As I’ve been writing about the past couple of weeks, the allostatic load of the extraordinarily stressful period we’re living, working and leading through demands that we be more mindful about the routines that can help us be both effective and healthy. I’ve already written about physical and mental routines. This week, I want to talk about relational routines; the ones that address our basic need for love and belonging and that also help keep us alive.

From a purely utilitarian standpoint, it’s fairly obvious that if you want to get positive results over the long-run, you need to invest in positive relationships. They’re essential to getting things done. From a humanistic standpoint, positive relationships make life more fun, strengthen your immune system (kind of important during a global pandemic), and increase your life expectancy by reducing the likelihood of heart disease, cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s. As this article that summarizes the ground breaking research of UCLA professor Steve Cole states, “our bodies see loneliness as a mortal threat.” From an evolutionary standpoint, we’re wired to intuit loneliness and isolation as a threat to our survival because it’s easier for a group to fend off a saber tooth tiger than it is for an individual. The sense of isolation that working from home can bring prompts us to seek out connection with others. That’s why you’ve been doing all of those virtual happy hours and meet-ups. That’s a good thing because it’s helping you get out of the chronic state of fight or flight that both reduces your performance and your health and well-being.

As many of us will continue to work from home and maintain physical distance for the foreseeable future, here are a few things to consider incorporating into your virtual relationships as well the ones you have with the people you live with.

Include Transformational Listening In Your Mix – As I wrote about in my book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, there are three basic kinds of listening – transient, transactional and transformational. As the accompanying chart makes clear, all of us engage in transient listening where we’re so distracted with our own agenda and thoughts that we don’t actually listen. Transactional listening is focused on solving a problem or identifying a next step and is much higher value-added. We’re all seeing and doing a lot of that on work-related Zooms but if we stop at transactional listening, we miss out on the opportunities for deeper relationships. That’s where transformational listening comes in – listening with no other purpose than to connect and learn more about the other person or people. Open-ended questions that spark warm memories, a sense of fun, reflections on gratitude or hope for the future are a great way to set up transformational conversations. This blog post I wrote a few years ago has a list of those kinds of questions. Why not ask one or two of those in your next team Zoom meeting or casual conversation with a friend or family member?

Three Styles of Listening, The Eblin Group

Make the Time and Take the Time – Do your best to pay attention to how you’re allocating your conversational time. What percentage of it is focused on more transactional conversations? If more than 80 percent are focused on human “do-ings”, make and take some regular time to focus on the human beings through transformational conversations.

Variety is the Spice of Life – Routines and patterns are useful in life because they help us get things done without having to start from scratch every time we do them. The weekly staff meeting, the rotation of shirts you’re wearing on Zoom and the walk you go on after lunch are all examples of routines that are helpful until they’re not. They’re not when they get you into a rut of not noticing when you’re repeating yourself without looking for opportunities for deeper connection with colleagues, friends and family. Variety is the spice of life. Spark new connections by changing up your meetings and routines and inviting others into a different mix that brings fresh energy by shaking things up. A little creativity in a pandemic never hurt anyone!

Strong, healthy relationships are vital to both productivity and health and well-being. What have you been doing to deepen yours during the pandemic?

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For many of us in the United States, week seven or so of the work from home (WFH) period is underway. And even as attention turns to how to get people back to the office, it’s pretty clear that we’re at the beginning of a pretty long haul of a lot more working from home than we ever thought we would. From my vantage point as a long-time work from homer and a coach to a lot of leaders and teams who are new to the scene, what I’m seeing is a slow realization that we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. And that means we’re going to have to adjust if we plan to finish the race on our feet.  About a month ago on the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, noted relationship counselor and therapist Esther Perel observed of the early days of WFH, “Never before have people worked so hard and gotten so little done.”

Inspired by Perel and what I’m seeing and hearing, here are
three recommendations of things you need to stop doing this week if you want to
work a little less hard and, in the process, actually get more done. If you’re
in a leadership role, so much the better as whatever you stop doing will have a
positive ripple effect for the people on your team.

Stop Sitting All Day – You probably never imagined you’d spend so much time at your kitchen table or that desk you set up in your extra bedroom. I have had way more than one client tell me that they’re sitting at their table in front of their screen for 10 or 12 hours a day without much of a break. I checked out some data from Fitbit today that showed the average step count for their users was down 12 percent the week of March 22 just as the WFH period was cranking up. I haven’t seen more recent data but am guessing the decline is now steeper and deeper. Sitting all day is bad for your health in general and bad for your brain in particular. You need fresh input to keep your neural network humming. Get up and out of your cave throughout the day. When you come back to the screen, you’ll feel better and think better.  

