How to Cope with the Weight of Responsibility in a Crisis

Some people are feeling a huge responsibility due to the virus, a weight unlike they’ve ever felt before despite being senior, experienced leaders. And I don’t mean weight gain from staying home, opening the fridge continually and comfort eating. I coach leaders in food manufacturing, retailing, media and IT. I have friends in healthcare. The pressure and responsibility they are feeling right now in this crisis is huge – it is about life and death.

Your Responsibility

What is your responsibility as a leader? This is a good clarifying question. What are you truly responsible for? Sometimes in times of heightened pressure and stress people start assuming they are responsible for more than they truly are. They also start becoming insular, which can cause them to think that they alone are responsible for everything. Be clear on what you’re responsible for – you solely. In many organizations there is a hierarchy of responsibility and for the big decisions there’s lots of input and discussion. I have coaching clients who are having to make decisions ahead of their company HQ and even in advance of their country. They decided on work-from-home before either their country or company decided. They are deciding about priorities

Tips to Cope with the Responsibility

  • Look after yourself – what is your support system to ensure you can carry the weight for the duration? This includes exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep, friends, talking, some form of mindfulness. These aren’t nice to-do’s, they are necessities for you to go the distance with this crisis.
  • Breathe – this is so important it’s a separate tip. Some deep inhalations, down to your belly will engage your parasympathetic nervous system to help calm you down. Regularly take deep breaths, inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts. Alternatively, inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. Both reduce stress.
  • Communicate – constantly, to superiors above, to your team members and sideways to your peers, customer, suppliers and colleagues. This can be written and verbal, direct and messages.
  • Be open to ideas and help – Schools are spontaneously creating PPE (personal protective equipment) on 3D printers and sending it to hospitals and care homes, without having been asked. You never know where ideas and solutions will materialize.

Support Systems You Should Tap Into

  • Share the burden – leaders have teams within organizations, lean into the skills and abilities of people on your team. Reach out beyond your team and potentially beyond your organization for specialist support – it’s incredible who is willing to help. The government is doing that by sourcing medical PPE from fashion houses and ventilators from car manufacturers.
  • Have a buddy – it can be a colleague in a different area in the same company or someone trusted in your external network. A buddy is someone walking along side you through some of these unchartered routes, so it’s a shared experience. These buddies can offer advice, be a sounding board, be encouraging, a devil’s advocate or just an ear to help you sort through your thinking.
  • Family and friends – what is your non-work support system? Some clients have no non-work time at this moment and they are trying to carve out some opportunities to be present for partners and/or children for connection and bonding (feel good hormones) and reaching out virtually to friends for levity. Figure out the best times in your schedule to make these connections.

It appears this will be a longer-term crisis then originally expected so ideally the goal is to thrive, not just to cope.