March 2020

By Mikaela Seligman


So, predictably on an early morning call with my mother today she admonished, “You’re not traveling are you?!?!?….I would be worried if you were getting on a plane or train or anything.”  I, of course, would be worried if she were, at 83 years old and with some ongoing health issues.

But the point is clearly a larger one.

Work and personal travel, gathering in groups larger than a couple family units, socially acceptable touches like handshakes and hugs are all in question. I had the first moments of encounter this week when we looked at each other about to hug in a typical greeting and just said, “Nah.”

At AchieveMission, we have been asking serious questions about how to keep each other and our families safe in an environment in which it is possibly the uncertainty itself that ultimately impacts our overall health and wellness the most. Stressful, anyone? We aren’t sure what data to use to make the right choices (or if we are actually getting the real story from authorities, but that is a whole other blog post). We don’t have any models of what the right choices are.  Perhaps one silver lining of all this is that the feelings and concerns of employees are being taken into serious account – in some cases, organizations that haven’t banned travel entirely are offering employees the chance to opt out if they aren’t comfortable.  That is something that folks often can’t do without some negative repercussions. Check off one in the column for employee voice.

But, there remain many other areas of real and present physical concern, including the possibility that the workplace as we know it transforms into lots of cells of people working in their homes, at least for a period of time.  At AchieveMission, we have a growing pod of us in DC and a longstanding tradition of virtual teaming with our other colleagues based in other cities, so this isn’t new for us.  And, over the years, we have learned some strategies to make virtual teaming work and work pretty darn well. Here are a few thoughts about leadership in this moment – less about the technical things you might do – like having working wifi and making sure you have a good video platform – and more about how to hold center, hold steady and lead in a moment like this:

  1. Listen to your peeps – As I mentioned earlier, people’s concerns about their well-being and that of their older immuno-compromised relatives and friends are top of mind right now. We have to be responsive to these and to fashion responses with a loose, tight fit. This starts with asking and listening to the people you serve, work with and love.
  2. Make decisions including all “data” but not reacting to any of it – We often teach that most of our view of “data” is way too limited. Hearing voices from your team is “data.” So, obviously, are all the things we are reading and learning through each other and media sources and the CDC. I used to have a boss who seemingly made policy based on the last person they talked to. Don’t do that. Take it all in. Talk to each other. Then respond. And, know that it may shift as data from all our sources does. Being agile is a good thing.
  3. Consider the herd your community – If there was ever a time to prioritize the needs of others, I would say this is it.  This is, from a public health perspective, not only about Covid-19, but the regular old flu.  It is the only reason I get a flu shot.  At a moment like this we need to think about the big everyone and not just our particular everyones. Consider the impact of your choices and org policies in this way.
  4. Be sure you get human connection and contact every day – This is just a rule of life. Keep doing it, however that looks as this pandemic unfolds. We know now more and more that having as many as 5 touchpoints with live humans early in the day makes a difference. We may have to find these in other ways in a more virtual environment, but keep prioritizing our connections, not our disconnection or fear.
  5. Protect those who may become victims of xenophobia – This morning my 7-year-old told us a friend of his said the Corona Virus started when a Chinese person ate a live bat. Um, no. And this is only one of the malicious stories that circulates in these moments, further othering ethnic or racial groups. (By the way, that particular story was apparently spread through an irresponsible Fox News host.) It is our responsibility to squash such stories and treat everyone with dignity and care.

I just learned the term “social distancing” this week. It may be something we need to do for a while. Conferences with no handshaking are now in vogue. I am no longer hugging as a greeting. But, we need to keep in mind that this social distancing is a necessary public health intervention and not a forever state.  Here is hoping this round of it is as short as possible and as long as necessary to stop this pandemic so we can all remain healthy of mind and of body. And, let’s get creative about how to be connected in our ways of leading throughout.