How To Be A Good Boss During An Unsettled Time

As a leader who cares about your people, one of your goals in unprecedented times, is to be a good boss; in other words, to guide your team and help them stay focused.

 

And intentions matter– though, they are not enough on their own as the best intentions can go sideways. For example, I was on a team where the leadership called for a daylong retreat after the 2016 presidential election. It was terrible timing. The day was hyper-scheduled and no one had any personal space to process their feelings. So, first things first, avoid scheduling intense meetings when there’s a good chance that the team’s collective mindshare will be elsewhere.

 

And what if the outside distraction is happening not for just one day, but an extended period (like we’re experiencing right now)? Here’s how to navigate through it and keep your team on track:

 

Advice #1: Treat Your Team Members as Individuals

 

Each of your team members likely has different opinions about a given event. Moreover, people process their feelings in different ways. One person might need to offload their personal thoughts before getting their head back into their work, while another might prefer to process things privately. Some may enjoy openly debating the day’s events, while others feel it’s too personal.

 

Make space for these differences by getting to know your team member’s preferences and letting them take the lead on how (or whether) they engage on topics that aren’t core to the work. 

 

And avoid the temptation to lead off with your own opinions, as your status will naturally influence the discussion.

 

Advice #2: Be A Unifier 

 

When your team is struggling with conflicting emotions and opinions, help them focus on what they share in common. Start by setting your personal beliefs aside; it’s hard to unify a team when you’ve taken a strong position on a topic. 

 

To be clear: there will be times when you deliberately use your voice to communicate what you and your company stand for, leaving no room for gray areas. Assuming this isn’t one of those times, then opt to keep your voice as neutral as possible. 

 

Do your best to be a calm and stable presence. Strive to create an environment that makes everyone feel included. The more polarized your team is, the more centered you have to be.      

 

Next, drive their attention toward your common purpose as a team. Connect back to your Core Values to remind your team of the beliefs and behaviors that you all share. Push them to get beyond the external distraction by reengaging in their work. They may even find it motivating to re-focus on something within their control.

 

Advice #3: Offer extra support 

 

Create opportunities for people to set aside the negativity and make a positive connection with each other on a human level. Break up the normal workday and schedule an energy-boosting Mystery Call. It’ll improve the team’s vibe and build culture. And for individuals, the Headspace podcast offers some grounding perspective. 

 

And if folks start to seem overwhelmed, encourage them to take time off to decompress and relieve stress. (Pro tip: this is where your company philosophy on time off and flexibility will be put to the test). Even a few hours off can be a helpful recharge. 

 

At the same time that your team needs you to steady the ship and keep them focused during unsettled times, you need to fill your cup too. Be sure to lean on the people in your life, and use the extra outlets you offer to your team, to process your personal thoughts and reactions. 

 

How to create a positive feedback process for you and your team

The first feedback process I was ever a part of also happened to be the best.

 

I was fresh out of grad school and part of a small team at a big, fast-growing company. We were an innovation lab of sorts; finding creative solutions to traditional HR processes. 

 

Our little team included a huge diversity of talents, opinions, and backgrounds. And with this being the first “real” job for us all, we were inexperienced in almost every sense. We had few work basics under our belt to help us navigate our work and our issues. But, at the same time, our lack of experience helped us look at everything with fresh eyes. We communicated and debated passionately about everything. 

 

Despite- or maybe because of- our intense passion and talent, we struggled to get things done. So, when nearly every attempt to make a decision started to feel like we were knocking heads, we figured it was time to take a close look at how we were working together.

 

We decided to create a feedback process so we could talk about our experiences working together and get to the bottom of our conflict. Our goal was to make the exercise as honest, productive and trust-strengthening as possible.

 

Creating our own feedback process felt intuitive, however, we later learned that most people use standard templates.

 

I’m glad we did it our way, because our approach led to open and transparent feedback. And due to its simplicity and results, it’s my favorite process to share with leaders to this day. Here’s how we did it. 

 

We agreed on a set of open-ended questions. We were ready to be open with ourselves and share candidly with each other. 

 

Because our goal was to become a higher performing team, we asked ourselves questions like, “To what extent does the other person encourage all points of view to be added to our pool of shared meaning”? “To what extent do they fully back a decision once the team has made it”? “What’s one uniquely valuable strength that I (the feedback giver) experience with this team member”? “What’s one thing I’m struggling with or feel could be improved upon with the way we work together?” 

 

We responded in writing to the questions for each member of the team. This gave us the space to reflect and provide thoughtful responses. It also ensured a better chance that the feedback would be fully absorbed. 

 

Moreover,  writing (and reading) the comments first turned out to be a great dress rehearsal for discussing it in person. 

 

We met with each other individually to discuss. By that point, we had personally processed the feedback so our emotions weren’t raw. Regardless of people’s frustrations heading into the process, each conversation was constructive, respectful and truthful. 


 

We weren’t looking to create something unique. We simply created what we thought would achieve the level of understanding and alignment we knew we needed.

 

I later came to learn that few companies communicate this openly: both in general, and when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.

 

In fact, many feedback systems fall short because the honesty and transparency that’s needed isn’t fully present in their company’s culture. So the things that require more courage- like looking someone in the eye when sharing your thoughts- become an optional step versus being core to the experience.