As a physician, public health specialist, and founder of War Child – an organization that works with war-torn communities around the world – Dr. Samantha Nutt is no stranger to leadership challenges. She’d be among the first to acknowledge, however, that leading through the fear, change, and uncertainty generated by COVID-19 is unlike anything any of us has experienced before.
“In an unprecedented global event such as this, no one really knows if there will be a return to normal, or when that might happen. And without the ability to draw on past lessons, the vast majority of organizational leaders are understandably nervous, tired, or ready to curl up in a dark, quiet place.”
Some good news amidst the chaos, says Dr. Nutt, is that we’re all navigating the same uncharted waters and effectively learning together. And as we seek ways to move away from the endless cycle of reacting, responding, and crisis leadership, one role must take precedence.
“Our survival at the organizational level depends on our capacity to equip and support our employees with the resources they need to remain well and healthy.”
With that in mind, here are four strategies Dr. Nutt recommends for leading through today’s fear and uncertainty.
Strategy #1: Start with “Yes”
One of the biggest lessons COVID-19 has taught us so far is that we don’t always need to be dogmatic or uncompromising as leaders. When it comes to how we work, for example, there clearly isn’t just one right way.
Ask yourself this:
- Before the pandemic, did you believe employees could work as effectively from home as they could at the office?
- Do you believe they can now?
Despite 40% of respondents answering “no” to the first question during Dr. Nutt’s live conference poll, a full 92% answered “yes” to the second.
Strategy #2: Reflect more, react less
We often try to mitigate inefficiencies and abuse in the workplace by building policies on a one-size-fits-all, “no exceptions” foundation.
Unfortunately, that kind of inflexibility can:
- Work against inclusiveness and employee wellbeing
- Create barriers to employment for racialized and economically marginalized groups
- Deepen existing inequalities
To stay safe and well, employees need choice, opportunity, autonomy, and a sense of control. By forcing adaptation, in fact, the pandemic has compelled us to reimagine ways we can work.
Strategy #3: The best leaders listen
It’s not always easy to listen effectively, but it’s during moments of fear and uncertainty that being heard is especially important for staff wellness.
- Engage in regular communication in support of employee health and wellbeing
- Demonstrate you’re incorporating the most robust public health protocols
- Provide maximum work flexibility wherever possible
- Implement strategies to counter the disproportionate burden among low-income earners, racialized groups, women, and those with underlying health risks
- Understand and address individual experiences of risk
Remember, your employees need to know you both care about and are prioritizing their health and wellbeing.
Strategy #4: For leaders to inspire, they must be inspired
It’s easy for the drudgery of day-to-day tasks to overshadow the purpose of our work. Taking time to remember why you’re invested, and how your work purpose allows you to pursue what’s most meaningful to you, will make you more courageous and effective as a leader.
At the end of the day, Dr. Nutt believes there’s really only one thing any of us can do to stay resilient when the path ahead is uncertain: “Take a step. Then another. Others will follow.”