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call – When the WFH period started, all the cool kids moved to Zoom. The barriers to entry were low and the value of seeing colleagues’ faces was high. The value is still there, but several weeks in, it looks we’ve all overcorrected on the use of  Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. The new notice is the emerging trend of Zoom fatigue. My colleague Beth Schumaker shared this article from National Geographic that explains what it is and why it happens. Here’s the summary. You’ve never been on stage before like you are on Zoom. In the Brady Bunch screen share mode, everyone can see everyone else’s micro expressions and you’re aware you’re being watched as carefully as you’re watching others. You might even be watching yourself as you speak which is not something you ever did pre-pandemic. It’s exhausting and leaves you depleted with less frontal brain lobe capacity to think strategically and make sound decisions. Zoom is great until it isn’t. Mix up your communications modalities. Take some old-fashioned phone calls a few times a day instead of another Zoom.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan – Going back to work won’t mean going back to normal. You’re not going to pick right back up with the strategic plans you laid out before the pandemic; you’ll have to continue to reprioritize and reimagine based on new realities. In spite of everything that’s already changed and all that clearly will change from this point forward, I’m hearing from clients that a lot of their colleagues are still pushing and grinding away on their original business plans for the year. I get that at some level – there’s comfort in the familiar and in the belief that by following a plan we’re in control of our outcomes. Well, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you’re tempted to stick with your plan, acknowledge that you and everyone else in the world has just taken the mother of all left hooks to the jaw. If you’re still holding on to the original plan, let go of it, step back and ask, “What’s most needed and most important now?”

So, that’s my short list of three things to stop doing this
week. What’s on your list?

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In times of crisis, complex decisions often have to be made
and implemented quickly. It can be challenging to coordinate and obtain buy-in
on those big decisions even when the stakeholders can get in a room together to
hash it all out. In the new “Work from Home” (WFH) era sparked by the COVID-19
pandemic, being in the same room isn’t an option. That can lead to some
predictable conflict-management problems that you can avoid with a little foresight
and creativity.

Think back to that distant time of February 2020 and
earlier. There were probably times when you found yourself in the middle of an
email flame war. You remember how those went. One or more participants poured
gas on the fire by sharing crazy assumptions or accusations without having all
the facts. If you’re like the best leaders I’ve coached, you calmed the conflict
by pulling the parties together to talk things out. Just the act of bringing the
players into the same room made things better because once people are together,
they connect more as human beings and not as faceless combatants sitting at
their keyboards.

Now that we’re all WFH, leaders need to be super intentional
and proactive about creating virtual spaces for human connection. For instance,
let’s say you’re finding yourself at odds with a colleague about how your teams
should coordinate and work together during the crisis. One option is to send
emails back and forth (and maybe CC’ing a few people in the process) so the two
of you can argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s not good for anybody
– your customers, your teams or either of you.

If you were in the pre-WFH days what would you do? I asked
that question of an executive coaching client a few days ago who was in the
middle of one of those virtual conflict loops. He immediately answered, “I’d
walk down to his office and say, ‘Let’s go get a beer and talk things over.’”
We concluded that that was still a good move, it would just have to be executed
a little differently. Later that day, he set up a FaceTime call with his colleague
and they each had a beer while they talked things over. The next day, they
co-led an online meeting of both of their teams so everyone was working from
the same playbook. The show of leadership unity that was engineered over a
virtual happy hour was a crucial component of getting things back on track.
(Thanks to my client for giving me the OK to share his story with you.)

We don’t realize how much our effectiveness as leaders and
colleagues depends on the little things like picking up on facial expressions
and body language while we’re relaxing together until our usual ways of doing
that are no longer available. Until they are again, we’re all going to have to
be more mindful of creating and calling for virtual alternatives. Our ability
to make complex decisions and get good things done without a lot of needless
friction depends on it.

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My Crisis Leadership Playbook

Along with testing our public health and economic systems in unprecedented ways, the COVID-19 pandemic will test leaders at all levels in all organizations as never before. When I talk about the ideas in my book, The Next Level, one of the first things I usually say is that the next level is any leadership situation which requires different results. Since different results require different actions, leaders need to make adjustments of picking up new behaviors and mindsets while letting go of others to create the results that are expected or hoped for. Well, here we are. The apple cart has been turned completely upside down and leaders everywhere are going to need to make some big changes to restore health and well-being for the people in their organizations, their communities, their nations and our planet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how what I already know about
leadership applies and what else needs to be in the mix for all of us in
leadership roles now that the world has changed so dramatically. The ideas I’m
sharing in this post are the basics of a crisis leadership playbook that is something
of a work in progress. I’ll update my thoughts as I learn more but wanted to go
ahead and share what I have now in the hope that there is something in here
that may be helpful to you and the people you love and lead.

