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Working from home as a result of COVID19 has meant that the boundaries between our work life and home life have been blurred for some people.

For others, those boundaries have been decimated. It’s all a matter of perspective, right?

And one thing is certain, whilst we’re all trying to navigate our way through the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. Some are in relative comfort on a superyacht, whilst others are getting tossed around in a dinghy.

Over the past eight weeks, I’ve noticed a strong theme emerging from my coaching and mentoring sessions with the senior leaders I support.

One is that they are struggling to find an effective way to transition between home, work and home again when the daily commute has disappeared.

The second is an underlying sense of anxiety and worry about whether or not their boss thinks they are working hard enough.

What this actually looks like in practice includes things such as:

  • Checking messages on their phone, and responding, as soon as they wake up.
  • Being at their computer by 7:30am
  • Not taking any breaks in case they miss an email, WhatsApp or MS Teams call.
  • Accepting, or scheduling, meetings from 8am right through until 6:30pm.

Now all of these are potentially ok, provided they are the exception rather than rule. For many, this comes with the territory and salary of a senior role.

The interesting thing from my coaching and mentoring conversations, however, is that these thoughts and feelings very rarely, if ever, come as a direct result of something that their boss has said or done.

None of my clients have recounted a story where their boss has expressed concern that they didn’t answer their call within two rings because they were eating their lunch, or getting a snack for their son or daughter. And yet, this is the story that they tell themselves, which continues to drive the ‘always-on’ mentality.

And this is an important insight for the leaders amongst us.

If we are having these thoughts as leaders, we can guarantee that many more of those that we lead and manage will be having them too.

And this means that we need to act. There is a huge amount of uncertainty in the world right now, which is creating stress, anxiety and worry within those we lead. Whilst there are many things we cannot control, we must strive to provide certainty, and reduce anxiety, where we can.

Here are some things to consider doing over the next ten weeks:

Clarify expectations

Tell your team that you trust them, and ensure that your actions match your words. You may think that your team knows that you trust them, but they need to hear it from you. Similarly, let them know that you don’t expect them to respond to every call within two rings and that if they miss a call because they’re taking a break, that’s totally fine.

Focus on wellbeing

Talk about wellbeing, mental health, taking breaks and reinstating some of the work-life boundaries. Not only will this help them and keep them engaged, it will also help you and improve everybody’s productivity.

Lead by example

 More specifically, be mindful of the unintended impact that your actions may have. It might be that doing an hour of emails between eight and nine, perhaps after your children have gone to bed, is a good strategy for you.

But if your team are receiving those emails, what message does that send to them? There’s a high probability that their interpretation will not be what you intended.

They might interpret your evening emailing as pressure to do the same or misunderstand that you expect the same of them. Worse still, they could see you as inauthentic. In other words, they hear you saying that balance and wellbeing are important, that you don’t expect anyone to be emailing at 7am or 7pm, and yet this is exactly what you do.

Those we lead are watching what we say and do as leaders more closely now than ever before. Which means we must pay more attention to how we lead, and the example we’re setting, than ever before.

Right now, the world is crying out for strong leaders who are focused on delivering the objectives AND looking after those that they have the privilege and responsibility to lead.

As Gandhi said:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”


Image courtesy of Jordan McDonald

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