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The sustainability of COVID-19: What you should be doing now

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Exhaustion. Panic. Depression. Irritability. Do you relate to any of these? Most likely, you are burning the candle at both ends or are already burned out from what I call a sustainable crisis. The pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health causing a fraying of the nerves and in many cases impacting one’s ability to do the job well. When people think of a crisis, they most likely think of it as a flash in the pan. As suddenly as it appears, it goes away. While that may be true in some cases, it is certainly not the case this time with COVID-19. I often define a crisis as slow-burning or quick-burning and without a doubt, this is a slow-burning crisis. Think of it like an ember that continuously gives off sustainable heat.

If you read up on the definition of sustainable, according to dictionary.com, it’s the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. Can you and your team, in a sustainable manner keep putting out fires? My guess is, even if your team, your colleagues, your customers and others are not speaking up, the answer is no. As a leader, it’s your job to lead by example and that includes taking care of yourself, your team, your employees, and others before they exhibit signs of exhaustion, irritability, panic, depression, and more. This means that you need to have a backup plan for your backup plan when it comes to making it through the pandemic in a sustainable way. So, what can you do? Here are some things to consider:

Encourage time off
Grant requested time off or encourage it be taken. Don’t roll your eyes, sigh or bemoan the fact that a team member is now asking for time off. They need it and they also need you to support them. Keep an eye on who is requesting time off and who is not. You may have to remind a team member to take time off and that it’s OK to do so. If a team member has not taken any time off since this pandemic; it’s time. Help them help themselves.

Relief players
You may have a team or a team member that is specifically addressing the pandemic on a day-to-day basis. Does that person have a relief person identified? Do you have ideas of who else in your organization can fill that role if they are not able to? Are there other members of your team that can be trained to fill their position, so you have the ability to provide depth and flexibility to switch out team members as needed? I highly encourage you to act on this opportunity now. Be proactive in your approach. Explain the situation with transparency. This isn’t a reflection on their work, but rather a way to guarantee you their position on the team now and into the future.

Meaningful conversations without a business purpose
When was the last time you called a team member out of the blue just to chat about anything other than business? If it’s been a while, the time is now. Call them simply to say I’m calling to check in on you as a human and recognize that you have lot of things going on – and then listen. Sometimes that’s all that is needed. Or, you may discover a few action items that you can help out with such as connecting them with the right resources. It takes more effort for leaders today to connect with their team because you may not see everyone in the office at higher frequency, but the time and effort are so worth it.

Find a passion project and just do it
It sounds crazy but one of the first things we did when we entered the pandemic was to launch our podcast Sole Source. While it was something we had planned on for a later date, I thought it was important to launch something that was a passion project to tackle right now. I consider it a lifeline as it pulls me out of the day-to-day, fills my bucket and gives the team something to engage with that is fun and puposeful. Passion projects give us something outside of our normal work to keep the creative side of our brain flowing steadily with inspiration, while reminding us to ask, “what if?” and “what are the possibilities?” What are you doing as a leader that brings energy and passion into the everyday monotony of dealing with a crisis? This advice seems out of line but when you embark on a passion project it brings a sense of renewal to all of the other work that must be done.

You are human, we all are human
If you are a leader reading this thinking about how to help your team, lead by example and make sure you are taking steps to last as a sustainable leader. Take a day off. Take an hour off. Go for a 10-minute walk. Confide in a trusted colleague. Do what you need to do to be your best self in a healthy manner. Just like in a plane when the oxygen masks come down, it is recommended you place your mask over your face and mouth before helping others. The same applies in the business world as a leader. Take timeouts as frequently as you can so you are replenishing your oxygen to lead others sustainably.

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