Leading Through COVID-19: 3 Ways to Elevate Your Leadership

This is part three of our multi-part blog and video series, Leading Teams in Times of Crisis and Immense Change.

When our normal routine is disrupted in times of crisis or immense change, it’s easy to be hesitant to act or to try a little too hard to fix individual problems. We can easily get lost in the issues at hand or seek short-term solutions that don’t address the new reality.

While challenges are occurring on many levels for leaders during the current COVID-19 pandemic, challenges and crises are not new to leaders in healthcare. It will not be easy, but we will lead and learn through this crisis just as we have led through other regulatory, reimbursement, and workforce challenges.

Here are three things you can do to plus up your leadership during this time: Be bold, play the long game, and make time for thankfulness.

Be Bold

Fear can paralyze leaders. It can stall the actions required to address the crisis and limit the chances of coming out better on the other side. Fear is a natural response to crisis, but it is often elevated by our self-talk.

Take time to determine what you are telling yourself. Identify what you are really afraid of: Is it failure, blame, mistakes, injury to your reputation, or something else? We can either let fear be a barrier to success or propel us toward a more successful outcome—it’s our choice.

When you just don’t know what to do, rather than going it alone, talk to a friend or peer, get input from your team, or seek wise counsel from other leaders. Once you have gleaned that information, you can identify options, develop plans, communicate the vision, and empower teams.

One example of boldness in action is the innovative methods many healthcare organizations have used to respond to workforce shortages. Leaders have experimented with new ideas and approaches such as the use of social media for patient and family engagement and for staff recruiting. These innovations add value in ways never imagined and are often implemented alongside new staffing models and pay scales in hopes of retaining staff.

Play the Long Game

In our society, everyone is in a rush to be successful. We seek instant gratification from everything we touch, see, or feel. During this crisis, leaders will be challenged to just “put fires out” or “tell us what to do.” But each action we take should be a strategic step toward our long-term goals.

As you go through each day, consider which options help create new opportunities for growth and development. Perhaps you’re being asked to lead a crisis team or to cover for another manager who is unable to work. When taking on a responsibility like this, let’s ask ourselves whether we’re focused on developing stronger relationships long-term or just getting someone to do something for us in the moment today. Do we seek ways to share information more broadly because we want to be a better communicator or because we just want to get the message out quickly?

If your answer is focused on the short term, try to shift your perspective. Yes, short-term actions are required during a crisis, but playing the long game will set the stage to build and sustain this new reality.

Make Time for Gratitude

Ancient wisdom and modern science remind us to “in all things give thanks.” Even in the depths of crisis, there is always time to reflect and be thankful. During past workforce shortages, you found ways to encourage and uplift staff by showing appreciation. Being thankful or having an attitude of gratitude will help you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve overall well-being, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Take time away from the crisis, mentally make a list of what you are thankful for, and then share it with someone else. Send a brief note of thanks via email or text to someone who needs a boost of appreciation. Start a meeting by asking each person to share something they are thankful for. These actions are always beneficial, but they are particularly important during this difficult time.

Several years ago, after the tragic loss of a coworker, I started out a meeting this way. The mood of the room quickly changed from deep sadness to appreciation of each other and the things we were truly grateful for. By making time for thankfulness, you will be a better leader, and those around you will have an increased sense of hope.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is no playbook for leaders to follow during these times. When all the world around us feels out of control, leaders must practice self-leadership. Being confident in your process, plans, and execution will inspire those you lead. Ask yourself: When all of this has passed (and it will), what will be your legacy? How did you positively influence and lead others during such a crucial time?

By remembering to start with these simple steps, you’ll not only pursue better outcomes from the crisis, but you can bring new life to those you lead.