May 7, 2021

Rebuild & Recover: Working (and Living) on the Other Side of COVID

Clinician Leadership | Team Development

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We’ve (almost) made it on the other side, and yet the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t feel as bright as anticipated. While some areas of pressure have been released, new burdens are mounting and healthcare workers and leaders are questioning where and how things, and even they, fit.

More than ever, I’m hearing clients experiencing a sense of feeling overwhelmed, unclear, frustrated, and even lost. One thing is for certain: If you are in healthcare and feeling any, or all, of these things, you are not alone.

At the risk of seeming presumptuous in how one may work through and into our next phase, I offer for your consideration my musings on some tips that may help.

Remember to Not Forget Yourself

In talking with leaders across the country, I’m sensing a heaviness of uncertainty. Not the uncertainty we experienced at the beginning or during the height of the pandemic, an uncertainty that stemmed from fear of what was to come. During the time our amygdala was hijacked and we braced ourselves for full-on fight mode.

Rather, the uncertainty I’m ascertaining today seems to come more from the unknown of how to be. A heaviness, aimlessness, or even a void is how I’ve heard it described.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton and the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” recently enlightened us in this article by naming this feeling as “languishing.” Grant further defines the state of languishing as “not having the symptoms of mental illness, but not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity.”

As you experience this state, I ask you to remember to not forget about yourself. (Healthcare leaders are notorious for tuning out when we recommend they put themselves first, so I’m going with this approach.)

One way to do this is to strategically splurge on yourself. I’m not referring to financial splurges (unless that’s your thing) but instead an investment of time. Take a few minutes (we refer to this as heads-up time) and reflect on what activities help to bring you peace and what activities bring you joy. Think about a time when you were at your best, when you felt most centered. What did you do to get there? What can you do today to get back? Build an intentional approach to get back to your best, centered self.

Another thought to help increase motivation and begin to banish the feeling of languishing is to experience the sense of accomplishment. Guess what? I bet you have accomplished much, even in the midst of the pandemic. Step back and reflect on positive progress on a personal and professional level. Consider practical approaches, mindset shifts, relationships, learnings… Lean on this list to build confidence in your ability to carry on and successfully face the challenges that lie ahead.

Then figure out quick wins you can achieve: What can you get done in 10 minutes? 1 hour? A day? Pick a timeframe that works for you. When you finish your tasks, reflect and celebrate!

Reprioritize Relationships

During crises it’s easy, and honestly expected, to put our heads down and get the work done. We quickly identify problems and work posthaste to fix issues. We move to crisis command center operations.

While building, maintaining, or even repairing trusted relationships is helpful at various levels of operations, I’ve noticed that often during emergencies we drop attempts to prioritize these efforts. And yet we’re still successful at working together in those moments. Why? We are united by a shared and obvious purpose, or dare I say, a common enemy.

When the clarity of the urgent purpose starts to fade and the enemy is now disarmed, we fill that void with our own interpretations based on our values, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. We build up our own stories and start to form opinions on various topics. Sometimes we continue to operate in the mode of fixing issues, yet without the overarching clarity of the urgent purpose, we start to default to our own perceptions, and we build up our positional armor.

Yet armor will not enable us to align around a new shared purpose. In fact, it will inhibit it. Armor blocks us from building relationships and impedes trust.

But it’s not (and I’d argue that it’s never) too late to reprioritize relationships and focus on improving trust among colleagues. The higher the level of trust, the more difficult the conversations we can have. The more we trust our teams, the higher the likelihood of surfacing and working through conflict.

We encourage our clients to dedicate some of their heads-up time to reflect on the most important relationships they have (or should have). Then determine if they need to maintain, build, or repair trust.

  • Do you have a trusted relationship you’d like to maintain? Remember to continue to dedicate time to that person. Check in with them. Learn how can you be supportive to them.
  • Do you notice relationships where trust needs to build? Seek to learn more about those individuals by asking genuinely curious questions. Teach them about yourself – how you like to communicate or what is important to you. Be vulnerable. Not the clothes-off, in-the-corner-crying vulnerability; but the armor-off, genuine empathy-practicing vulnerability.
  • What about relationships where trust needs repair? Prepare yourself: Be open to feedback, explore your willingness to grow or change, engage productively in difficult conversations, and think about if or how you need to reframe your personal or leadership brand.
Refocus Strategic Initiatives

Finally, one observation I’ve had through coaching interactions is the feeling many clients are experiencing around being overwhelmed. When COVID hit our facilities 12+ months ago, our strategic plans were appropriately placed on the shelf. The achievements we were chasing for 2020 were filed away and goals were put on hold. Work on these initiatives were paused and we rallied around beating the pandemic.

Now, as we pull those plans back off the shelf and dust off old initiatives, we find ourselves a year behind. