This gif of Canadians watching the American news that is kind of funny because it’s true.
We watch the news with fascination and horror over recent events and concern for our friends and neighbours. Of course, we are also observing it all with a healthy dose of good old Canadian smugness, because smugness is Canada’s second-largest export.
I have spent quite a bit of time since New Year’s talking with US-based clients, prospects and friends and what the rest of the world is missing is that most Americans are horrified by recent events and feel a palpable fear.
Fear for their Nation, their families, their communities, their lifestyles and livelihoods.
In short, they are scared, and they are living in scary times.
If you are a leader, you carry a responsibility to deal well with scary times, for your conduct impacts not only those in your personal life but also employees.
What follows are several thoughts for leaders concerning yourself, your family, your company, and your community.
Leading Yourself through Scary Times
1) Watch your stress – A contagious virus or an insurrection is undoubtedly something to take seriously. Nothing is gained, however, from adding stress and anxiety to the situation. It is a challenge dealing with these big hairy ugly problems that are entirely out of your control. Still, if individuals, particularly those in leadership positions, exhibit unnecessary anxiety or stress, one problem turns into two: the original problem and our stress level. It can be helpful to remember that few things are either as good or as bad as reported.
If you feel anxious, turn off the TV, Twitter or the radio and disconnect for a couple of hours from the relentless pounding of hyperbolic news and get outside. Distance and open space give perspective – something that is easily lost when caught up in the whirlwind.
2) Take care of yourself – it is an excellent time to get some rest and make sure your health stays good. Eat well, exercise, and carve out some “you time” – this is not a selfish notion. It will help to ensure that your decision making remains sound.
3) Know that it will end – It is unhelpful to put a date on the calendar when you suspect things will be better because you have no control over that.
In the middle of crises, the world seems to shrink around us, and all we can see is the scary mess of the current situation. At those times, it is helpful to raise your chin just a bit, look out further, and remind yourself that time will move on and things will improve.
Leading your Family through Scary Times
1) Don’t get too caught up in business – If you are a leader within your organization, you are rightfully concerned about your business and your employees. Attend to that, but don’t lose sight of your family. They may also be scared. Your kids need to see a parental role model who projects strength and calmness. Your significant other needs a full partner. You need not have all the answers – you need to be there – not just there in body, but fully present with your heart, mind and ears.
2) Be Together – Scary things can sometimes make us reassess what is important in our lives. We can often get great strength from our family and friends – and we should openly turn to them at times of stress.
Leading your Company through Scary Times
1) Opportunity #1 – I was talking with a good CEO recently who noted that as his company has been reacting to the rapidly changing operational landscape for their business, they have come up with a couple of ideas that should have been implemented earlier. Adversity sometimes gives us the kick in the rear needed to make changes we should have made long ago.
2) Opportunity #2 – If you are in a leadership position, make sure to take note of those members of your staff who show up ready to help when you now need it most. It is a chance to identify your real Stars – the people you will want to invest in going forward.
3) Opportunity #3 – Do your best to treat your staff well through this difficult period. The company is under stress, but so are your employees and their families – they are scared too. You are on stage right now. Your employees are watching how you respond. Thoughtful acts of kindness and understanding will be magnified and remembered – so act accordingly.
4) Opportunity #4 – This is a hard one, but accept there will be a financial hit. That is the way the world works: things go up; things go down. When customers are being hit with adversity and are fearful, be as generous as you can with customers in stress. When you respond to their needs with understanding and kindness, you are taking the opportunity to improve your business relationship toward more of a full partnership.
5) Be the Chief Reminder Officer – More is better when it comes to communication. In the present situation, many are going to be working remotely for the first time. Don’t worry if your communication is repetitive – repetition can be reassuring. It is also okay to share concerns – your employees are not children, and they can deal with reality. If you fail to communicate, their imagination will fill in the gaps with fears that are worse than reality.
Watch for Emotional contagion – There is a psychological phenomenon called emotional contagion that can infect a group, a business, a town, and even a nation. It refers to a human tendency to mirror or take on the emotions of those with whom we interact. It is particularly evident when the emotion being spread is fear – and as mentioned above, fear is the emotion that negatively impacts decision making, which is one of the most important things a leader must do.
Humans are drawn to drama, and the pessimists among us seem odd to enjoy being on stage – those two factors make for a bad combination. You can help to stop the spread of emotional contagion by:
- being mindful of the phenomenon so you can resist it,
- not constantly reading the latest “news” on the concerning situation at hand from such questionable sources as your inbox, Facebook, and Twitter,
- staying informed, but only at reasonable intervals and exclusively from reliable sources,
- stop making every conversation in your day about the frightening topic,
- actively reminding yourself and others of the blessings all around, and
- graciously accepting what you can and cannot control.
You, my American friends, are good and robust people – and in scary times, you can take solace in your Nation’s incredible record of accomplishment. You will successfully come through this and even thrive if you focus on taking care of yourself, your family, your business, and your community.
And remember the great Canadian philosopher’s, Red Green, advice: