At the time of writing, we’re in the midst of the lockdown and physical distancing measures introduced in response to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. No one is immune to the impact of the virus – all our lives have changed dramatically overnight, whether we’ve experienced symptoms or not.
There’s never been a more important time to look after our mental wellbeing.
One way we can take care of our mental health is through taking the opportunity to step up as a leader in these uncertain times – whether this is at home, in your family or in your community.
This is not about having a leadership role at work but about putting things into motion to make a difference closer to home. Being a leader in your own life, a leader in your family and a leader in a community that’s important to you, such as your local neighbourhood or a common interest group.
Why is this important? At a time like this when our normal way of life has disintegrated overnight – new ways of living, being and getting things done have been created at top speed – as humans we generally welcome routine, crave contact with others and benefit from having some certainty and control over our days. We’ll do what we can to survive.
Being passive vs being active
We have a choice of how we spend our time – we can spend our time passively (such as scrolling & liking on social media, binge watch favourite shows, comfort eat, complain about being bored and perhaps spend a lot of time worrying about things that are out of our control). I’m not saying not to do any of these things but when we choose to be active, to take control of our days, create routine and tasks to do, when we take the initiative to connect with others and bring people together (online of course), when we take care of our physical health, take care to eat and relax with a degree of awareness and responsibility doing things with purpose, not only are we being a leader – a leader of our own life – we are also helping to support our mental wellbeing and be a role model for those around us.
Stepping up as a leader in uncertain times is good for your mental wellbeing. Leadership is all about being active – about making things happen.
There are lots of examples of people who’ve stepped us as a leader over the last few weeks. Such as Annemarie Pas getting the Thursday at 8pm clap for our carers off the ground and so quickly adopted throughout the nation and transformed into a fundraising opportunity. And Karen Atkinson – she’s one of my local heroes for setting up a local Covid-19 support group … covering about 10,000 households. There are thousands of Karen’s up and down the country who took immediate action to bring communities together in response to the crisis, ensuring the elderly and vulnerable are getting all they need at this time.
How active are you being?
Where are you showing up as a leader?
What problems need solving?
What opportunities do you have to make a difference?
You may already be fully engaged as an active leader in your life, in your home, in your family and in your community – some of you will be really tight for time, perhaps managing a busy household with children and pets and looking out for neighbours and relatives, whereas you may have a lot of time on your hands and in a way that you’ve never experienced before and finding it very difficult to deal with.
We can all step up as a leader – an active leader – to make things happen, to make a positive difference personally and to those around you at this time of uncertainty. It will aid your mental wellbeing giving you a sense of purpose, get you moving, get you thinking and get you connecting with others … making you feel vital and alive.
We all have the potential to be great leaders, even if you’ve never had a job as a leader. Here is our definition of leadership:
Leadership is using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.
During the coronavirus pandemic the most urgent and essential outcomes will involve taking the initiative to support these basic needs:
- Enabling key workers to do their work
- Reduce fear and improve safety
- Reduce loneliness and increase connection
- Follow government guidelines
- Deal with loss and uncertainty
Tapping into the greatness in you
Here are some questions to help to you tap into the greatness in you. I recommend writing down your responses to these questions or talking them through with a trusted, non-judgemental friend. Your responses are likely to lead to thoughts and ideas about an initiative you could take on linked to at least one of the above outcomes.
Your environment: what’s around you? What resources are available to you?
Your physical world will have significantly diminished, but focus on what resources you do have – look around:
- your home – amazing initiatives have got off the ground around a kitchen table
- outside – whether you have a garden or not you will have access to fresh air and nature even if it’s just being able to see the sky to get a different perspective on things
- an infinite online world is available in the palm of our hands
- we have each other – all the people we’re connected with.
Your behaviours: how are you spending your time? What are you doing? Do you have spare capacity? How are you talking to yourself?
Focus on what CAN be done, rather than what CAN’T. Focus on kindness, support, patience, gratitude and love – to yourself and others.
Your capabilities: what are your main skills and talents? What are you good at? What activities give you energy? What are your strengths? What’s your superhero power?
If you’re struggling to come up with these, ask people who know you well – what do they see you being good at?
Your values and beliefs: what’s most important to you? What do you value and cherish most? What do you believe to be true?
Our beliefs and values, whether we are aware or not, drive our behaviour and get us out of bed each morning. If you are feeling unbalanced, lacking drive or desire at the moment, it’s worth spending time exploring what is really important to you at the moment.
Your identity: who are you? How do you want to come out of this crisis situation? What’s your legacy?
It may be that you don’t identify as a leader but how about trying it on for size. What are your hopes for our new normal when the lockdown has finished and the outbreak is over? What kind of person do you want to be through this experience? What do you want to hear your loved ones say about you?
Your purpose: What’s your contribution to the world at this time?
Engaging with the greatness in others
Here are some considerations for how to engage with the greatness in others, whether you are trying to influence one person or many people to get involved in your leadership initiative:
- Understand their fears and what’s important to them at the moment, either by asking directly or metaphorically putting yourself in their shoes to get an insight into their current experiences
- Think about their personal preferences and skills – how are you asking them to get involved?
- Share your purpose and values so that they can understand and buy-in to your ideas
- Communicate in a way that works for them.
Systems & Resources
You’ll already be proficient at using apps, tools, routines and processes to manage your life & work – use what you know works for you or engage with people who are good at putting systems and resources together.
Here’s one of my favourite ways of thinking about something I want to achieve – setting myself an outcome to achieve (especially when I don’t know all the steps involved to make it happen) and asking these questions:
What’s the outcome you want to achieve?
Here’s a few examples:
- make cotton laundry bags for NHS staff’s worn uniform to reduce the potential spread of the virus
- create opportunities for playing music online with friends
- manage home life in a more productive way
- exercise regularly on a daily basis
- share your knowledge of bread baking with others
- provide help on how to reduce household expenses to people who’ve lost their main source of income at the moment.
How will you know when you’ve achieved your outcome?
Think about evidence that will enable you to know that you’ve achieved your outcome: visualise what you’ll look like once your outcome has been achieved. What will you or others be saying? What will you and others be feeling?
What actions do you need to take?
Write down what you think will need to be done to get your initiative off the ground.
What resources do you have to help you?
Firstly think about all the information you gathered from the greatness in you questions. Secondly, reflect on past experiences – have you done anything similar in a short space of time and with other people.
What challenges might you face and importantly how can these be overcome?
Often it is our fear of failure … and sometimes our fear of succeeding that can get in the way.
What impact will the outcome have on you and others?
Is it worth doing?
If, on reflection, you decide your initiative is not worth doing then go back to the drawing board and plan to stay active by finding a new outcome to explore.
And if you decide it is worth doing then take the first action to get your outcome off the ground.
Be brave, feel vulnerable – as all leaders do … and just do it!
Take your first step.
Stepping up as a leader
I believe being active, being purposeful, making things happen by stepping up as a leader is one of the best gifts you can give your mental health at this time. My hope is that you’ve been inspired to step up as an active leader in your family or in your community at this time of crisis.
Here’s a couple of quotes that inspire me as a leader – they’re particularly pertinent at the moment:
“ To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even ONE life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded. ” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“ Be the change you wish to see in the World. ” Ghandi
Never has there been a time when we need more leaders to make a positive difference.
I’d love to hear what you’re inspired to do and what you achieve – drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sally Dhillon is the co-founder of CM Talent and social enterprise Career-Mums. She has a wealth of experience in HR and leadership development and combines this experience with being a parent to inspire employers to improve their gender diversity. CM Talent help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams with services including family care leave coaching, leadership development programmes and flexible working consultancy.