The Round Up is a regular offering by The Manager’s Boot Camp of various key resources with tips, tools and ideas to help you manage and lead through the pandemic crisis.

Resources shared this week include:

  • Managing People – strategies for managing your boss when they are failing to lead in a crisis
  • Managing the Work – uncertain of what a new ‘normal’ will be? Consider what changes you want to keep
  • Managing Yourself – finding clarity and resilience through journaling

Managing people – Strategies for managing your boss when he or she is failing to lead in a crisis

We always want to feel the support of our boss. Particularly at times of crisis, we rely on them to make decisions and give direction when situations are uncertain, volatile, dangerous, and/or complex. So what do you do if your boss is unable to make decisions as quickly as you feel is required, or makes a decision, and then changes it soon after? Moreover, what if your boss avoids making decisions at all? When the leader is missing-in-action staff may resort to doing what’s best for themselves rather than consider how to work with others for the common good.

My first experience with a boss who modelled leadership at a time of crisis was during a bomb threat at a hospital. Within a couple of hours she sought appropriate consultation and assessed that the threat was credible, evaluated the alternative responses of find-and-defuse if real or evacuate, and given her decision to evacuate, directed and supported the team to implement the emergency plan in place and carry it out.  The focus and energy of the leadership team and staff, along with external supports such as police, fire and emergency personnel, was a marvel to behold.

A leader’s responsibility is to help their managers and all staff interpret and understand what is going on around them, and help them contribute to solutions. Even where a situation is unprecedented, or of uncertain duration, labelling it as such prepares staff to understand they are in new territory, and to manage their expectations.

You cannot control how your boss responds to conflict. But if he or she is not providing what you think is needed, stay calm, and consider how you can augment the missing support: help them organize their thoughts, or walk them through some options. If you feel there is direct serious risk of harm to your clients or staff resulting from your boss’s inadequacies, you may have to take immediate responsibility and action within your authority to mitigate the danger. This may include telling your boss’s boss. However, except in extreme situations do not rush to undermine your boss.

To deal with conflicts in communication with the people who report to me or to whom I report, I rely on a checklist to remind me of the realistic expectations one should have of the other. I’ve adapted it from Pat Nickerson’s book, Four-Star Management Workshop from 1989 to apply to a crisis situation.

What your boss owes you:
  • Direction: clear and specific about the situation and their expectations
  • Information: on which risks/opportunities require a change of direction and why
  • Material Support: adequate facilities, funds, and staff to respond as expected; and if shortages are being experienced, letting staff know what you are doing to problem solve and advocate on their behalf
  • Empathy, compassion: notice the impact on individuals and providing sincere encouragement when needed
  • Integrity: be truthful, respectful and fair
What you owe your boss:
  • Performance: strive to complete or exceed stated requirements
  • Information: on risks/opportunities clear to you and relevant to the work setting
  • Requests and recommendations: rather than complaints and unsubstantiated ideas
  • Patience: consideration of the boss’s time demands and constraints
  • Courage and self-discipline: staying power even in tough times
  • Integrity: be truthful, respectful and fair
What neither owes the other:
  • Mind-reading
  • Affection
  • Allegiance to the same values
  • Self-sacrifice for the other’s good
  • Perfection

Use this checklist to evaluate your own contribution, and if you are getting what you need from your boss. Then, take steps to shore up your efforts where needed, and communicate to your boss what you need.

Managing the work – when the crisis has abated, consider what changes you want to keep

Comparing today’s pandemic to the impact of the SARS experience on the workplace and the services we offer, I immediately appreciate the value of digital technologies that are being quickly adopted or expanded for use: virtual medical appointments, online programming, and online meetings are now par for the course.

It has been the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic for organizations to change how they operate: more staff working at home, flexible hours, virtual meetings, role reassignment, and many other program, service, and administrative process changes to support changing work priorities and mitigating risks to both clients and staff. Imagine what you want to accomplish in the foreseeable future. What are you learning about these alternate approaches that work, and those that do not? Are they a provisional stopgap or will they help your organization function better once the current crisis is resolved?

The second major point to consider is how to maintain a successful work–life balance. Your staff’s needs in relation to their families must be considered more than ever before. An article by Thomason and Williams in the Harvard Business Review, What Will Work-Life Balance Look Like After the Pandemic?, reviews the impact and offers the following challenge:

During this pandemic, employers are seeing that workers can’t function well without accommodation for their family responsibilities. Will that lesson last after the crisis is over? American families want greater choices in determining how their work and their families fit together. Post-pandemic, can we create a system that fits real workers, not just idealized ones? If so, we have the opportunity to emerge from this crisis with both healthier employees and better performing organizations.

Managing yourself – finding clarity and resilience through journaling

Supporting resilience in others requires a level of emotional intelligence to accept and manage emotions. Many leaders cultivate resilience by allowing themselves to experience and record their feelings, along with documenting what is happening as it unfolds. Initially resistant to the idea, I used to roll my eyes at the thought of keeping a journal: I felt I had to buy a beautiful notebook, wondered if I had the talent to wax poetically about the day’s events, and imagined how it would look with the first couple of pages filled and empty thereafter!

Instead of feeling you have to tap into your inner Virginia Woolf, read this article by Henna Inam in Forbes that describes journaling as an approach to developing as an effective leader. The following points are summarized from her recommendations:

What’s present for me now? What’s going on in this moment for you? Notice what emotions are present. Often, we rush through our day without checking in with ourselves. It will set you up for rich learning in the questions that follow.

What’s going wellWhat’s creating that? Acknowledging what’s good helps you take a step back from what may have been a very stressful day. It helps you acknowledge yourself and others for the good that’s happening. It helps you learn what’s positive and what’s helping you achieve goals.

What’s challengingWhat’s creating that? Acknowledging what’s challenging focuses you on what needs your attention for learning and growth. What beliefs, attitudes, or actions by you contribute to what is challenging for you? This process of taking responsibility (without judgment) is a key driver to feeling empowered as a leader rather than a victim of circumstances. It opens you up to experimenting with other ways of leading that may be more effective.

What needs my attention? This is a great question for scanning your environment, both work and personal. Your focus of attention is your most precious asset. This helps you become mindful and choose where you invest it.

What’s meaningful? Asking, ‘what am I grateful for’ helps you learn about what values are important to you and then lead from these values. It helps you discover purpose, leading you to inspire and engage yourself and those around you. This helps you focus on what’s going right overall which helps to reduce stress, and improve overall well-being in yourself and others.

What strengths do I notice in myself? This helps you become aware of your strengths and put them into action. It builds confidence, trust in yourself, and resilience.

What strengths and contributions do I notice in others? This helps you appreciate and see what others are contributing. You can then acknowledge and appreciate them. It helps build productive and trusting work relationships.

What am I learning? Scan your writing. Capture any learning that feels most important.

What is an action I am committing to? This helps you move the learning forward into action.

In summary, there is a theme of resilience woven through the topics suggested in this round-up: How do we strive to understand what we are experiencing during these unprecedented times, and how is it affecting everything we assumed or took for granted? How do we recognize, adopt and master the new ideas, approaches and values that are best to keep, and release those that are not? More to come on this next week.