‘Focus on what you can control’ is a mantra that seems much more applicable to the current situation than ever before. As the Covid-19 pandemic grinds the world to a halt, thanks to the invisible virus, there is understandably a sense of anxiety and panic, not just about the immediate threat (e.g. on health, relationships, jobs, economy) but also on the absolute fear of the unknown (how long will it last, how deep will its impact be, what will the new normal be, how will it change the world etc.).
As leaders, we also have the responsibility of bringing in a sense of calm to our respective teams and think beyond our immediate lives, to even attempt to bring about a semblance of normalcy. So here are some of my thoughts :
1. Stay mission focussed : Our organisational mission is akin to a lighthouse that serves as a navigational aid. When there are waves of uncertainty that swirl around us, it is the mission that provides a sense of direction and reminds us what the purpose of our organisation is, and what we are here to achieve. At ActionAid UK, we constantly remind us that our mission is to work with women and girls living in the global south living in poverty and enable them to realise their rights. That is what always inspires us and should do, going forward.
2. Be true to your culture : Every organisation has its own organisational culture. There is no better way to bring that culture to life than during a crisis. Let the culture enable those values and behaviours to be demonstrated clearly in how we manage the crisis, some of those values being - empathy, self-care, inclusion, kindness, trust and respect, which are quite common in the not-for-profit sector. At ActionAid, this is expressed through our feminist principles and behaviours, and there is no better time to embrace it fully than now.
3. Understand resilience through an inter-sectional lens : Resilience is key in managing the crisis, but it is different for each individual, given their background, their beliefs, the socio-economic group they represent, and it is important to understand how each individual could be supported in being more resilient in view of the unpredictable future. We have had some discussions internally on issues of mental health for instance, and we are fortunate to have a dedicated team of mental health firstaiders who offer a fantastic resource. Equally, we keep reminding our colleagues of the confidential helpline we have, to support colleagues through these difficult times.
4. Connect and communicate : With home working becoming the norm for an indefinite period, it is more important than ever to reach out, check-in, communicate, reassure and make people feel part of a wider team and organisation. I am so impressed to see how many of our teams have immediately put in some creative forms of catch-ups virtually, to keep in touch and check-in, which has been hugely welcome, especially by those who live on their own and feel very isolated. I participated in a Friday afternoon virtual drinks session, and it was great to also meet some of the family members and pets over this virtual catch-ups !
5. Self awareness and vulnerability : We all have our own lives, and hence, an entire hinterland of anxieties and concerns. Leaders must look inwards to introspect what their deep concerns are, acknowledge them in the spirit of self-awareness and be comfortable in expressing their own vulnerabilities. I have realised that the current crisis is having an impact on my sleep pattern, and every time I wake up at night, which is a few times, my mind immediately diverts to whether I am doing the right thing in managing the crisis. And I have found immense comfort in being able to share that with colleagues.
We all have been through various crises in our respective roles and organisations, and I am sure there is a lot we can learn from and be proud of how we managed that. But this one is at a scale hitherto unseen in modern times. And it is global, affecting every single organisation across sectors. It therefore calls for deeper solidarity irrespective of who we are, where we come from, what our beliefs and ideologies are or where we live in the world. It may just be that moment to come together as one world, one community, to appreciate our diversity, to be more inclusive, tolerant, understanding and unified. It may just be the moment that will help redefine global relationships, bring us all together to continue to fight some of the other huge challenges like poverty, gender inequality, exclusion and social injustice.
(Originally published in the Third Sector, March 2020)