Leadership, Personal Development, The Leader

The 5 Leadership Phases of COVID

I’m sure few of us imagined that by this time, we’d still be in this COVID pandemic!  But here we are.

At High Performance Leaders as we’ve continued to engage with our partner leaders, we have identified five phases that most, if not all, leaders have experienced to one extent or another throughout this situation.

Phase 1 was the “Crisis” phase where leaders were faced with a rapidly changing situation.  They struggled to keep up with a developing situation and had to quickly and creatively develop new policies and standards to protect the health and safety of their employees while also trying to maintain their operations.  They were experiencing the change curve at almost exactly the same time as the teams they were leading.  This was uncharted territory for most leaders!

In Phase 2 leaders were thrown into “Establishing the new work environment”.  Setting up the infrastructure, technology and processes for them and their teams to work remotely.  Some leaders also had to lead through a hybrid situation where some of their team worked remotely while other parts were still required to be at the workplace.  Some had to revise the work week or working hours and establish new working standards and processes.

“Staying engaged” was Phase 3 where leaders time and attention was spent on figuring out how to keep their teams busy, productive, and focused.  They and their teams were still learning how to work remotely and stay in contact with each other.  New forms, media, and initiatives of mass and individual communication was needed to be established.  Many leaders struggled getting and keeping their teams aligned and focused beyond the normal day to day of what seemed like basic survival tasks.  Short term team goals needed to be established to motivate, inspire, and frankly become a distraction from what was now becoming a longer-term situation than people originally thought. 

Jim Collins

Important by Phase 3 and remaining relevant today was a reminder about the Stockdale Paradox.  As Jim Collins said “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.  Watch Jim’s Collin’s explain the Stockdale Paradox here.  (full video 6:41).

Phase 4 showed the impact the first few months of COVID had on leaders as the reality of the “New normal, new reality” had sunk in.  Many leaders were extremely frustrated by the on-going situation, were depressed and many were burning or were burned out.  Longer days, blurred lines between work and personal time, and not having any vacations to speak of had taken their toll.  Of course, continued governmental restrictions and protocols impacted the traditional social and personal escape routines.  The long-term reality of the situation had set in.

“Cultural tensions” define Phase 5 that I believe we are currently still in.  This is where opposing thoughts, expectations, and beliefs such as the need to wear masks or not wear masks are creating polarized views within society but also within our teams and businesses.  Some team members are more disciplined than others toward COVID standards and protocols than others.  We are all longing for the ‘old’ ways and want everything to be ‘open’.  Economic fallout is now obvious as layoffs, permanent closures, higher costs, and budget constraints are rearing their heads and must be dealt with.

It’s been a tough road and experts say, tougher roads lay ahead.  However, don’t despair, this too will end and we will get through it!  Here’s a few reasons why I really believe this.

I was blown away with the quick actions that most business leaders, companies, political leaders, and society overall took in the initial stages of COVID.  Many people and organizations stepped up and acted with integrity to do the right thing, to innovate and implement creative ways to keep people safe and employed, to make funds available to subsidize lost wages, protect against financial impacts.  Although some will feel it hasn’t been enough, it’s incredible though just what has been done in the time it has been.  It’s easy to be critical, but I encourage you to consider just what has been done!

Humans throughout all of time, have persevered, survived and prospered.  We will do it again.  We will change, adopt and discover.  Some of the best advancements, innovations, creativity throughout history have resulted from some of the worst and biggest challenges humans have faced.

There are many good and great leaders and people out there.  This is their time and they will step up!

Through CEO Global Network, I recently had the opportunity to hear Randy Garfield, President (retired) of Walt Disney Travel Company speak on the topic of “A Legacy of Determination”.  He had some great and inspiring things to say about the current situation.  Here are a few that really resonated with me:

  • Times are tough, but times have been tough in every generation.  Our parents or grandparents lived through the dark tunnel of WWII
  • We need to maintain the long-term view
  • Don’t underestimate the power of creative solutions
  • Out of adversity can come incredible success
  • Don’t overlook survival guilt as many of our employees have never experienced a challenge like we are all facing. 
  • Crisis doesn’t make a great leader, but it can bring out the best in a good one

I’m not sure what Phase 6 will be, but there will be a Phase 6.  It may very likely get worse before it gets better, but we will get through this, together!  You can sit back and ride it out, or, help lead those around you out of this.  You don’t have to have all the answers, just lead the next best step.  What do you choose?

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