Leading Through Challenging Times

I will say it so you don’t have to. What is going on right now in the world is nothing short of unusual and unprecedented; it’s something straight out of a movie you want to end quickly. Just think, a few months ago COVID-19 wasn’t even a part of normal conversation. Now, schools are closing or going to e-learning environments, conferences are being cancelled, social distancing is a common phrase, and a whole lot of uncertainty of what the next few weeks and months will bring are a part of our everyday thinking and conversation.

So let me ask you this. How are you doing? How are you handling it all? How do you feel? How is your family? How are your BPA team members? Take a moment or so and reflect on those questions. Are you feeling a loss of control? Are you feeling disappointed? Are you missing regular interaction with those closest to you? Believe me, I completely understand, and at different times have felt the exact same way as you have over the past few months. I also felt the same way over 10 years ago, which has given me a point of reference for what it’s like to lead through challenging times.

In 2009 I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with a 500-soldier battalion. We operated for less than two months in Baghdad, and then abruptly received new orders to go to Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. But there was only one problem: we hadn’t prepared to go to Afghanistan. We prepared to go to Iraq. Instantly stress, anxiety, and fear began to set in. Those were natural emotions considering the level of uncertainty when just a few days prior it was operations as usual for a mission we had been preparing over a year for. I struggled with the appropriateness of how to share my disappointment and dealt with a range of emotions as a young leader. I remember vividly the days leading up to completely shutting down battalion operations and how my team and I worked together to prepare packing, planning, and researching for our new assignment.

When it comes to challenging times, there are things leaders can do to provide a level of security even when all the information is not available. In this blog post, I want to share some actionable things you can do over the coming weeks with your family, friends, loved ones and BPA family to take a posture of leadership. These steps can apply to any challenging time and not just the current environment.

  1. Plan (but don’t over plan) and execute! – Have an idea about what you want to accomplish each day. Don’t lose sight of your vision and goals, although you may have to shift the way you get there. Be practical and make checklists, or add critical tasks to a planner or digital calendar. Try to keep some level of normalcy. Also, take some time to plan with the folks on your team or members of your family. This will reduce stress and anxiety about the unknown. Stay informed on the latest updates and adjust your plan as necessary. Be flexible in a time of uncertainty and adapt to the changing environment. Try not to over-plan as it may cause undue frustration and unrealistic pressure on you or those around you. Sometimes being patient is the best thing we can do.
  2. Identify a person or people you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with during times of uncertainty or be that person for someone else. A leader knows when to listen and when to speak. Be empathetic to those around you.  Everyone is processing differently. Offer support when needed and welcome in the form of advice or resources.
  3. Find ways to connect to others – Community is important during challenging times. Find creative ways to connect by picking up the phone and calling to check on someone. Sending an “I was just thinking about you” text. Scheduling a video chat or a virtual meet-up. Do silly stuff like playing games, dancing, or singing to your favorite songs! I did all of these things when I was in Afghanistan.
  4. Take time alone – It is just as important to take time and process what is actually happening alone as it is spending time with others. Self awareness and self care is not something to overlook. Quiet time activities like reading, meditating, prayer, or a warm bath are a few self-care options.
  5. Assess the damage – During difficult times remember that it’s not always sunshine and roses. The impact of what we are going through may have second and third-order effects on us or those around us. A trip being interrupted or a loved one losing wages can feel devastating. Don’t be afraid to tap into community resources or reach out to an advisor or friend for support. Remember, once the damage has been assessed, don’t be afraid to begin the rebuilding process.
  6. Protect your mental and physical healthSelf-care is more important than ever. If you need help, ask for help. Try not to worry about things you can’t control, especially during challenging times. Focus on the things you can actually impact. Take a walk, do yoga or zumba...Getting up and moving releases endorphins and is a great remedy to stress and anxiety and other potentially negative emotions.
  7. Operate in your gifts – We all have certain gifts. One of mine is encouraging others.

Even when times are challenging, you can always use your gifts to support and serve others. And it helps you feel positive as well. Continually show grace, kindness, and empathy to others in challenging times.

I have found that during the most difficult of times it is the idea of humanity that holds us all together. As a leader, be sensitive to the fact that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Respond, don’t react, to shifts in the environment. The time is now for us to live the values of Torch, show that BPA Cares, and implement skills we’ve learned in a competitive event and conference experiences to help others.

Leaders often emerge in the most challenging of times and do so as ambassadors of hope. The best thing we can do today is to make the most of the present so that we can capitalize on our future. It’s often a series of small things that make the biggest impact. What will your “small thing” be today? I am here alongside you as we turn Leadership into Action!