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.