The first thing I’m sure of is that effective leadership in
this new era begins with effective self-management. When I was writing the 3rd
edition of The Next Level in 2018, I summarized a lot of what I’d
learned in the 6 years since writing the 2nd edition with three
leadership imperatives:

Manage YourselfLeverage Your TeamEngage Your Colleagues

You can think of these three as forming a pyramid with
managing yourself at the base. Nothing else works as well as it could or should
if leaders don’t manage themselves effectively.

So, what does it mean to do that well? Back in the old days
(February 2020 and before), I focused on four domains of routines – physical,
mental, relational and spiritual – that are the building blocks of effective
self-management. I practice what I preach with those routines but, like
everyone who is reading this, have had to learn over the past couple of weeks
how to adapt those routines to the new realities of social distancing and life
and business operating rhythms that are radically different than what they were
pre-pandemic. I’ve always talked about optimal routines and “good enough for
today” routines. For example, my optimal physical routine is a 75-minute hot
yoga class in a room with 60 other people and a great instructor. That’s not
happening now so, like a lot of you, I’m using online yoga and fitness classes.
Not my old optimal but good enough for today and it’s helping me be at my best.

What I haven’t spent as much time thinking about over the years that I am definitely thinking about now is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There’s about a 100 percent chance you’ve heard of it, but if you haven’t looked at it lately, Google it and give yourself a refresh. The base of Maslow’s hierarchy is Physiological needs like air, water, food, shelter, sleep and clothing. (If Maslow were alive today, I imagine he’d add toilet paper to that list.) The next level of his pyramid is Safety needs like personal security, employment, resources and health. The pandemic strikes right at the heart of this level of needs. The third level of the hierarchy is Love and Belonging with characteristics like friendship, intimacy, family and a sense of connection. Have you noticed how many FaceTime or Zoom calls you’ve been on the past couple of weeks to check in with family and friends? That’s because, even in the age of social distancing, you have a need for love and belonging. The top two levels of Maslow’s pyramid are Self-Esteem and Self-Actualization. My sense is a lot of high achieving leaders are not as immediately concerned about these two as they were a month ago. Other, more basic, needs have taken priority.

crisis leadership

And that brings me to a new way that I’m thinking about
leadership in these early days of the pandemic. As the accompanying picture
illustrates, it’s about the way great leadership radiates across concentric

The center and smallest circle, but a very
important one, is You. To be any good for anyone else, you have to take
care of yourself and manage yourself effectively. Your personal routines may need
to be modified but you still need ones that will help you be at your best.

The next circle is occupied by your Family
and Friends. You want to meet their physiological, safety and relational
needs because you love them and care for them. When you do that at whatever
level you can, you then free up mental and emotional bandwidth that you need to
serve and lead your Team.

Your Team is where your leverage is. When
you lead and serve them well, you can do great things together. The first task
is to do whatever you can to help them meet their own basic needs. The second
is to role model the approach you want them to take. Remember, as a leader, you
control the weather. However you show up is completely predictive of how your
team shows up.

From there, your work is about how you engage
with your Colleagues, your Partners and other Stakeholders
and, ultimately, the Customers and Citizens that rely on your

I’ll wrap up for now with some basic building blocks that,
along with self-care and caring for others, are essential for leading
effectively in a time of crisis:

Establish Clear Short-term Priorities: Long-term
visibility is impossible to come by right now, so focus yourself, your team,
colleagues and other stakeholders what you’re trying to solve for in the next
90 days. What do you collectively need to do in the next 30 days to create that
90-day picture? What can you and your team do this week to support the 30-day agenda?

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: The old cliché has never been more true than it is now – you can’t over communicate (virtually as much as possible of course). As you organize and execute on your communications strategy, consider using William Bridges’ Four P’s checklist:

Purpose – what are we trying to do, why
are we doing it and who are we doing it for?Picture – what will success look like in
the timeframe we can envision?Plan – what’s our plan for doing that?Part to Play – what are the roles and
responsibilities of everyone on the team? Where are the interconnects and who
has accountability for what?

Create Way More Connection and Touch Points Than Usual:
As the leader, be super intentional about keeping everyone informed,
encouraging and creating opportunities for support and celebrating the wins
along the way. There will be some to celebrate!

So, those are my current thoughts on running a crisis
leadership playbook? What resonates with you? What would you add? What’s
working for you? What else is on your mind? Please let me know. I’m here to
support you.

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