Resilience in times of uncertainty

Nothing in our lifetimes has prepared any of us for what we are currently experiencing. In a relatively short space of time, life as we know it has been put on pause. It is widely accepted that we need to compromise our own personal freedoms for the safety of others, and most of us are willingly engaging in this act of restraint for the greater good.

Whilst it may feel that we are collectively and individually doing ‘nothing’ by following the request to isolate and ‘stay at home’, we are in fact doing something significant, something profound. All of us need to recognise and acknowledge that. We also need to recognise that whilst as managers and leaders we may want to adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach as far as possible, we need to adapt to this ‘new normal’. Leading the team as we adapt to the 'new normal' It is fair to say that most of us have not experienced anything quite like this before. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, when people say that they’re really not sure how they’re feeling about it or coping – they have nothing to compare it to. Many are finding themselves on an emotional rollercoaster.

Whilst some are putting on a brave face and acting as if it’s business as usual, it really isn’t. In the last few weeks, The Institute of Employment Studies (IES)have surveyed people working from home during the Coronavirus shut-down and found some interesting results: they found that nearly half of those working from home said that they are dissatisfied with their work-life balanceand are working longer or more irregular hours than they would in the office, whilst a third spoke of feeling isolated. Many are concerned about job security, their finances, and the health and wellbeing of family members. Furthermore, many of us are simply not used to working from home so are still finding our feet, some are juggling space with other family members who are also working from home, and some are also adapting to the demands of home schooling, whilst still managing a full and busy workload. None of this is particularly easy! Checking in with others, and yourself, is critical right now. You may have noticed that members of your team are responding to the situation in a myriad of ways. Some will be fine, others not so much. Some might experience good and bad days. You may also be on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. You may want to ask yourself ‘how am I doing?’ if you’ve not already. There’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review that describes what many of us might be going through as a form of grief. Some of you might recall the Kubler-Ross Change Curve….where we go through the following various stages: Denial– This can’t be happening! It won’t affect me, I’ll be fine! Anger– They should have anticipated this was going to happen! Who can I blame? Bargaining– If I stay at home for 2 weeks everything will be fine, no? Sadness/Depression– I don’t think I can do this. When will it end? Acceptance– Ok this is happening so I’ve gottawork out how to manage through the next couple of weeks. Moving on – Ok I’ve settled into this ‘new normal’ for now. I’ve got this.

There’s also a high chance that people may be experiencing what David Kessler describes as anticipatory grief. You know that feeling when you start catastrophising and predicting the worst will happen? Some of us are, by our natures, more prone to it than others, but if you see yourself or a member of your team engaging in it, just listen, get curious, and help them focus on what is, rather than what might be. You might even encourage them to do their psychological shopping list – just write down whatever it is that they’re worrying about right now. As a leader, think about the following:

  • Now is the time to be emotionally intelligent. Show compassion and understanding. Patrick Lencioni encourages leaders to ‘be exceedingly human’. Show interest, concern, and understanding. As Nancy Kline would say ‘listen well, pay exquisite attention’. Avoid being cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual’.

  • Communicate regularly – little and often is best. Do regular video chats with the team to ‘check in’. Remember that we are more likely to lose focus on video calls so keep them short and regular; evidence suggests that attention and focus will start to drift on any video meeting that lasts for for more than two hours.

  • Create space for humour and fun. It’s a fantastic tonic.

  • Do put aside some time for team building. Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive, taking time to slow down in order to build trust and cohesiveness within the team will pay off in the long run.

  • Allow people to bring more of themselves into work. Remember that news report where the children walked in on the chap being interviewed and as he tried to bat them away his wife did the most extraordinary slide and dive to get them out of the way? Don't be that guy! Anticipate that cats, dogs, small children, partners just might walk past, offer coffee, forget that their other half is on a zoom call. Be human, laugh it off, and allow for the the fact that these things are going to happen. As we are all adapting to this ‘new normal’, for many of us the show must go on. Some may be experiencing a heightened workload due to the current situation. Others may be scrabbling around for things to do, as their job doesn’t easily translate to the home environment (and this may contribute to concerns about job security). Others may be doing just fine, as for them nothing has really changed. Whatever the circumstance, now is not the time to completely lose focus on performance. As human beings, we like direction and purpose. We like achieving things, and we like goals. We also like feedback, praise, and support. So…

  • Now, more than ever, managing on the basis of ‘output’ is essential. Agree some clear objectives. Check in on progress. Offer praise, feedback and support as required. Managing someone’s performance by how much time they spend at their desk, or being ‘present’, is never a good idea, but of course now it’s even harder to do.

  • Mo Gaward says that in times of uncertainty, we are more likely to seek certainty. But right now that’s really hard to offer. So, instead, focus on what you do know. His advice for now is to focus attention on the short term, say the next two weeks, for example. Ask “what can I/my team reasonably expect to achieve in the next two weeks? What can I/they focus on?” And repeat.


Most important, remember that there is no magic formula for getting it absolutely right. You will find your own way through this and no doubt discover new things about yourself and your team in the process. See you next time

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