How to lead through new territory

No-one could have predicted the situation we’re currently in, and it’s probably evoking lots of uncomfortable feelings – I know it is for me. I’ve also heard some wonderful stories of how people are supporting and taking care of each other, whether that’s at work or at home.

Being a leader is complex, especially at a time like this. How can you show vulnerability and make it psychologically safe for people to speak up, yet also show confidence and strength so those same people can rely on you to provide a safe harbour?

One could argue this is simply good leadership, albeit magnified at the moment! So, this article comprises some thoughts for you to consider around how to support your team during this time.

“Learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Learn to be peaceful not bored.
Learn to be inspired not scared.”
Maxime Lagacé

Look after yourself

You can’t support anyone else unless you look after yourself first.

What are you feeling? What are your needs?

It’s perfectly normal to feel insecure when we have no control over what’s happening. To help you get into a more balanced state, please read the article I posted recently on LinkedIn: Looking after yourself at this time.

Set boundaries

Working from home unexpectedly can be a challenge, especially if you’re homeschooling your kids at the same time.

If you can, try not to let work leak into home life too much, and the other way around.

I’ve heard stories of neighbours who help each other, for example, by taking turns with shopping trips and colleagues providing video maths tuition for a team mate’s kids so they can catch up with some work. This helps everyone be more productive both at work and at home, as well as creating lasting bonds.

Remember to exercise

Sitting at a desk all day and on Zoom calls all evening isn’t good for your physical or mental wellbeing.

Although your gym may be closed, remember to exercise – outdoors if you’re allowed to, keeping a safe distance from anyone else. There are lots of exercise classes on YouTube, live-streamed on Facebook, and live on Zoom.

Here’s a lighthearted video to make you smile – ignore the fact he’s not on his own 🙂

Use the time to focus on your personal development

I’m a big believer in trying to make the best of every situation. So, whilst this is far from ideal (and I truly hope you and all your loved ones stay safe), think about what you want to gain from it – what you’d like to learn or develop during this time.

Maybe working from home is giving you a little more headspace than normal, or more time given you are not commuting to work. How could you use this saved time for something specific you wouldn’t normally have time for? What would you like to learn? Set yourself a goal and carve out the time – you’ll feel amazing as a result!

Emotions of change

Change curve

Do you remember the Kübler-Ross change curve? It shows the stages people can go through in times of change (home and work).

People go through these stages at different times. Where do you feel you currently are?  What would help you get to the next stage?  Where would you plot others, such as team members and colleagues, and how can you help them move towards the upwards trend?

Rose ebooksAs you may know, I’ve written several articles on the subject of change. I’m collating some of them into a series of ebooks.

I haven’t officially launched them yet, however they are now available on Amazon. The ebook on Change: Dealing with Emotions may be of particular interest to you at this time.

My books on Amazon

“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”

Look after your team

Caring for other people is also key at this time.

What are they feeling? What are their needs?

You can’t mobilise a team to be productive unless each person’s needs are taken care of. As much as possible, I recommend you communicate with them as individuals as well as together as a team.

You probably know the Maslow model? It’s been around a long time. It’s useful to remember that safety and belonging are basic needs before esteem and self-actualisation – so until they feel safe (including job security) they won’t be able to focus on the work to be done.

Think how you can make it safe for team members to say what’s really on their mind, and for the team to co-create solutions/support.

I’m currently working with some people who tell me the thing they most appreciate is their line manager taking time to talk to them. So show a personal interest. Let them know you truly care about them and their wellbeing.

Regularly check in with them to see how they’re coping.

“Be an island of calm in the sea of craziness.”


Let your people know it’s OK if their productivity is affected, particularly if they are trying to homeschool their children at the same time as working. Recognise that they can’t possibly be expected to produce the same amount of work in that environment.

Know that they’ll be doing the best they can to make it work. Accepting in your own mind that productivity may be affected is the best way to support and care for your people.

Set guardrails

Know that employees appreciate regular updates and guidance in which clarity is as valuable as reassurance.

