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Harbinger Leader Insights: Leadership During Times of Uncertainty

Does anyone else feel like they’re living in the Upside Down? Coronavirus has touched every part of the world and has forced many, including government bodies and businesses to make decisions and enforce new processes at an unprecedented pace. At this stage, change has not only become the norm, but the speed in which these changes are taking place is something that the world has never experienced before.

Take Ontario, for instance, my home province. Recently, the government announced public school closures until April 5, an additional two weeks following March break, which began on March 14. Since then they have announced all licensed daycare closures, restaurant and bar closures, called for all expats and Canadians travelling abroad to return home, mandated self-isolation for everyone returning from abroad, asked everyone to work from home, enhanced screening measures at the airport, enforced flight restrictions, and most recently closed the border between Canada and the US. All of this and more has been announced in just five days!

COVID-19 is relentless and is literally impacting all aspects of our lives. Everyone is scrambling to figure out how to keep things afloat. I for one have a toddler that will be home with my husband and me for at least three weeks. Fortunately, Harbinger is incredibly understanding and has provided me with the flexibility I need to balance work and being a mother. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone.

As businesses transition into remote work environments, there’s little time left for leaders to figure out how to effectively manage their people in this new way. More often than not, the abrupt change is not only challenging for leaders but for employees as well.  In a perfect world, the move to working from home would be thoroughly planned to include training, be embedded as part of their culture, include digital collaboration tools, engagement activities, and so forth. But with hours or just days before the transition takes place, leaders are finding they must move faster than they ever have before.

On the upside, organizations and leaders around the world are going through the exact same experience or businesses and experts like the ones we have at Harbinger, are coming together on what we are now calling ‘social solidarity’ to provide complementary services and advice. 

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

First and foremost, for leaders to be effective in their roles when there are constant changes and teams that are transitioning to remote working, they need to take care of themselves! We are living in an unprecedented time where self-isolation and social distancing has really impacted our way of life. While leisurely walks or other outdoor activities like running (at a safe distance from others) can still be done, mental health at this time will be more important than ever. Being able to focus on one’s mental health should be a focus for every leader; without it, managing these changes and your people during times of uncertainty will be hard. I’ve included some links below to some of my favourite resources on mental health:

  • The Canadian Mental Health Association has a resource page dedicated to COVID-19. They also have a fantastic corporate program called ‘Not Myself Today’, which can be used both in the office and virtually. 

  • I’m a huge fan of Neil Pasricha, the author of the book ‘You are Awesome’, and blog I saw him speak at a conference last year, and the story of how he started his blog was so inspiring! I had no idea that simple things like taking a walk so that you can be around trees can help reduce stress and make you happier or writing in a journal. 

  • On a recent trip with some friends, I also discovered how beneficial adult colouring books can be to your mental health. Not only does it help to calm the mind, but it also helps increase innovation, be more helpful, and more team-spirited than coworkers who are not regularly engaged in creative hobbies. To learn more about the benefits of adult colouring, read this article 8 Benefits of Adult Colouring. 

These are just some of the ways leaders can focus on taking care of themselves. There are so many other ways to keep yourself healthy, including cooking, gaming, and more. The important thing here is to make sure you’re doing what you can to take care of your mental health, a key component in ensuring you are an effective leader.

Effective Communications

My second piece of advice is to work hard on being an effective communicator.  This is definitely not easy, and for many, it’s a life-long process. However, the more digital your team becomes, the more critical it is to keep communications top of mind.  Working from home full-time can be isolating for many. Without constant communication or connection from their leaders, employees can often feel disengaged and unconnected from their company and team.

Here are some of my top communications tips:

  • Continue with your regular cadence of meetings and turn on the video if you can.  My husband has two daily huddles. It’s been great seeing him and his team interact online via video. Kids and pets are also really cute additions.

  • Figure out a communications schedule that works for you. For those of you in Canada, you would likely by now become accustomed to the timing and regular scheduling or updates from the government, and our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Prime Minister Trudeau has been providing daily updates at the same time, every day. He has also selected a time that works for everyone across the country, which is key given that Canada has six different time zones.

  • If you’re more comfortable or find that you are a stronger communicator verbally, then I suggest using your strengths as much as possible during this time. However, it’s also important to leverage all the communications channels available to you. Email, for instance, will be used quite a bit right now to share important updates. In this case, make sure you are creating a habit of forwarding and discussing these updates with your teams regularly. It’s not enough to just forward an email. Lastly, as everyone transitions into working digitally, become acquainted or complete training on how to use collaboration tools like Yammer, and Microsoft Teams.

  • Know your audience and take into account what the message is, as well as, what else is happening.  You know your people the best. Consider how well they will individually take the news to have to work remotely full-time for weeks when they’re not used to, or if they have children, how stressful this period will be for them.  This may require you to have 1:1 meetings or check-in conversations. These are incredibly valuable and should happen on a weekly basis at minimum, and do not have to be long or incredibly structured. To learn more about the benefits of check-in conversations, I invite you to watch these two videos from Marcus Buckingham:

  • Check in conversations

  • How check-in conversations drive performance

These regular meetings are of course in addition to video conferences, and other touch points.

  • Listen and observe. Communications is not just one way. Listening to your employee’s questions, and taking a close look at their body language and facial expressions even through video, can show you a lot and help to guide you on how to best communicate to them.

Becoming an effective communicator takes time and a lot of work. In addition to the tips above, I invite you to check out our Virtual Working resources page here. It includes several valuable items for leaders and employees.

Change Management

Like most roles, leaders have been tasked to do more, and this includes change management. Having change management capabilities as a leader is invaluable, especially given the current landscape. Understanding how to use the tools, enabling your people to lead, and the different stages of change are helpful during times like this.  Change management, similar to communications, is something that is fluid and must be constantly learned.  Luckily there are several resources available for you to learn more, including:

  • A recent Masterclass we completed on Practical Change Management.  In this session targeted for novice change leaders, Greg Roth, Managing Partner, Harbinger, breaks down the change curve, how leaders can determine where their people are on the path, and what leaders can do to help them through change. For more information including the change curve, check out his presentation here.

  • The Change Leadership, a partner of Harbinger, is another fantastic resource. They provide several resources and regularly hold events to ‘accelerate the preparation of leaders, change agents, professionals and organizations to respond dynamically to the rapid pace of change and innovation taking place around us.

  •  I’m also a huge fan of the Harvard Business Review. They regularly publish articles on leadership and change management. Some of my recent favourites include, ‘Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis’, ‘The Key to Inclusive Leadership’, and ‘Change Management and Leadership Development have to Mesh.’

  • If you’re interested in learning more about the evolution of change management to change enablement, please take a read of this article from Krista Schaber-Chan, Managing Partner, Harbinger, ‘Don’t Manage Change, Enable It’ in the February issue of Report on Business Magazine here.

I’m confident that focusing on your own well-being and mental health, effective communications, and change management will support you and your people through this trying period.

The coronavirus has certainly taken the world for a spin, and while we may all feeling like we are in the Upside Down, it’s been encouraging to see people come together to support one another in times of crisis.

I hope that you have found this information useful and am crossing my fingers and toes in hopes that this will all soon be behind us.




Siri Maldonado

Director Marketing & Communications




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