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Leading During a Pandemic

While we may wish there were a one-size-fits-all guide to being a leader during a pandemic, that is just not the case. As leaders, we continue to navigate unchartered waters with colleagues, sharing what has worked and what has not --- aiming to understand how our leadership can be meaningful.

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While we may wish there were a one-size-fits-all guide to being a leader during a pandemic, that is just not the case. As leaders, we continue to navigate unchartered waters with colleagues, sharing what has worked and what has not — aiming to understand how our leadership can be meaningful. Although we work at different companies in different industries, one thing unites us: the desire to successfully lead during a pandemic.

Here is what I have learned – and shared with colleagues – to help everyone stay healthy, navigate stress, and work productively from home.

Open the lines and methods of communication: Use all the tools at your disposal to communicate with your colleagues and try to tailor your approach to what works best with your recipients. For some, a quick text or instant message will do the trick; for others, a more structured check-in time is required. And remember to flex those communications tools! Depending on what employees have going on with their weekly schedules, deadlines and work-life balance issues, the best method of communication may be a mix and match of approaches. Stay attuned to this ebb and flow, so your communications can be the most effective.

Take opportunities to pause, create touchpoints and listen to each person: I believe that listening and caring about the people you work with and for is the most important thing you can do. Showing empathy, compassion and understanding makes a big difference to those at the receiving end.

Be personable and share information about yourself, when appropriate: Everyone has a life and interests outside of work. Look for moments when you can sharea quick story about some entertaining or amusing aspect of your non-work life or share a current personal challenge. I recently talked with a colleague about being a parent with children learning from home during the pandemic; it was a way for us to connect on a more personal level. It also encouraged that colleague to share her story, too.  

Be mindful of the need for personal care: Many of us are juggling work and family in ways that are much different than before the pandemic, with little to no separation between work and personal/family life since it is now all happening at home every day, every hour – in our living rooms, our dining rooms, our kitchens — you name it! Many others are people – our employees – who live alone and have limited interaction with family or friends and face the challenge of isolation. Everyone’s situation is different but carving out time for personal care to clear your mind, destress and focus on something personally satisfying is important.

Be authentic. Share what has worked and has not worked for you: Where relevant, share thoughts, insights, and advice you have learned from personal experience and are applying as you manage work from home. I recently told a colleague that I changed my workstation at home to be more ergonomically friendly. This led to us discussing what we had found worked and what did not, and how we were each adjusting to our new working circumstances.  

Remember to thank people on your team: I try hard to remember to take time in my day to thank a colleague. Whether it is a quick email, a handwritten note (mailed these days while we work from home) or a text, I have learned that gratitude goes a long way. Whether it is a note to a mentor for the help you received in moving your career forward or to a person/team who went above and beyond in some aspect of their job – let them know you are grateful. It could even be as light and simple as thanking a colleague for a recommendation of a great Netflix or Amazon series to watch!

Walk the talk: Take your vacation and do not work while you are supposed to unplug. It can be so easy to think that because you are a leader, you should always be available. While that may be true at times, if you are telling people to disconnect, demonstrating it yourself – leading by example – can be powerful.

Design opportunities to “unplug” for you and your team: Sometimes this means using humor and having fun. I recently held a virtual late afternoon wine tasting session with my team that allowed us to have a good time and connect in a different way (and taste great wine!). We have also brought in games, like a virtual Escape Room or a comedian via a video conference. Both were memorable.

Lead by example: I do some of my 1-1 calls with team members while I am out walking. It provides me with a break from video and the chance to get fresh outdoor air and exercise. It is amazing how much changing your scenery for a work call can have a positive effect on your mood. And it inspires others to do the same. I also do not initiate any calls or emails before 8 am or after 5:30 pm, to provide people a break from feeling like they need to respond outside of normal business hours.

Reach out to someone every day, unrelated to a specific work role or project: As so many of us continue to work virtually and navigate unprecedented times, checking in with someone on your team is especially important and can make a big impact. I recently reached out to a colleague to do just that and was surprised to learn how much it was appreciated. She even said she would start doing the same.

How do you best support team members during the pandemic? What are tips you have learned to help employees who are part of your team?

Don Antonucci serves as Senior Vice President of Growth for Blue Shield of California. He has more than two decades of experience in the health care industry and is the host of “Healthy Dose of Dialogue” podcast available on Apple iTunes or Spotify. The monthly podcast invites healthcare leaders to share fresh perspectives and engage in healthy dialogue about marketplace trends and industry insights impacting health care today.

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