HiPo Leadership Strategies to Get Balanced and Be on Target During the COVID-19 Crisis

Learning & Development Talent

During the COVID-19 crisis, leaders have to manage their feelings of being off-balance due to interrupted work routines and the distractions within their home workspace. Some leaders are distracted by their thoughts, worrying that their jobs are in jeopardy, being unsure of how to effectively motivate and inspire remote teams, and being distracted by their own stress.leader

Many leaders are feeling drained and unfocused due to disrupted exercise routines, a lack of social connection, not having their team physically available , emerging sleep issues, and the lack of a real work structure. Leaders are also facing additional challenges with distractions from having children and/or partners at home.

To keep focused and continue delivering a clear and targeted leadership that conveys confidence during chaos and change, leaders need to quickly establish routines and habits that allow them to focus on their work, team, and business objectives.

The following are high-performance leadership strategies that will help you remain focused and clear so you can show up as your best self and be the leader who conveys strength and confidence:

Commit to Only Your High-Value Activities

Your glucose (sugar) level is at its highest in the morning. Take advantage of this by structuring your mornings to work on your high-value activities.

Additionally, yhink of your brain as a small playground with three swings and a large group of kids who want to swing. Not everyone can be on all the swings at the same time. The kids will need to form a line based on your criteria of who should go first.

By using this analogy, you can see that not all of your activities need your attention to the same degree. This will produce confusion and a lack of clarity. You need to determine which activities are of high value so the right tasks receive your best energy and focus.

Strategy to Focus on High-Value Activities

Use the “Effort and Benefit Chart” below. Effort means the amount of energy you will need to exert to complete the activity. Benefit means the impact/result of your effort.

  • High Effort/High Benefit—These activities will require a significant amount of energy and will yield a compelling impact. Focus on these in the morning, when your glucose is at its highest and your attention level is at its best.
  • High Effort/Low Benefit—These require a lot of energy, as well, but the impact is low. These activities will feel daunting and uninspiring; because of this, make sure you attack them second in the morning when you can provide this level of energy. Move through them quickly, as your interest may wane easily.
  • Low Effort/High Benefit—These require very little energy but yield a significant result. This is your low-hanging fruit. You can do these activities when your glucose is lower and can aim for the afternoon when you experience a midday slump to focus on these activities.
  • Low Effort/Low Benefit—These require very little energy, and the impact is low. Don’t focus on these in the mornings, even though they are easy to check off your list and will make you feel like you are achieving momentum. They are distracting and low in importance and drain your best and most focused time. Do these activities toward the end of the day.

Establish a Productive Work Routine

Working at home sounds easy until you realize there can be challenges with focusing due to unexpected interruptions by unscheduled meetings, children and partners at home, social media pulling you in, and access to streaming devices.

As the time progresses at home, your home life may begin to bleed into your work life—that load of laundry needs your attention, you multitask on that conference call while walking the dog, and you scroll through your social media feeds multiple times during the day.

These interruptions appear innocuous, but you may notice you aren’t focusing as well as you need to. You can’t seem to complete tasks with the ninja attention you had at the office. There are emotional and neurological reasons for this. Here’s what is happening in your brain:

  • Your brain is hard wired to respond to stress.
  • Having to put a certain amount of energy into attending to the stressors, making sense of them (whether correctly or not), and managing the emotions these thoughts trigger might reduce your brain’s ability to focus on the work in front of you.
  • These stressors might reduce your ability to think clearly, problem-solve efficiently, or create detailed strategies and plans. No matter how hard you try to focus, you may still find this impossible or limiting.

Strategies to Improve Focus

Strategy 1: On weeknights, set up your workspace so only the most important tasks are in view. This way, you’ll limit the probability of being distracted by less important information. Your brain will try to process what is on your desk on screens and make sense of it. This can lead to overwhelm and lower focus.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statement below:

  • I will set up my desk for success at (select time of day):

Strategy 2: Don’t open e-mails or respond to texts until your high-value activities are completed. Leave your phone out of your workspace until these activities are done. Turn off your notifications on your phone and computer while you are working in the morning. If social media browsing is tempting, then uninstall apps before bed and reinstall them after work hours.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I commit to (what you will do) (pick a distraction):
  • When I feel drained or unfocused, I will:

Strategy 3: Stop when you feel drained or unfocused. Your brain is signaling that your glucose is low. Take a cognitive and physical break—get fresh air, stretch, or listen to music. Afterward, return to the lower-value activities.

Strategy 4: Commit to having a lunch hour. Use it for connecting with others, eating nutritious foods, watching no-/low-stress programs, or reading (not the news, which is a stressor right now and will leave you feeling drained and unfocused).

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I commit to having a lunch hour daily and doing the following:

Strategy 5: Your home environment might be different right now with children and partners at home. If you know the mornings are busy with their routines, then make sure to get up before everyone else so you can commit to your routine. At first, it might feel challenging, but you are in a new training season right now. Like an athlete, you need to condition yourself; that way, the new way of working will become routine and easier to perform.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statement below:

  • I commit to getting up at (time):

Strategy 6: Make sure to let those who live with you know how you are setting up your work routine. This way, they can not only support you but also encourage you when they see you are off track.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I will tell the following people about my new routine:
  • I will tell them on this date:

Lead from Your Values During This Challenging Time

The change in your work structure and workspace, along with any worries about COVID-19, can distract you from what is important to you, how you want to behave, and how you want to lead. You may find that you are short-tempered with others, inattentive, or disengaged. This is the time to recognize and recommit to your top 5 values.

1 Strategy to Align with Your Top 5 Values

Strategy 1: Find out or refresh your memory of your top 5 values by first thinking about the following:

When you define your personal values, you will discover what’s truly important to you. A good way to start is by looking back on your life—to identify when you felt good and confident that you were making good choices.

