Leading In Times of Wear and Tear

Beat up doors, standing open
Photo by YEŞ from Pexels

Shabby doors

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We’ve been through a lot. We’re tired, worn out, overwhelmed, and stretched too thin. We’re worried about our health and well-being and the health and well-being of those we love. And just when we think the pandemic is easing, there’s more bad news. We can’t lead as if we were in normal times because we’re definitely not and everyone knows it.

What does good leadership look like in a time like this? Besides all of the usual expectations of us as leaders, we need to pay special attention to these important roles…

On a human level:

  • Self-care first, then other-care
  • Talking about the unique challenges we’re facing together, and coming up with solutions together
  • Sourcing reliable information and sharing it openly
  • Making responsible decisions that consider where people are
  • Responding to needs our associates really care about instead of focusing on our own preferred projects

On a more tactical level:

  • Providing protective filtration masks of different kinds as the virus mutates and the guidance changes
  • Following continually changing protocols for cleaning, social distancing, and safety
  • Giving people the opportunity to work from home, and take classes from home, for their safety

As individuals we’ve been through too much. We’re tired of the pandemic. As leaders we’re experiencing high turnover and staffing uncertainty. We’re worried about things we never had to worry about before, and it’s mentally and emotionally taxing. But as tempting as it is, we can’t lead as if we “know what people need.”

— Linda Fisher Thornton

We can’t rely on returning to the ways things were. Having experienced virtual work, many employees have come to enjoy its benefits and may not want to return to the workplace in person every day when the organization gives the green light. It’s going to require leaders to understand each employee’s unique experience and work with them to create the meaningful job they will want to stay in.

After all they’ve been through, employees are hungry for more meaningful and purposeful work lives, and they are not afraid to leave your organization if you’re not helping them get there. If they leave, they will be more careful in the interview process to be sure their new leadership will help them live out their values. Operating in business as usual mode right now is extremely risky right now due to the fact that people are leaving employers in droves. Ask people how you’re doing in your leadership right now and really listen to their feedback. Make changes to be more responsive. This is a defining leadership moment, and people will be watching for how well we respond.

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