#WFH Lessons in Leadership

Charlene Coughlin 27.04.20

#WFH Lessons in Leadership with Charlene Coughlin

It’s week six of quarantine life, and my Type A, extrovert-ness has taken a real hit during the past month and a half. While Zoom and FaceTime calls are great, it’s just not the same. I’m used to being around people (clients, partners and team members) and I thrive in situations where I can collaborate face to face. But quarantine life has given me an opportunity to reflect on my leadership style while also teaching me some lessons, in just six short weeks, that I wasn’t expecting.

  1. It’s okay to not know the answer. I don’t think anyone knows the answer(s) right now. Things are fluid and changing and your gut, your head and your heart may all be telling you different things depending on the minute, the news or what you are hearing from others. I personally have just been trying to balance all three – and trusting my gut.
  2. It’s okay to show vulnerability. We’re all human and we’re all experiencing a wide variety of emotions (sometimes within minutes). I’ve had my highs where I feel like I’m being productive, working ahead and being proactive. Then the next day – a total mess. I’ve let my guard down with my team and simply been open and honest. I had recently learned that the nonprofit that I’m on the board of would need to close down services, and during a group call with the team that same afternoon I was honest – that news hit me hard; there was no denying it. The thing I wasn’t expecting? Hearing from multiple team members afterward who wanted to check in and make sure I was okay and wanting to know how they could help.
  3. It’s okay to not be your most productive. As a leader of the agency, I feel like every minute of my day should be productive and that’s just not possible during a pandemic. There’s too much happening and to stay on task can sometimes feel completely impossible. Just when I’ve hit my stride on an item, I’ll get an email notification, see a tweet or overhear a press conference and things change.
  4. It’s okay to take time off. I am the absolute worst at this, even when we’re not in a pandemic. I am quickly realizing though that I can’t be on all of the time. It’s just not possible or healthy. I’ve found myself needing to keep the TV off (sometimes for multiple days in a row) and turn off notifications for our project management system or email. Allowing myself that moment to block the excess noise tends to make me more effective once I’m back online.
  5. It’s okay to change your routine and schedule. I am an early bird. My coworkers would tell you it’s not unusual to see me in the office before 7am most days. For me, I’ve had to rework my routine more than expected. I am still awake early and working (sometimes at 6:30am or earlier) but I’ve been needing to take breaks way more often throughout the day than I would when I’m in the office.


The five things that do matter:

  1. Visibility matters: Be present and have a presence is something we talk about all the time. As a leader it’s more important than ever to be there for your team and clients. Does that mean extra hours to get other things done? Yep. But does it reassure your team and set the right tone during a time of high stress and anxiety? Absolutely.
  2. Balance matters: If you know me well you know I hate, hate, hate the term “work life balance”. I think it’s bullshit, to be honest. But during a pandemic, especially when working from home, I’ve found the importance of shutting things down. I am not one to usually take a lunch but I’ve been taking lunch breaks and turning off notifications, even if just for 30 minutes or so.
  3. Self-care matters: As much as I love a good spa day that’s not the kind of self-care I’m talking about here (truth be told – my sheet mask collection is proving to help during quarantine though). I’m talking about the kind of self-care that includes working out, eating well and chatting with a therapist or someone you trust. In order to truly lead you need to take care of yourself first (something I did struggle with for years).
  4. Compassion matters: Like I mentioned earlier, no one has the answer and everyone is reacting differently to what’s going on in the world today. Don’t assume you know everything on your team’s to do list or understand what may be happening in their home life. A little compassion and empathy goes a long way.
  5. Laughter and humor matters: Let’s be honest – this stress level is unlike what most of us have ever experienced. Luckily I’m surrounded by some pretty bad ass women who have become my support system during quarantine life. Sometimes you just need a drink and some laughs to shake things off – because that’s how we’re all going to get through this craziness. Or maybe even a good old fashioned Taylor Swift dance party.

How are all of you faring working from home during this global crisis? Do you feel like you have a pretty good balance? Learned some lessons of your own? Currently driving the strugglebus to crazytown? (PS – Pick me up on the way! lol).

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