Pete Tosh: Leadership-20 Versus COVID-19

Pete Tosh

Monday, April 6th, 2020

You don’t need me to tell you that COVID – 19 has dramatically changed life as we have known it. We have never faced these types of challenges which have disrupted both our business & personal lives. 

It’s important for leaders to recognize that we have little precedent as to how you as a leader & your business should react. We are all creating the playbook day by day & together learning how to operate in this new “normal.” So, this crisis is providing you as a leader & your organization an opportunity to show how good you are. Crises also bring opportunities.

Actually, you are dealing with two contagions – the virus itself & the employee emotions it is generating. And these emotions can be as contagious as the virus. Employee anxiety is spreading like COVID – 19. Employees’ emotions are ‘going viral’ & influencing their thoughts & behavior. Unfortunately, fear & anxiety can undermine our ability to think clearly, manager relationships, focus on the proper priorities & make good decisions.

Employees are concerned with bread-and-butter issues like their health, job security & personal finances. And when threatened, our survival instincts rush to our defense & we tend to react impulsively, haphazardly & frequently counter-productively. In survival mode our thoughts focus on the threat with reactions replacing rational thinking. We’ve been practicing social distancing to limit the spread of the virus & ‘flatten the curve.’ But we may have been less effective at addressing the ‘emotional infection’ & ‘social contagion’ impacting employees. Leaders need to pivot to approaches that will assist their teams in addressing their heightened anxiety. 

In today’s environment employees:

  • Don’t understand the rules so they don’t feel in cont

  • Aren’t sure what will happen to their companies, jobs & families

  • And are vulnerable to becoming infected by the negative emotions of coworkers, the news, social media, friends & family members. 

Through social contagion employees can ‘catch’ this anxiety & transfer it to others, who relay it in a circuit of negative emotion. And the isolation felt from working remotely can increase social loneliness making employees even more anxious. Making matters worse - thanks to social media - we don’t have to be in physical contact with anyone to catch it. The more we see & read the more we are likely to worry & then spread that anxiety to others. So, employee worry & anxiety are restraining forces that some leaders are addressing.

As discussed in an earlier newsletter, SCARF is an acronym for the psychological threats your employees may be experiencing. Leaders can utilize this model to help their teams by anticipating & addressing their needs for:

  • Status – sharing your organization’s strategy for maintaining the business & their jobs

  • Certainty – amping up your communication; sharing what you know when you know it & soliciting questions

  • Autonomy – letting your employees know how & how often they will receive updates from you

  • Relatedness – reaching out to those employees working remotely to see how they are adjusting; possibly utilizing apps offering visual communication

  • Fairness – considering your employees’ remote work environments where they may be parenting & teaching their children while working

This is the first in a series addressing Leadership through this crisis. Future articles will address other issues pertinent to this crisis such as: 

  • Creating a COVID business plan 

  • Exhibiting crisis-appropriate leadership skills

  • Communicating with employees working remotely

  • Leading from home

The Focus Group wants to be helpful. For example, please let us know if you and/or your leadership team would have an interest in participating in a webinar on the topic of ‘Leading Through This Crisis’

Much good will come out of this crisis. Be safe & be a leader

Quote: “For the first time in history we can help the human race by lying in front of the T.V. and doing nothing. We can do this”