is critically important.  You simply cannot over-communicate.

I got an email from Pat Lencioni a couple of days ago (unfortunately, it wasn’t a personal email – just a distribution list!).  In truth, all of what I shared above was my own, but some of what I shared was inspired by his wisdom.  He closed with this, as a message for leaders: 

What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of “business as usual,” or being absent or inconsistent in the name of “giving people space,” or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.

We will make it through this – as individuals, as organizations, as a community.  I encourage us all to reflect on the important parts of life and take care to be deliberate in our new daily routine: be human, practice self-care, stay optimistic, be creative, and communicate with those who need it.

PEN has cancelled all of our in-person events through April.  Specifically:

Hang in there, everyone.  We’re all in this together.  And we’ll all get through this together.

What other insights/tips do you have regarding resilience?  Participate in a discussion on this topic: visit our LinkedIn group to post a comment.  And follow me on Twitter @LassiterBrian!

Never stop improving!

Brian S. Lassiter

President, Performance Excellence Network

Catalyst for Success Since 1987!

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