Last week as I was preparing for our team to begin working remotely, I was thinking about how this might work. 

I am an empty nester, so working from home is not nearly as complicated now as it was when our daughter was underfoot. However, many of the FTF team members have small children and spouses who are also providing essential services during this time. People are trying to navigate multiple roles – parent, teacher, team member, spouse, adult child to an aging parent and more – but in a much more chaotic environment.

It is not lost on me that there is no way it can be business as usual for the next four to eight weeks. I literally can’t expect that team members will be at their desk from 8-5 when they are trying to feed children meals and snacks (then help with cleanup), put younger kids down for naps, provide assistance or direction for schoolwork, break up the latest spat or make sure their kids are not occupying themselves with screens all day long. And laundry. Don’t forget the mountains of laundry.

They’re also spending their energy trying to nurture other relationships in their lives and help family members/friends who have lost jobs, are ill or very susceptible to Covid-19 who may need their help in this challenging landscape. Not to mention, everyone is trying to keep surfaces wiped down to prevent the spread of sickness.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, that I think is worth sharing. 

He reminded us that right now, all of us are in uncharted waters so we need to be exceedingly human. As in, as leaders/employers, we need to demonstrate real concern for the fears and anxieties people are experiencing both professionally and personally. A lot of people, including those of us who lead companies, feel like we have been punched in the gut.

Next, he pointed out that now is the time to be especially communicative with our team members. Check in on people. Share what you know even if there isn’t a lot of new information. Pass along resources that you think might be helpful to them. (First Things First actually created a page with resources for self-care, marital care and parenting specifically to help people during these uncertain times.)

Lencioni also encouraged us to lead with creativity. There is no way we can do things the way we have always done them, so try new things. It’s likely you have already created regular check-in times with your team members. Instead of only talking about work, allow them to share how they are being creative at home, give them the chance to share stories, movies, games and resources they have found particularly helpful. Your team needs to know you get it. This kind of bonding will bring the team closer long after this crisis is past.

In my experience, great leaders do not see themselves as better than the people on their team. In fact, they surround themselves with team players who are passionate about the mission and understand that the success of the work is dependent on the success of the team. Now is not the time to only look out for self, but to recognize that we are all in this together. Even in and especially in times of unprecedented loss, the leader sets the tone for how the team moves forward. 

Truth be told, probably all of us who lead are concerned about how we are going to pay bills and make payroll over time. No doubt, income and donations will be less and billable hours will decrease, but in the midst of this, we absolutely cannot forget the human factor. Pushing people harder will not make things better and they will certainly not forget how they were treated in the midst of this crisis.

Lencioni closed his email with these wise words: 

“What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual,’ or being absent or inconsistent in the name of ‘giving people space,’ or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”

As the CEO, I know the FTF team is looking to me to lead through this time. I honestly have no idea what the future holds. I do know for this moment in time, I can be gracious with folks as they try to figure out how they will juggle everything. Nobody’s schedule is going to look exactly the same. I have to recognize that some of our team members are early birds and some are night owls. Some people need total quiet to work and others can work through the noise, no problem. Giving them some flexibility to accomplish tasks is key. People are already super stressed, weary and anxious. Adding to that will only make them more unproductive and decrease the bottom line. With these things in mind, I am looking for ways to help bring calm as we continue to serve people through our work by making one wise decision at a time.

Managing Change Successfully

"It's NOT business as usual". We talk with Julie Baumgardner about dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with the major changes to our business and family lives during COVID19. Learn more at firstthingsfirst.org .

Posted by CWLI – Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute on Friday, March 20, 2020

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