You're likely to read the title of this article and immediately think of a specific leader or position. Did you think of some specific things about 2020 that create the need for a calm leader? It's probable to say, your vision of a calm leader is different than mine.
This year has affected all of us in a strange blend of similar but different ways. COVID-19, both from a public health standpoint (whether that's the virus itself, or other issues like mental health) and an economic standpoint (through job loss, or business revenue changes, etc.), has affected all of us.
Issues of injustice, in particular, when it comes to racial injustice, have always existed. Still, this year it has been at the forefront for the general population more than in recent history. On the heels of nation-wide closures from COVID-19, protests and riots have occurred nation-wide as well. I should mention that although I'm referencing these two topics together, I'm not comparing them or lumping them together in terms of severity or impact.
You don't need me to tell you that views on these two things vary greatly across the Nation (and the world). Although I have some strong opinions related to both of those topics, this article isn't designed to mold your opinion on COVID-19 or racial injustice. The reality is, regardless of your opinion on these things, they are both impacting your world significantly. If you're a business owner or organizational leader, your business (in terms of revenue and operating expenses) and employees have been affected as well. If you're a coach, your athletes and coaches that work for you are also being affected. In both circumstances, there are ways the people you lead are affected in obvious ways that you may more easily understand (receiving a pay cut, being laid off, etc.). There are also ways that people you lead are affected that you may not as easily understand (mental health impacts, racial impacts if you aren't a minority yourself, etc.). Our understanding of people's challenges varies greatly depending on the exact situation. What is certain, however, is that everyone that you lead is dealing with a heavy burden of challenges both personally and professionally in 2020.
While these two issues are very different in many ways, they have some common ways they impact the people you lead. There are a range of emotions the people on your team may be feeling during this time, but there are a few specific ones that I think apply to most everyone.
I think this is the most prominent feeling most people are struggling with right now. As an organizational leader, you're likely dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing if and when your business may be shut down again (or if it will be allowed to open). Uncertainty of whether your revenue streams will return to what they were, if the market will ever be the same, or if you'll be able to handle additional operating costs related to COVID-19. Your employees are, in turn dealing with the uncertainty if they'll lose their jobs (or get them back), if they'll be getting pay cuts, or if they need to look for another career. Everyone is also dealing with the uncertainty of health, particularly if you're in an at-risk demographic. Many people are going to work hoping to keep their job, while also fearful of getting sick.
For people on your team that are minorities, they've had to deal with a lot of other levels of fear and uncertainty their entire lives, that is in the spotlight even more right now. As someone who isn't a minority, I can't speak to what that experience is like, and I won't try to speak at length about something I am not an expert on. But what I do know from conversations I've had and what I've tried to learn from others, the polarization of people in this country on topics related to race and the injustice that keeps happening continues to weigh heavily on our black team members. Again, this isn't anything new, but I think it is worth keeping in the spotlight as we evaluate leadership qualities in 2020.
Land of the Emotional Extremes
Along with overwhelming feelings of uncertainty, it's pretty clear that people throughout the country are very divided on issues currently affecting everyone on your team. You could honestly say that this has really always been the case, and perhaps social media and news media amplifies it. Either way, at the time of this article, the country is still navigating COVID-19, working through nation-wide discussions on racial injustice and police reform, and oh yeah, a Presidential election is coming up. People on each side of every issue are dealing with a lot of emotions right now, and even daily conversations and interactions on your team are likely more emotionally fueled than usual. Whatever organization you lead, your customers/clients and your team members are likely all on very different ends of the spectrum when it comes to these issues.
The Need for Calm During the Storm
There are a lot of different leadership qualities that lend themselves to different times and situations. Every leader is different, and there isn't one perfect personality or leadership type. At this time, however, I think there is one leadership quality that is needed most. With all the things I mentioned so far in this article, and all the emotions that come with them, teams need a leader that can be the calm in the storm.
Now is not the time for leadership that takes things personally, that over-reacts to situations, that gets too high or too low, or makes emotional decisions without examining the facts. Even as leaders won't have all the answers (as none of us do), being calm and collected will be a crucial trait in leading your teams through the other side of this current mess. Many of our organizations are in survival mode, and our team members are in survival mode personally as well. As everyone continues to live in what feels like perpetual fight-or-flight in 2020, leaders have the opportunity to calm, to encourage, to stabilize, and to empathize. Leaders can take a sliver of the burden from their team members and to give them hope that there is better to come. To make tough, logical decisions when their team members are understandably too exhausted to do so. To let their team know that in all the uncertainty and division we currently deal with, they have a leader with certain character and unifying values.
There is no perfect leader. There is no simple answer or quick fix to everything going on in 2020. What there is, however, is the opportunity to be a calming leader in a time it's needed most.