A few weeks ago, Malcolm and I were interviewed by our Chinese colleague Yupeng Qiu about how leaders can support themselves and their teams through the current Covid-19 pandemic. Yupeng published an article based on our answers which he kindly translated back into English for us.

Quite a lot has changed since we gave that interview. At the time – and it was only a month ago! – China was just starting to open up a little while many other nations, including Australia, were heading into various degrees of ‘lockdown’.

We are now at a point where working from home, and in fact being at home most of the time, is having an impact – both positive and challenging at the same time. That being the case, we have made some changes to our answers to Yupeng’s questions, though the central principles apply to whatever stage of the current situation you find yourself in.

As a leader, what should I do to adapt and care for myself?

Faced with all the changes that a pandemic and self-isolation bring, many people can feel unsafe and fearful. Some of the more unusual ways we have seen this fear play out have included hoarding toilet paper or having the sudden urge to bake.

With isolation, it is not surprising that below-the-line reactions of blaming, defending, denying and justifying become more common, even for many who normally operate above the line. This influences your relationships. It influences the way you work. It influences how you spend your day.

As a leader it is important that you take care of yourself first.

Without a positive intent and the capacity to see things with clarity, it is difficult to step up and lead by example. At a time like this, looking after yourself is really about getting the basics right: things like making sure you are eating well, taking time to exercise and maintaining mindful practices, restricting work to work hours and getting the right amount of sleep.

As a team leader, how can I better support my team now?

When we are all working at a distance, it can be more difficult to stay in tune with how your team members are coping. This makes the leadership skill of truly listening even more important than ever.

Listening carefully, listening without knowing, listening without judging, listening without interrupting. Bringing all three centres into the conversation, really being present and letting people be vulnerable. Asking open questions and listening to the answers. ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘What are you deeply needing right now?’ ‘What are you really thinking?’ ‘What do you truly feel?’ All of this gives people the capacity to open up and share feelings that are so easily suppressed from a perspective of isolation.

From a practical point of view, there are things you can do to ensure that virtual meetings are productive and supportive of everyone involved. Working with virtual teams is not new, and is likely to become more common in the future, so let’s make the best of it.

Checking in during daily meetings is particularly powerful at a time like this. In virtual meetings it is easy for the quieter members of a team to go unheard, so making sure they have the chance to speak provides a sense of cohesion and inclusion.

Agreeing on shared principles for the running of meetings, especially being clear about the purpose (why you are meeting?) and the outcomes (what you want people to ‘walk away with’?) means that meetings remain relevant and timely. People are able to come prepared as they know why they are there and what is on the agenda

Encourage the use of virtual breakout rooms to build and maintain the stronger personal connections that can be lost in a large group (which of course applies even when we meet in the same room).

And of course injecting and allowing a bit of humour and making sure we are enjoying ourselves while we work is always a good idea as well. How many of us have now met someone’s pet, realised people could see our slippers as we walked away from the screen or forgotten to turn ‘mute’ on when one of the children appears at the door to ask an ‘important’ question?

How can we make the best of the current situation?

While isolation and working virtually undoubtedly have their challenges, there are opportunities to learn from and take positives out of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It starts with being conscious of how we are working through the experience we find ourselves in and working collectively to imagine what’s possible. Rather than looking to going ‘back to normal’, it could be more emotionally healthy to explore what we want to keep as we move forward and to make some choices about what we want that future to look like.

And let’s remind ourselves of the good that is being revealed during this crisis. Of an environment that is starting to recover already in the face of drastically reduced pollution levels. Of the sight of animals roaming city streets and turning up on public beaches. Of closer communities in which neighbours are looking out for each other. Of the possibilities of emotional healthy leadership.

There is an opportunity to reset our stewardship of our planet, to remind ourselves that we can’t control everything no matter how smart we think we are, and to move forward into a more constructive and engaging space.


In this crisis we truly are all in this together, and it is to be hoped that we can come out of it together as well, for the benefit of people and planet.


Image credit: Stephen Coetsee on Unsplash