Photo of Warren Buffet: "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked"
Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

With the news changing every hour, it’s easy to get caught refreshing your news feed, losing track of time, and getting lost in worry.

But if you’re a leader — of a family, a small business, a community, whatever you lead — others are looking to you.

What do good leaders do when anxiety is running high?

Let’s talk about toilet paper.

Why are people hoarding?

Have you ever lost your balance? You reflexively reach out for something solid — a wall, a handrail, the person next to you — to steady yourself.

That’s what’s happening now.

People are being asked to change. A lot.

Stop working. Work from home. Learn zoom. Homeschool your children. Stop visiting your elderly parents in the nursing home. Stay 6 feet away from others. Quarantine at home.

People aren’t wired to change so many behaviors at once while being scared shitless. Understandably, people feel off-balance. And what do we do when we fell unsteady? We reach out for something to steady ourselves. Hoarding supplies — tangible things we can hold in our hands — gives us a sense of security and stability.

Okay, what’s my role as a leader?

In anxious times, leaders must offer a sense of perspective and control.

Perspective gives people a longer view and enables comparisons between the current situation and others. Leaders can remind mind people that:

  • We’ve been through hard things before; we will get through this.
  • Humans are amazing, resilient, and creative. When humankind has been on its back leg, it figures out a way forward. Our current difficulties may be devastating, but this period will also unlock new ways of doing things that we couldn’t have imagined before. A doctor told me yesterday, “We’ll never do medicine the same way. We’ve already learned that we can treat seventy percent of our patients without a trip to the clinic.”
  • We’re in this together. When people are afraid, they begin to feel separate. Connection is an antidote.
  • Although news and information is changing quickly, we don’t have to track all of it, all the time. We also need to get our work done, be a good partner/spouse/sibling/parent/coworker/etc. We can check the news 4–5 times per day instead of 30–50 times each day

Giving people a sense of control can help them channel their nervous energy into useful activity. Leaders can suggest to their people:

  • Set up a schedule to keep safe and sane.
  • If your team is working remotely, schedule an all-staff meeting at the same time each day, and share any corporate news and responses and ask people what they’re doing to stay safe and sane.
  • Encourage people to block focused time to get work done. Encourage them to disengage from the news for a dedicated amount of time each day.
  • Suggest that people think about three tiers of projects, to put this time to good use.
  • Model kindness and compassion and encourage your people to do the same. David Brooks reflected on a week’s worth of reading about the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed 650,000 people. Brooks said that after the epidemic, people were ashamed of how they’d treated others during the outbreak. We can make a different choice.

When the going gets tough, real leaders show up.

I believe in you. I believe in us. It’s game time.


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Rebecca Ryan, APF
Rebecca Ryan, APF

Rebecca Ryan captains the ship. Trained as a futurist and an economist, Rebecca helps clients see what's coming - as a keynote speaker, a Futures Lab facilitator, an author of books, blogs and articles, a client advisor, and the founder of Futurist Camp. Check out her blog or contact Lisa Loniello for more information.

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