Most of us have never faced times like these- a situation in which things are changing so quickly, the future feels uncertain, we’re physically separated from our workmates and colleagues. For many of us, the uncertainty can be stressful and that can be terrifically challenging for us as leaders. The following tip sheet is designed to let you know what behavior to expect from your teams, what’s going on and some practical ways to address it.

What to ExpectWhat’s Going on / What you can doIdeas
People will feel unstable, unsettled, unfocused, distracted, anxiousPeople are expressing the need for Certainty, Predictability, Importance, and Surety.

• People start thinking about the basics first. Give whatever assurance you can around pay, benefits, continuation of the work, etc.

• Maintain or establish your regular cadence of 1:1 sessions with your individual team members. These don’t have to be long but should help reinforce priorities and next steps, along with a dose of genuine human check-in with the person.

• Spend time reinforcing the key priorities you have. People become unfocused when they’re stressed, and it helps to reinforce what is right in front of them.

• Be doubly clear in your direction, both the context and the steps involved. A helpful question you can always ask is, ‘Just so I know I’m being clear, can you repeat back to me what we’ve agreed to?’

• People tend to think of all the things that are different and out of their control. Remind people of the myriad of things that are the same and the areas they have control

Provide links to reading material which is informational and balanced in its viewpoint, leverages knowledgeable sources and identifies specific actions the person can take. This will help people feel informed and more ready to deal with the world.

1. Maintain your 1:1s but focus more on the human topics and the priorities than the specific project status

2. Be open for people to share what they’re feeling. Create a safe space by sharing what you’re experiencing and feeling.

3. When people get distracted by the news or how uncertain things feel, bring them back to what’s within their control.

4. Resources: Here’re a few resources to consider for sharing:

Harvard Coronavirus Resource Center:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How to Protect Yourself:

HBR: Managing remote teams

HBR: 15 Questions about working remotely

You’ll see a spectrum of responses- from ‘we’re over-reacting’ to ‘we’re not doing enough!’People fall on a continuum when it comes to what stresses them. Avoid the temptation to assume the way you look at is the way others on your team will see it. Instead, assume people on your team have a variety of responses, across the spectrum. And, all of these responses are valid.

• Ask people how they’re feeling (probably want to do this in a 1:1), make it safe for people to express what they’re experiencing, ask what support they need (for most, it’ll be just to be listened to).

• Because people can be distracted and unfocused when they’re under stress, prepare to be more directive in your 1:1s for a while.

1. A simple exercise for your next staff meeting, assuming you have at least a fair level of trust on your team: start by sharing what you personally are experiencing with the outbreak, then ask for one or two words which describe what each of the team members are experiencing right now. This gives people a chance to express themselves and a chance for others to support them.

2. Begin staff meetings with a really clear agreement on the intended outcome of the meeting (always a good idea). Be sure to recap the decisions made in a meeting. When you’re done, celebrate the results. People will revel in feeling progress.

If you’re like many leaders, your default might be to solve things, to make things right.Don’t assume you always have to have the right answer. In most cases and in this case for sure, that’s a losing proposition. Instead, use a coaching/Socratic approach to conversations to enable people to come from a candid, resourceful place and normalize their emotions.Coach from a curious, supportive, deep listening place and start with powerful questions: ‘What’s this like for you?’ ‘Tell me about how you’re looking at things…’ ‘What do you need right now?’ [see this list of powerful questions for leaders: 70 Great Coaching Questions for Managers Using the GROW model ]
What do I do when someone gets stuck?This will happen- some people will struggle with the lack of predictability or the rapid change and become locked in place.

• Build some muscle around resilience. This isn’t about denying what is going on or that it’s unnerving; this is about acknowledging the challenge and finding the energy to keep going.

• People need purpose: One client, a former Marine leader, says ‘The worst Marine is a Marine without a mission’. Give people a mission- some sort of project or initiative that is bigger than themselves to focus on.

• Call forth their strengths, those innate talents that make each of us uniquely brilliant. By calling forth what makes the person uniquely brilliant, you are calling forth their resourcefulness and their resilience. And reminding them how strong they are, even in new and confounding conditions.

1. Two helpful articles on resilience:

Thrive Global: Strengthening Resilience

HBR: Resilience is about recharging, not enduring

2. Remind them how important their work is; remind them (often) how valuable they are. Remind them no one else could do it the way they do it.

3. Some language for calling forth a person’s strengths and resilience: ’ I know you to be someone who is…… From that place, what’s the next thing you can do to move this forward?’ When they take a step, call it out and ask, ‘Ok, what’s next?’

People are going ‘stir-crazy’People crave connection. We are social beings and it can feel isolating for many of us when we’re not able to connect face-to-face. When we feel alone, we can become anxious and that can lead to a sense of overwhelm and reduce our resourcefulness.Find ways to create community, even virtually.

1. Schedule shorter, more frequent check-ins (a 15-minute check-in every morning?).

2. Inject some fun- people may feel as if things must be unrelentingly serious these days. Offer up on-going fun contests, trivia games, etc. that encourage people to connect with each other.

3. Share pictures of family time and ideas for staying together as a team, even if you don’t spend time in the same physical space.

4. Gratitude is great medicine. Tell people what you’re grateful for, even in these crazy times. And ask others to share.