Over the past two months I have attempted to navigate my Executive Coaching clients through the emotional and financial vicissitudes of COVID-19. I have seen some client’s gripped by anxiety and doubt and others stay incredibly grounded and focused. The business challenges are as complex as the emotional ones; however, whereas the business focus is survival and continuity, the psychological need goes beyond survival.
I believe leaders must strengthen two important psychological skills more than ever: to make meaning and to tolerate immense ambiguity. Although the economy is re-opening, we will not magically feel better–we are not in a post-trauma period, but rather still in the midst of it. And although the deadening effects of social isolation will lessen, we will have to navigate new anxieties in this new socially-distant world.
Creating meaning or “finding purpose” in the rubble of trauma is considered to be the end-stage of the grieving process. However, I believe leaders must learn to do this now, even if in small ways. Living in a blissful state of optimism and unbridled ambition seems unrealistic and tone-def. Rather, leaders should expect to fluctuate between and manage periods of both distress and growth post-trauma. Creating meaning is also essential to breaking out of states of apathy and feeling like a victim of circumstance–it is also a way to pro-actively interpret your life and business from new, fresh angles.
In short, creating meaning breeds optimism which can feel like a scarce resource at a time like this.
Creating meaning is a powerful self-reflective process and skill that leaders should now engage in. Consider the following exercise:
- Self. What have you learned about yourself? What latent strengths have emerged and what weaknesses have been exposed? What would you have done differently? What is YOUR true north in the business? How can you be a transformative leader right now? Have you been over-identified with your business, neglecting personal interests and commitments?
- Others. How can you see your relationships differently now? Are there team members, partners, or clients who you could express appreciation for, feel more empathy towards or reconnect with? What dynamics in the team have been unaddressed or toxic that you can now change?
- Business Identity. What is the core purpose of your business? What is its true value to its clients or customers? What opportunities can provide a sense of hope and excitement?
As you answer these questions, write down a few very small steps you can take. Notice how this impacts your attitude and emotional states through the day. In my next piece, I will address an equally important leadership skills: learning to tolerate ambiguity.