Leading Through COVID-19: 4 Strategies to Inspire and Motivate

inspire and motivate

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


During these challenging times, staff are experiencing high levels of change, resulting in increased levels of stress and anxiety. Staff are at their best when they feel their leader is invested in them both personally and professionally, so in these times of high stress and anxiety, it is essential for leaders to support employees in every way possible on a regular basis.

Providing this support is always important, but in this difficult time, it is especially critical to your success and the well-being of your organization. Here are four steps you can take to inspire and motivate staff during these times:

1. Take Time to Just Listen

One of the most important actions a leader can take is to invest in listening to their employees. Evidence suggests that leaders who listen well generate more trust, instill a sense of job satisfaction, and increase the team’s creativity.

Take time to walk around, interact with staff, and engage them in conversation. If you’re not able to meet in person, make sure to find an alternative way to conduct these regular check-ins, such as over the phone or in a video chat. Use questions such as “What is on your mind?” to find out what they are thinking. When your staff shares with you, focus on listening to what they have to say. Resist the urge to interrupt or give them advice. It is easy to want to jump in, and it may have become a habit for you that will not be easy to break.

Practice listening more than talking. Acknowledge any concerns your staff may have and ask for input on their work, your leadership, and the organization. Make it a priority to listen and understand their views and perspectives. Thank them for sharing their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with you. The highest form of emotional intelligence is to be able to receive feedback from a person without judging them or ourselves. Practice asking, “How can I improve?” and acting on the response.

2. Increase Communication

When a crisis occurs, the natural instinct is to close ranks, work to contain the damage, and get the situation back to normal as quickly as possible. There are still many unknowns in this crisis, and rather than returning to normal, we are all adjusting to a new reality—a reality filled with more questions than answers.

The best thing to do during a crisis is to communicate the facts and issues clearly, quickly, and consistently. In the absence of communication, staff may come to their own conclusions and start rumors, which can be dangerous to your operations.

Have daily or weekly calls with staff as appropriate. Share everything you can with your team, including what is happening, both in the organization and the community. Allow time for questions. Meet one on one with those who may need additional support.

If you are too busy to connect with staff on a daily basis, empower others, such as department managers, chaplains, or volunteer coordinators to make calls and check in with staff.

The five Cs of communication can help when communicating during a crisis:

  1. Concerns—Focus attention on the needs and concerns of the audience. Don’t make yourself the focus of the message. Acknowledge people’s concerns and deal with them directly.
  2. Clarity—Leave no room for guesses or assumptions. Disclose everything your audience needs to know and that you are able to share. If you are vague, they will assume you are hiding something.
  3. Control—Remain in control of what is being said. When you lose control of the message, there is no stopping the flow of inaccurate information.
  4. Confidence—Your message and delivery must assure your actions are in the best interest of everyone involved. Convey that you are doing everything you can to support staff and to ensure quality care for your patients and their families.
  5. Competence—Convey the message that you are able to handle the situation and that you have the advice and support of many people (and make sure that you do!).

3. Give the Work Back

In the book Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ron Heifetz discusses an adaptive leadership style that utilizes the art of questioning to engage employees. Heifetz suggests that rather than telling people how to solve problems, leaders should adapt their style to the desires of younger workers—those wanting to be part of problem solving—by asking questions that encourage them to critically think. For example, when staff bring problems to you and are looking for you to solve their problems, put pressure on them to find a solution themselves by asking, “If you were in my shoes, how would you solve this problem?”

There will be problems that arise during this time of change. By challenging staff to think critically, they will be empowered to solve their own problems, reduce your workload, and help others to solve theirs.

4. Show Appreciation

Many organizations invest in staff recognition programs but don’t spend time showing specific appreciation for staff. Although both are important, recognition is transactional and appreciation is relational.

Acts of recognition tend to focus on short-term rewards for doing tasks. An act of appreciation from a leader is specific to and acknowledges the person. They are an investment in long-term relationship building between the leader and the follower. An example of recognition would be simply saying “Thanks for your hard work.” To make a more impactful act of appreciation, be more specific and say, “Thanks for helping Ms. Smith with her meal” or “I noticed that you helped Emily with her work so she could get out on time today.” By doing this, your staff will feel more appreciated.

Studies indicate that when staff feel appreciated by their leader, they have increased satisfaction and less turnover. They also create higher levels of customer satisfaction. To maximize the benefits of appreciation, do it on a regular basis, make it specific to the recipient, and be authentic. Don’t forget the value of showing appreciation to peers and even your supervisor. We all need a dose of appreciation during these difficult times.

There is no playbook for leaders during this unprecedented crisis. However, when leaders can engage and empower their staff through listening, communication, questioning, and appreciation, they can increase their chance of successfully navigating this crisis while gaining valuable respect from their staff.