My primary message for leaders in this time of uncertainty is simple: be human first.
Before that voice of doubt creeps in saying, “I’m not a leader”, I encourage you to reconsider – each of us can be leaders, regardless of our title, role, or position in the workplace. A “human-first leader” is someone who helps to create an empathetic environment, encourages people to speak without fear, and helps provide space for people to be heard, understood, and accepted as the human beings, which we are.
Human-first leadership is important in a normal, day-to-day environment. But it’s absolutely critical in the midst of a crisis like today’s global COVID-19 pandemic.
As a business leader, professional coach, and facilitator, I am dedicated to helping empower leaders, regardless of level, to reach their full potential. Leaders, I urge you to step up. By “step up”, I don’t mean, “tell people to work harder despite their fear.” I mean, begin to “understand and prioritize your team’s personal and professional needs despite YOUR fear.” Many of us are afraid right now, including the people you interact with every day. Your role as a leader to hold space for them and to continue to show up for them through this.
Human-first leadership also means prioritizing your own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. You must do this first so you can become and sustain your best self, even – and especially – during a health crisis. If you do, you’ll be in a better position to more effectively manage the potential increased stress and anxiety that we may be feeling and so to help prevent it trickling down to your people.
The PwC Habit Bank was created almost three years ago to help provide people with ways to improve their well-being. There are a lot of great ideas there, but I’ve boiled it down to my top 10 tips to help support your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tip 1: Move it, move it.
With the exception of essential employees on the frontlines, most of us are practicing physical distancing or under a shelter-in-place order that keeps us homebound except for essential travel. While we have to change the ways we’re moving, we still need to keep moving! My number one recommendation is to get up and walk around for at least five minutes once an hour. I schedule my calls to end 2-5 minutes before the hour to try to use that time to get up, grab water, and take my eyes away from the computer screen.
Tip 2: Try to shut down one hour before bed.
I’ve been sucked into the late-night coronavirus news cycle more times than I can count in recent weeks. I finish work, eat dinner with my family, put the kids to bed, and start scrolling. In a “normal” environment, I turn off screens at least one hour before bed, but lately, I find myself sneaking past that deadline a little too often. When I do, I recognize what potential effects it may have on my sleep that night and my performance the next day. I added “app limits” to my smartphone a few days ago and it’s helping tremendously.
Tip 3: Check-in with yourself.
Try to take time to check-in with yourself for 2-3 minutes, 2-3 times throughout the day. Close your eyes, breathe in and out through your nose, and use your breath to scan your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Notice if you’re experiencing any tightness or tension anywhere. (Chances are, you are!) Acknowledge that tension, take a deep breath in, then exhale and release the tension. Move on to the next part of your body until you’ve released the tension. If you can’t release everything, that’s okay. Be patient with yourself, and try to schedule another check-in later in the day. I suggest blocking time on your calendar for this as a recurring meeting or setting an alarm on your phone or smartwatch.
Tip 4: Notice temptations to react negatively.
Stress may be driven by how you choose to react. Tensions are high right now and some may be walking a fine line between “keeping it together” and “falling apart.” That’s okay to feel and it’s important to acknowledge where you are so you can try to work through it. Use that awareness to try to respond to difficult situations, conversations, for example, instead of reacting. If you notice a temptation to react negatively, try to take a deep breath, and ask yourself if there’s a better way to express what you’re trying to communicate. This may also be an opportunity to lead by example. If you react negatively on a call and notice that you’ve done so, acknowledge it and suggest a new path forward. “I’m sorry, team. I recognize that I reacted a bit negatively just now. I know tensions may be high and that we’re each contributing and doing our part. I’d like to revise my response if you don’t mind.”
Tip 5: Show you care.
Being human-first starts with listening. Right now, many of us may be trying to juggle multiple fears, including whether we might get or spread the virus, how to adapt to a new or different remote work environment, and the daily demands of our jobs, to name just a few. While it’s always important to show team members you care, it’s especially important right now. Start meetings by asking each team member a simple question: “How are you feeling today?” Hold space for your team members and show up with vulnerability – share what you’re feeling, too. We’re in this together.
Tip 6: Meditate.
I’ve spoken before about how important meditation is to my health and well-being. Last month, I wrote about my commitment to 5 minutes of mindfulness each morning before I read emails or take meetings. A daily mindfulness or meditation practice may be even more important now than ever. Many companies are offering a collection of free, guided meditations and exercises to help approach each day with compassion and understanding.
Tip 7: Do one thing at a time.
Try to practice doing only one thing at a time for a day, working your way up to a week. That means no scrolling through emails on your phone while waiting for your coffee. Try to keep only one browser tab open at a time. Only have the minimum programs open on your computer at a time to address the single task you are addressing. Try to work in uninterrupted 90-minute sprints before taking breaks. It may be uncomfortable at first, but this experiment may help you quickly assess how deeply reliant you are on multitasking while helping to strengthen your focus at the same time.
Tip 8: Remember your larger purpose.
We may each have a deeper purpose that drives us. Now is the time to tap into your purpose and move from that place each day. Write it down on a post-it note and stick it to your computer screen or wall. If you’re not sure what your purpose is, start by identifying your values: the things that matter most to you and light you up inside. My number one value is, and always has been, my family. As COVID-19 is impacting the world and in the US, my wife and I struggle to balance work, child care, and self-care while keeping our emotions in check. Moving from a place of purpose, helps me remember what – and who – is important. Sometimes that looks like setting boundaries at work so that I can give my children the energy and attention they deserve. Other times, that may mean sitting down with them, holding space, and inviting them to share how they’re feeling.
Tip 9: Do good, feel good.
Once you identify your purpose, use it to determine how you can help others during the pandemic. I’ve seen amazing examples of ordinary people stepping up to help support others over the past week. You can pick-up and deliver groceries for your elderly neighbors, donate personal protective equipment you have at home to local health workers, mail thank you letters to people working on the front lines, and donate to organizations that you believe in. Of course, continue to maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others and follow your city’s and doctor’s recommendations.
Tip 10: Share kindness.
If there’s one thing we can use right now, it’s kindness. When you share kindness, it helps to create a ripple effect and encourages others to pass it on. What random act of kindness can you share with someone today? In my neighborhood in California, many restaurants are struggling and are offering takeout (and even bottles of wine!) to help mitigate the financial implications of COVID-19. Last night, we ordered dinner and delivered a bottle of wine to our next-door neighbors. (We also wiped down the bottle upon delivery.) To my “do good, feel good” point above, my children and I are also creating posters using crayons and markers we have at home that say, “Thank you, health workers!” and hanging them in our windows to share kindness. If you share kindness, we encourage you to jot it down here.
What are you doing to support the well-being of yourself and others right now? I’d love to hear more about what’s working for you during these uncertain times.