Leading at the Intersection of COVID and Civil Unrest
June 4, 2020
By Tyler Arvig, PsyD, LP
Associate Medical Director
This is a challenging time for many in the United States because of what is happening in the wake of the death of George Floyd. People are hurting as they mourn the death of Mr. Floyd, confront inequalities through protests and others measures, and try to survive the violence and destruction that has ensued in some cases. Nowhere has this been more evident than R3 Continuum’s home in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Peaceful protest and mourning by most have provided an opening for agitation, destruction, and violence by others.
Given the above, it is understandable that COVID-19 has become a bit of a footnote in the collective minds of many Americans. Unfortunately, very bad things are not precluded from happening amid other very bad things. The two ongoing situations may be of differing etiologies, but, they converge quite clearly in one area: the importance of leadership.
Leadership is everything.
Every day, nearly every hour, leaders are on television discussing the current situation in Minneapolis, as they have been in other cities impacted by violence. Leadership is always important but becomes vital in times of times of great change. Those leaders who rise to the challenge pave the way for a better path forward. Those who fail to rise to the challenge will be viewed as part of the problem.
The same was/is/will be true for those who lead during the pandemic. The coronavirus requires flexibility as we navigate uncharted waters.
Skill is required of an effective leader during such times, particularly related to managing anxiety and fear, and showing compassion. What follows are five skills I have observed to be most effectively utilized during the current pandemic/civil unrest.
- Listen—Feedback is arguably the most important element of decision making. Decisions without data are just guesses. Leaders who solicit feedback openly, from many diverse sources and authority levels, will be able to make more informed decisions.
- Show Curiosity—Asking “I wonder why…” is important. Asking questions, period, is important. This allows opening of thought processes. Asking questions means you do not know the answer. Acknowledging you do not know the answer is the best way to get to the correct answer.
- Admit Mistakes/Take Responsibility—Mistakes, missteps, and unintended consequences are going to happen when leading in an evolving situation. While it may seem counter-intuitive for a great leader to admit mistakes, it can be beneficial. It shows the ability to evaluate information and make appropriate changes to resolve the problem. It also humanizes leadership, lessening the us versus them dynamic than can sometimes develop.
- Show Appreciation—In small or large ways, showing appreciation to the people on the front line, in the trenches or following your guidance is critical. People who feel appreciated are more apt to work harder to achieve the goal. Acknowledging the unique challenges of the day and saying thank you should be done routinely.
- Be Decisive—Once all the above is done, decide with conviction. Part of managing the fear is projecting confidence. Being decisive is not the same as being overly confident. Overconfidence will backfire, particularly if the chosen path ultimately is not successful. Too little confidence or projecting uncertainty with a chosen path will amplify fear/uncertainty.
- Provide Information/Resources—Information and resources must be readily available to be successful. Information fills the vacuum that can otherwise be filled with fear and anxiety. This could mean providing information on COVID-19 testing, providing support through an EAP for those struggling with anxiety over looting or violence, or providing tools for leaders to better support their employees as they manage the myriad present concerns.
We are in a tough spot, there is no way around that truth. It is equally true however, that there is a path forward. There is always a path forward. As leaders, do what you can to guide others to find and follow that path.
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