  • Reflect on a time in your professional and personal life when you were your happiest. What were you doing? Who was around you? What other factors contributed to your feelings of happiness?
  • Reflect on a time in your professional and personal life when you were your most proud. Why were you proud?
  • Reflect on a time in your professional and personal life when you were your most fulfilled and satisfied. What did you experience or accomplish that made you feel fulfilled and satisfied?

Identify 10–15 values that are most important to you. As you review the list, ask yourself:

Which values must be in my life for me to feel aligned?

Which ones make me feel my best?

When you look at your list, do you notice any patterns?

Authenticity Justice
Achievement Kindness
Adventure Knowledge
Autonomy Leadership
Balance Learning
Beauty Logic
Boldness Love
Challenge Loyalty
Citizenship Marriage
Collaboration Meaningful Work
Community Morality
Compassion Nature
Connection Openness
Contribution Optimism
Courage Partnership
Craftsmanship Peace
Creativity Playfulness
Curiosity Pleasure
Determination Poise
Excellence Popularity
Empathy Power
Faith Productivity
Fame Recognition
Family Religion
Forgiveness Reputation
Freedom Respect
Friendships Responsibility
Fun Risk-Taking
Grit Security
Growth Self-Respect
Happiness Service
Harmony Spirituality
Health Spontaneity
Honesty Stability
Humanity Success
Humor Status
Independence Trust
Influence Vitality
Inner Peace Wealth
Innovation Wisdom
Integrity Zest

 Now, take a moment to reflect on the values you chose. Think of your top values, not in any order, and ask yourself, “My values are … :”

Choose one of your values, and compare it with another value you selected (this is particularly helpful if some of your values sound similar). To choose between values, visualize a situation in which you would have to make that choice. Ask yourself: What does it look like to have each of these in my life, and how do I feel? Which one feels the most important? Which value makes me feel the most balanced?

Repeat this step by comparing each value with each other value until you have your top 5 values.

My top 5 values are:

Knowing your top 5 values during your change in work routine and workspace will allow you to keep what matters to you and how you want to behave at the forefront. Take notice of whether you are out of alignment or not demonstrating those top values. If you are not behaving or living in alignment with your values, pause and consider why this is occurring. Then think of ways to communicate or behave in a manner that reflects these values.

A bonus of focusing on your values right now is that your direct reports/employees will also benefit. They need to see and hear these values more than ever. If you have been demonstrating them already, they will want to see you continue to do so during this time of uncertainty and change. Reliability equals comfort to many employees during this crisis. The less they have to guess about “who” you are, the more they can focus on managing their lives and the new way of working and being.

Build a Few New Mini-Healthy Habits that Promote Healthy Living

When you are under stress, you may feel too emotionally drained to continue with productive habits that have been producing great emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits.

Changing these habits may leave you feeling drained, unfocused, and unclear, but healthy habits keep anxiety and depression at bay. Without healthy habits, navigating your emotions becomes challenging, produces fatigue, and makes you feel edgy or unengaged.

Strategies to Build Mini-Healthy Habits

It is important to build healthy bite-size habits that are achievable in your new way of being and working. Choose one emotional, physical, and cognitive habit. Here are examples:

Emotional: When you wake up, spend your first minutes reflecting on what you are grateful for. Then for 5 minutes, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. When inhaling, think of affirming words. When exhaling, think of words you would like to push out into the world.

Connect with your loved ones by video chat before your day starts and after. If at home with your family, have a morning check-in, and let them know you are there for them and want them to have a great day.

Have a supportive and encouraging morning check-in with your team. Don’t focus on work—it’s just a way for them to know you are there and that you are supportive.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I commit to the following emotional habit:
  • I will do it (days, times, frequency, duration):
  • My inspiration for building this habit:
  • Doing this habit will (how you will feel, what it will improve):

Physical: Gyms and group exercising are out for us right now, but don’t let this deter you. If you get energized by working out with others, gather those you live with to exercise together. This is a fun way to connect to healthy habits. You are also demonstrating to others a great strategy for dealing with uncertainty, boredom, and isolation.

If you live alone, check to see where you can access online exercise classes or join a livestream dance party. This is about moving your body and reengaging in healthy habits, and it can make you feel connected and less isolated.

If exercising seems daunting, then begin with just stretching or doing a few yoga asanas. Build in more physical activity after this becomes routine.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I commit to the following physical habit:
  • I will do it (days, times, frequency, duration):
  • My inspiration for building this habit:
  • Doing this habit will (how you will feel, what it will improve):

Cognitive: Don’t limit professional learning. Keep your mind active. Make time in your schedule to take learning breaks. Read an article, watch a TED Talk or a documentary, or listen to a podcast. New ideas and information will keep you feeling cognitively fresh and alert.

Join a peer group that meets online. This will allow you to keep in touch with the latest trends, information, and best practices. Or, write an article or a synopsis of some of the best ideas you have been reading, and share with your team and/or business.

Think of the ways you would respond to the statements below:

  • I commit to the following cognitive habit:
  • I will do it (days, times, frequency, duration):
  • My inspiration for building this habit:
  • Doing this habit will (how you will feel, what it will improve):

Being a strong and effective leader during these unusual times does not mean just pressing forward in the face of adversity and change. It often means leaning into the unknowns, accepting what can and cannot be changed or controlled, and developing new ways of being and doing.

Phyllis Reagin, Founder of At the Coach’s Table, is a doctoral-trained Leadership Coach, specializing in high-performance leadership strategies. The former leader of a Fortune 500 entertainment/media company, she has coached thousands of leaders to lead with greater influence, meaning, and impact. Widowed while 8 months pregnant, Reagin uses these important life lessons to help her clients face challenges with resilience and confidence.

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