Social Impact Leadership in a Time of Uncertainty
Pearl Street Collective recently convened a small group of social impact leaders to discuss how to adapt their leadership styles in light of COVID-19 and its effect on their employees, themselves, and their mission. The conversation was facilitated by leadership expert Wendy Woolfork of The Purpose Walk.
During a time of crisis, it is important to normalize the stress. Acknowledge that these are troubling times. Understand that people will be distracted, so openly recognize their concerns and the need for flexibility as they balance family, work, and pandemic uncertainty. Deliver the message that people are human, which creates psychological safety. People need to be released from being overly worried about failure, self-image, being dismissed, or that their bosses will think they are incompetent.
What is psychological safety?
- As we become stressed, the amygdala which processes fear, comes under tension.
- In response to leadership behaviors, the brain will then activate the fight or flight or freeze reflex.
- The abilities to be rational, provide strategic thinking or analytical reasoning shut down in the absence of sound leadership behaviors. Instead, an environment of psychology safety when it is present enhances those things and ensures the cognitive processes underlying creativity are not compromised.
- Leaders must allow employees to feel free to own some worry without wallowing in it. Employees must be able to trust that they will get understanding, empathy and support from their leaders, that their leaders are not dismissive of what might be human frailty.
- A leader who embraces that people in their totality allows employees to remove the worry from showing up fully human. It gives employees the comfort needed to allow their executive brain function to operate well.
Every interaction during a time of crisis is telling about your leadership. Show your human side and instill trust by:
- Ratcheting up compassion and demonstrating exemplary empathy.
- Reasserting the organization’s values and reaffirming your mission. Help people remember why they chose to work at this organization and whey they chose to do the work that they do.
- Know that inspired people who are ignited by a worthy cause will rise above challenges.
- Reduce everyday fear and anxiety – where people worry about reconciling work and their personal life – by asking questions about employees’ personal lives, showing that a work-life tradeoff is not expected.
- Develop employee self-efficacy and reinforce the belief that we are useful. Provide autonomy and the opportunity to lead. Admit to yourself that relaxing the reins seems counterintuitive, but it is:
- A constructive act of selfishness and helps meaningfully bring staff into executing work.
- A way to help people have a measure of control in their lives.
- An excellent opportunity for junior leaders to grow and try out a new responsibility.
- A chance to host meetings without an agenda and no order of business that allows people to share feelings, concerns, etc. and create a sense of solidarity.