Inside Disruption Blog

Course Correction and Leadership During COVID-19

Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP
May 28, 2020





Course Correction and Leadership During COVID-19


By Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP

Associate Medical Director


At R3 Continuum, I have had the distinct pleasure of being part of a team that has been focused on helping employees and employers prepare for return to work during COVID-19, applying decades of collective knowledge about the intersection of work and behavioral health to this pandemic. My boss, Dr. George Vergolias, speaks a lot about expecting the unexpected. This has never been more relevant than right now.


As we return to work, planning is the name of the game. But planning in a pandemic isn’t straightforward or predictable. Planning requires assumptions, and it is hard to put faith in assumptions given the current landscape. So as leaders, we must expect the unexpected.


The challenge we must face is in our response, recovery and adaptation to the unexpected event.


In auto racing, there are constant adjustments that take place to keep a car balanced and moving forward. The approach to a corner may need to be discarded at the apex if the car begins to slide. What separates truly great drivers from the rest is the ability to sense differences early, and to, therefore, make corrections early. Early corrections are small, non-dramatic and effective. To the outside observer, it appears the driver had no issue at all. Waiting too late for a correction can lead to a crash, spin or off-road excursion. Great drivers do make mistakes, but they correct for them well.


In this pandemic, even the best laid plans are going to fall flat, because we are planning for the everchanging. Great leaders, just like great racing drivers, respond quickly. Mistakes are unavoidable, but failure to acknowledge and respond to those mistakes is unacceptable. Appropriate response to the mistake is s a skill. It is learned and practiced. Those who have not developed the skill can learn, and those who have developed the skill can always do better.


Here are some tips that everyone can use in their organization:


  • Be observant—This requires a combination of knowing and sensing what is happening in the organization. Knowing is easy. Sensing is harder. Observations may include:
    • An employee who is usually talkative but has recently been quieter
    • Sensed frustration or unhappiness on the floor
    • A dip in productivity without a clear reason


If you sense something is amiss with people for no clear reason, start by looking at pandemic-related safety issues. This may not be the issue, but it’s always a good starting point.


  • Stand back—In the midst of getting things done, we sometimes fail to step away from the “doing” role and into the “assessing” role. They cannot be done well, simultaneously.
  • Ask for feedback from other leaders—Others may see things that we miss, simply because they have another perspective.
    • Listen to your employees—They may be the first to identify a problem. Listening also shows that you value their input.
    • Other leaders who have experience identifying problems at a higher level may also be a great resource.
    • Customers/users are also valued sources of input. If a customer is flagging a concern, it probably matters to you.


And when the problem is identified, do the right thing:


  • Acknowledge the issue openly–Glossing over or hiding that a mistake was made does not show good leadership. Take responsibility.
  • Clearly indicate a fix—Lay out a plan to address the problem, answering questions that may arise and taking in feedback as necessary.
  • Be humble—This is not the time to set up an “us versus them” dynamic in your office. Saying “I messed up,” and then following it with a plan to resolve the problem shows both humility and strength of leadership.


As workplaces are repopulated, leaders’ roles have never been more vital. Strong leadership is critical in these uncertain times. Mistakes are bound to happen, but when they do, course correct quickly. Doing this prevents a much larger and more difficult problem from occurring.


Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP

Associate Medical Director

R3 Continuum


Ensure the physical and psychological safety and security of your organization. Talk to us.

Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP

Associate Medical Director

About the Author: Tyler has over thirteen years of domestic and international experience in behavioral health workplace absence—including disability and worker’s compensation assessment, consultation with employers and insurers on complex claims, effective return to work strategies, program development and improvement, and supervision and training of industry professionals. He is a sought-after speaker, writer and contributor in the field of workplace behavioral health and workplace trauma recovery.