Now amidst the time of chaos and fear, leaders should find time to reflect.
A crisis is an opportunity to learn, grow, and be of greater benefit to others, and become a stronger, more inspiring leader. Self-reflection can be a powerful tool to facilitate this. A practising advocate of self-reflection, Harry Kraemer, clinical professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management describes it: “What are my values, and what am I going to do about it? This is not some intellectual exercise. It’s all about self-improvement, being self-aware, knowing myself, and getting better.” 4
You may have been carrying a tremendous load at this time, more than usual. The pressure of maintaining cash-flow, innovating to stay relevant, taking care of staff, complying with regulations, and managing your family/personal life may have started to take its toll. This may show up in different ways. For example, you may be more impatient with others or use coping strategies that may not serve your physical or mental health. Learning to manage your stress and energy and have caring, supportive social relationships is key. 2,5,7,9 Behavioural psychology can be useful in helping you build positive habits. 1 When you are well, you inspire your team members to be too.
a) When has not handling my stress/energy effectively adversely affected me/others during Covid-19?
b) What specific stress and energy management practices have I used during Covid-19?
c) What is one tiny habit I feel highly motivated to cultivate to manage my stress/energy better? What/who can be of support to me in this endeavour?
d) On a scale of one to 10, how much are my relationships supportive and helping me be at my best? What is needed to move it up a notch? How can I invite more energising relationships and conversations into my life?
When reflecting on our own actions, we can sometimes be harsh. Self-criticism uses fear to try and spur growth. However, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas, Dr Kristin Neff writes in Self Compassion 8 that the anxiety associated with fear can undermine performance. She says self-compassion is a more effective motivator for personal growth than self-criticism as it taps into love, which helps you feel secure and confident. So when you review mistakes you may have made, be compassionate—then you can truly grow from them. She also encourages self-appreciation where you celebrate your achievements and strengths, acknowledging (without superiority) that everyone has strengths.
a) What are three things I have done really well as a leader during Covid-19 that have been most impactful and fulfilling? Which of my strengths shone brightly in these examples? How can I build on this success?
b) What are the top three lessons I have learned from mistakes I have made and/or pain I have caused during Covid-19 as a leader? What can I do to transform these lessons into meaningful, practical action?
Empathy and Service
Dr Helen Riess, author of The Empathy Effect writes: “Leadership is about emotions… Neurobiology seems to predispose us to a preference for leaders who above all else express empathy and compassion. These have a clearly positive effect on neurological functioning, psychological well-being, physical health, and personal relationships.” 6
An important part of a leader’s role has always been to take care of the wellbeing of people. However profit may have been prioritised over people (and planet) in some organisations. Conscious Capitalism is a philosophy based on the idea that when practised consciously, business elevates humanity. 3 The pandemic has only made the need for this philosophy and global movement to become more urgent. Covid-19 has reminded leaders that staff members/stakeholders have emotions, fundamental human needs, and whose wellbeing needs to be prioritised.
a) What workplace challenges (pre-existing or new) have become magnified and more painful for people due to Covid-19?
b) What efforts have I made to understand and take care of the feelings, needs, and wellbeing of my team-members and other stakeholders during Covid-19?
c) When could my communication to my team/other stakeholders during Covid-19 have been more empathetic? What can help me be more empathetic in future?
d) In the context of the challenges and suffering catalysed/magnified by Covid-19, how can my team/organisation play a more positive and meaningful role to our employees, customers, community, vendors, and other stakeholders? What can we do that really matters?
I hope the energy unleashed by increased awareness from such questions can help you move ahead with renewed strength. The bibliography below also acts as a resource list for further guidance. In experiencing the power of reflection, my hope is that you cultivate this practice in your team and organisation so you can help turn this crisis into a powerful growth opportunity for the benefit of all.
1 Astrid G, Stick to the Plan, Behavioural Design Academy, Accessed via https://suebehaviouraldesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Download-Free-Training-Habit.pdf
2 Charlotte F, Chak F L & Gretchen S. It’s the Little Things That Matter: An Examination of Knowledge Workers’ Energy Management. Stephen M Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Accessed via https://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/ItsTheLittleThingsThatMatter.pdf
3 Conscious Capitalism. Learn What We Do. Accessed via https://www.consciouscapitalism.org/learn-what-we-do
4 Dylan W, 02 Dec 2016, How Self Reflection Can Make You A Better Leader, KelloggInsight. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Accessed via https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/how-self-reflection-can-make-you-a-better-leader
5 Gretchen S, Chak F L & Ryan Q. Human Energy in Organisations. Stephen M Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Accessed from https://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/wp-content/uploads/HumanEnergyinOrganizations.pdf
6 Helen R & Liz N, 2018, The Empathy Effect, Sounds True, United States of America.
7 Jill S, 13 November 2017, Four Ways Social Support Makes You More Resilient, Greater Good Magazine. Accessed via https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_social_support_makes_you_more_resilient
8 Kristin N, 2011, Self Compassion, HarperCollins Publishers, United States of America.
9 Michael G, 10 April 2020. How to Manage Your Stress When the Sky is Falling. Harvard Business Review. Accessed via https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-manage-your-stress-when-the-sky-is-falling
Vadivu Govind is Director of Human Unlimited Pte. Ltd (humanunlimited.sg). The consultancy enables future-ready, life-affirming leadership and workplaces. Vadivu holds a Masters in Public Administration (Columbia University) and certifications related to topics such as workplace happiness, positive psychology coaching, and strengths development.
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