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Letter to Leaders

9 Ways to Lead the Return To “Normal”

Things are starting to stabilize. Things appear to be getting better. The curve, for now, appears to be flattening.

But make no mistake: The anxiety people have is manifest 24/7. They’re worried about their families, their health, their jobs, their livelihoods (and that of their partners), managing kids, elderly parents, etc.

It’s not like people can go to work and get away from home problems. And they can’t go home and get away from their work problems, either.

As we all recover, our role as leaders is to provide employees with realistic reassurance, with empathy, honesty and emotional intelligence.

Here are 9 techniques for leading the Return to Normal:

1. Keep Your Foot on the Overcommunication Gas Pedal

Having an employee tell you “Hey, enough with the communication. I don’t need this much” is infinitely preferable to not giving them enough information. (Although in my entire career, I’ve never heard of an employee asking leadership to back off on the communication).

If the employee is working remotely, here’s a complimentary tool to help you conduct an effective conversation.

And remember, when you ask someone how they are, it tells them you care.

2. We’re Going to Be in The Unknown For Quite Some Time

This crisis, to quote an unknown author, is a case study in uncertainty – even as we’re coming out of this.

Many of us are asked, ‘when is it going back to normal? First, it will never be back to normal again. It’s OK. Remember, the world changed after 9/11, and we adapted.

We’re never really going to be back to “normal”. It won’t be “the way it always was”. It‘s up to leaders to make this new normal a comfortable place to be. It won’t be the same. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

3. Emotional Intelligence/Know Your Audience/One Size Fits One

Some people are incredibly anxious right now. Some people aren’t. Everyone has different stressors and all of us have been traumatized. Effective leadership starts with Emotional Intelligence, which can be summed up by “know who you’re talking with, and adapt accordingly”.

(Note, there’s a lot more to Emotional Intelligence than that, but it’s a start).

4. Make a plan but make plans to change the plan

We’re learning so much new information each day. I was reviewing some articles I wrote a month ago, and they’re already obsolescent. It’s great to prepare and make plans, but don’t be so wedded to the plan that you can’t change.

Because your plans ARE going to change.

5. Gratitude for your clients/end-users and employees

Gratitude helps take us back to the known. It reminds us of things we’re proud of (in a time where we tend to focus much of our energy on what’s scary). It’s always a lot easier to focus on the negative than remember the positive.

As an extra bonus: what you do now will pay off in the future.

6. Don’t pretend to be the expert

Leaders are being called on to do a lot these days, but remember, you’re not the expert in everything.

Find out the experts and rely on them – from safety issues to mental health, there’s a trove of information available. Don’t guess. Don’t pretend you’re the expert. It will bite you on the way back.

7. Calm & Prepared

As a leader, you’re always on stage. People are watching not only what you do, but how you do it.

Temperament is one of the most essential qualities a leader can have. An effective crisis strategy begins by separating charged emotions from facts and data.

8. Just because it’s not logical doesn’t mean it’s not real

Despite every precaution you might be taking, some people are going to be fearful of coming back to work. You might not think that’s logical, but it doesn’t matter: it’s real to them.

Your perception is their reality. Understand their fears and you’ll begin the breakthrough.

9. Put the “Humanity” Back in Human Resources

One of my great frustrations with many HR professionals is that they buy into every possible rumor and make it fact.

Case in point: they’ll tell you not to ask about an employee’s personal life or their home situation. (“You can’t intrude on someone’s personal life – we’ll get sued.”)

To which I say – show me the case law.

At a time like this, when work and life have morphed into some unrecognizable blur, now is exactly the time to ask how their family is; what they’re fearful of and what personal and professional concerns they have. It’s called being human.

We’ll get through this. But how we get through this and break through to the other side will determine our success as leaders.


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