Work with your team members to jointly decide the key guardrails, such as how much freedom they have to act. If you empower them, recognise that they might feel more anxious than usual about making mistakes, because they’re unlikely to be able to check by having a quick chat with someone, or by sensing the environment.

Show appreciation

Acknowledge progress, wins and milestones. Remember to thank people.

Remember, now – more than ever – it’s important to personally connect with each person and the whole team.

Stay agile

Now is not the time to seek to take control, no matter how tempting this may feel.

A personal example of this is when I have my horse-riding lessons (obviously not a the moment!). If I feel insecure and grip with my knees, I think it might help me hold on. But the reality is that my centre of balance slips and I’m more likely to go over the horse’s head if he trips. While your instinct might be to grip tighter, you should actually relax more, sit tall, be as one with the horse and go with his rhythm.

This analogy works because we can’t control or fight the situation. We just have to go with it, flex, adapt and iterate. The answer is to continue to lead in an agile way.

For more on this, please see my article on How to be an agile leader.

As well as not feeling you have to control everything, don’t feel you have to know everything. Use the gifts and knowledge of your team and other stakeholders – make the sum of the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Model a learning mindset

Be open to exploring different ways of meeting and doing work. Don’t assume things can’t happen just because you’re not in the same physical workplace. The technology is there to enable meetings and networking.

Also, know that things will probably go wrong, so be lighthearted about this! I’m on a steep learning curve with all the tech that’s available and am currently on a training course to learn more about facilitating virtual meetings – a key point I am constantly being told is that the tech will go wrong, and not to fret about it. So I pass on this little nugget to you too!

Key to all this are regular reviews to see what’s working well, what people are finding difficult, and how your organisation will adjust.

Here are some useful questions to ask your team:

  • What are you finding harder than you expected?
  • What can you learn from this?  How can we help you?
  • What are the unexpected benefits?  How can you maximise them, both now and when things return to a new normal?
  • How can we continue to learn from each other?
  • How can we play to our strengths, personality traits & attributes and specific skills, to help people both inside and outside work?


Balance your focus between the here & now and continuing towards your personal purpose and the purpose of your team and organisation.

When this crisis first kicked off, our priority was trying to transfer to working from home, and ensuring that people had the technology they needed. Now, you as the leader should keep part of your mind focused on moving the organisation forward towards its strategic aims and long-term direction.

There are two benefits to this:

  • It reassures people there is some stability and that things will eventually return to normal, helping people to feel safe
  • When we do reach that point, everyone will be able to get back on track quickly

Stay resilient

I recently attended a webinar on resilience at work run by The Association of Coaching. They had invited a speaker to show a model of resilience (R@W), comprising seven components that are particularly relevant at a time like this:

  1. Living authentically: Knowing and holding onto personal values, deploying strengths, and having a good level of emotional awareness and regulation
  2. Finding your calling: Seeking work that has purpose, gives a sense of belonging, and fits well with one’s core values and beliefs
  3. Maintaining perspective: Having the capacity to reframe setbacks, maintain a solution-focus, and manage negativity
  4. Mastering stress: Employing work and life routines that help manage everyday stressors, maintain work-life balance and ensure time for relaxation
  5. Interacting cooperatively: Seeking feedback, advice and support, and providing support to others
  6. Staying healthy: Maintaining a good level of physical fitness, a healthy diet and adequate sleep
  7. Building networks: Developing and maintaining personal support networks

“Be a master of the mind, not mastered by the mind.”
Zen proverb

Practical considerations

Consider how to handle the situation if any of your people get sick. How will essential work be covered? Arrange backups for each key individual and major piece of work.

Continue to show team members who are off sick you care – maybe by keeping in touch in the way they want. This isn’t to talk about work but just to let them know you wish them well.  A text or get-well card goes a long way.

Useful reading

I hope you have found some tips for yourself.  We will meet again one day, but for now take care of yourself and try and enjoy the ride!!

As well as the links above, you might find my other articles useful:

Next month

How to facilitate virtual meetings.