Executive Leadership in the COVID-19 Crisis: Preparing for a Leadership Marathon

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By Corinne Mason, PhD, Partner, Summit Leadership Partners

It started as a brief check-in with one of my favorite clients. I asked “how are you doing right now,” and he told me all the ways he and his executive team were working crazy hours trying to take care of their employees, communities, and business in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sound familiar?

This didn’t surprise me much, because almost all the greatest leaders I know are what you might term “servant leaders.” They are the first to sacrifice themselves to make sure others are taken care of and the essentials are done. But here is why I specifically asked, “how are you doing right now?” I knew there was not likely to be a response that included how he was taking care of himself.

This pandemic will not be leaving in in the next few weeks, therefore, it made me reflect on an HBR article from 2001 (around the time of 9/11) by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz called “The Corporate Athlete.” It outlines a great approach to how corporate executives must ensure sustained energy and performance just like well-trained athletes. The article provides a balanced approach to leaders’ Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual capacity through disciplined routines of expending and then recovering energy, then long-term high performance, even in times of continuous stress, can be sustainable.

So I know what you’re thinking: right now you’re deep in your home office trying to make drastic business changing decisions while your spouse is also working, your kids are bored and your pets are regular guests in your video chats, invited or not.  How are you supposed to make sure that you’re recharging your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacity amid all this change?

Let’s consider a few ideas for each:

Physical Recovery

In the hierarchy of needs, your physical health in a pandemic must be a priority. If you have ever worked with a trainer at the gym, you know that they recommend a process of strength training and then rest.

In a recent articleMelissa Leber, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said rest is important. You cannot push it to your maximum without giving your body time to recoup in between.

While the reminder to rest may hit home with some, others are more likely having the opposite issue right now. Your workout routine is off, and you cannot go to the gym or even outside.  Several workout gurus have a solution for this too. Many have started to offer free online classes that you can do from your home.

At Summit, we hired a private yoga instructor who had lost most of her students due to the virus to teach us twice a week via video.

Emotional Recovery

Our emotions are running high right now.  This amount of change will kick off our innate stress reactions, and the social isolation from physical distancing can create anxiety, nervousness, poor sleep, and a host of other stress-related issues.

Dr. Daniel Goleman is arguably the most recognized thought leader around Emotional Intelligence.  He and his team have started offering free webinars (Goleman website) on emotional resilience during this crisis.

The good news is that you can practice emotional resilience by taking mental breaks. Every 90 minutes get up and walk outside or call a friend. Limit your time listening to and reading about the news to 30 minutes a day. Use video chats to see family and friends and offer support.

Mental Recovery

Working in a sustained high-performance way requires us to maintain focus.  But focus is hard, and we can only do it for short amounts of time.

Don’t believe me? Take 30 seconds right now and try to think of only a white elephant. How did that go for you?

I guarantee you had multiple interruptive thoughts as you tried in vain to focus. One of the most researched and proven ways to improve focus is through the practice of meditation. If you are new to this concept, there are many experts willing to help you.

I happen to like Oprah’s guru, Deepak Chopra.  You can find many of his basic meditations for free on YouTube. The app for your phone called “Calm” is also an easy entre into meditative practices.

Spiritual Recovery

Many of us rely on regular visits to our places of worship to refresh and recharge our spiritual selves. Unfortunately, social distancing means that we can’t be together in that way right now.

Many spiritual leaders have adapted quickly and offer their messages through online platforms.

If you do not have a regular spiritual practice, you may find that reading your favorite poetry or listening to your favorite music will greatly benefit your soul.

We all know this time too will pass. Maybe it is one or three or six months down the road. Your challenge will be to find your new routines and then practice like a high-performance athlete. Cycle between your moments of performance and rest. Recharge yourself to stay in the race.

Summit Leadership Partners, LLC

Summit Leadership Partners advises boards, investors, CEOs and senior leaders on strategically scaling business through talent and organization assessment, coaching, executive team performance, leadership development and organization effectiveness. The exceptional consulting team has held top leadership roles in successful companies across the globe. Summit is located in Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Nashville, New York and San Francisco. Visit Summit online at www.summitleadership.com, and follow the company on LinkedIn and Twitter.