Leading teams in pandemics and crises

by | Jun 4, 2020 | CEO/Executive Directors | 0 comments

In Tuesday’s Nonprofit Storytelling Conference conversation with Denise Jacobs, a question came up from a middle manager in this pandemic and social unrest.

The middle manager is trying to be human with her team. Giving them space to process and still get their work done.

But this isn’t being supported by her senior leader. Her boss almost fanatically focused on data, metrics, and productivity. This oppressive focus on one set of metrics is adding toxicity to the staff.

Caring for staff by keeping them employed

Being a senior leader in a pandemic and in a crisis of systemic inequities is incredibly challenging. You are trying to move forward with some level of certainty in an incredibly unpredictable time. So it’s natural to have an almost maniacal focus on reliable metrics and hard data.

Your push for those is motivated by your deep, deep care for your staff. You’ve had sleepless nights wondering how you’ll meet payroll. Knowing your staff is stressed. And knowing that laying them off would only add to that stress.

Unfortunately, focusing exclusively on metrics doesn’t show your staff how much you care. It comes across as a fear-fueled push to dehumanize people, ignore the pain and trauma they’re experiencing, and turn them into mere pieces of a machine that achieves metrics for the company.

But people need place to process their stress. They’re working from home while schools are closed. In an invisible virus that is killing people around the globe. And worrying about their own life, or the lives of their kids or neighbors, if they go for a jog or pay for something at a store.

As well meaning as it is, your sole focus on trying to find metrics you can trust in the face of a situation you feel helpless in the face of, just sounds like deafening silence to your staff.

Leading people means employing the entire person

In “normal” times “keep your personal life outside of work” isn’t really possible. We make believe it is possible, but we all have reduce productivity when we’re experiencing episodic grief. People are wonderful and messy. What happens in one area of our life impacts the others.

Ignoring “personal life” is even more difficult when the stresses are coming from all sides including the news, social media, and your customers. It’s obviously impossible when the work is having to be done from home.

Leading your staff means making space for some level of processing. Having metrics is helpful. It allows you to measure output and to do what you can to keep making paychecks possible. But you’ll miss all your metrics if that’s all you focus on.

Or else you’ll lose your staff. First, you’ll lose them while they’re in their job. They’ll check out and be less effective. Then they’ll leave.

As odd as it may seem, making space for processing can actually help you meet your metrics.

Fortunately, after the conversation Denise came across this article from 2017 that is still very timely. In “How to Manage Your Team in Times of Political Trauma,” author Michelle Kim reminds us: Your workforce is suffering. Today. Right now. She gives 7 actions you can do, one-on-one, as an organization, and for yourself:

  1. Acknowledge what is happening
  2. Check in with your team
  3. Reduce or redistribute labor or emotional burden
  4. Care for your team as people, not just as workers
  5. Host safe(r) discussion spaces
  6. Develop a formal response as a leadership team
  7. Get support for yourself

In her article, she gives details for each action. She even includes actual words you might say.

You care about your staff. But like the middle manager on Tuesday’s call, it’s likely your staff isn’t aware of your care. To them, it just looks like you’re silent. Willfully ignoring that the world is on fire.

So take time to talk with your staff. And support middle managers who are already doing these actions. You are panicked. And as a leader, you can’t share all that fear with your staff. But you can help them process theirs. Amazingly, doing what seems like a pause in activity, will likely help you meet those metrics you’re pushing for.

Michelle Kim reminds us:

Know that your team will remember your compassion, but they will also remember your silence.

Let’s not be silent.


Marc originally first posted this article on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leading-teams-pandemics-crises-marc-a-pitman/

Read Michelle Kim’s entire article, “How to Manage Your Team in Times of Political Trauma: Here’s what to do and say to boost psychological safety” at: https://medium.com/awaken-blog/managing-teams-in-times-of-political-trauma-what-to-do-what-to-say-to-boost-psychological-safety-b5782969d6fa

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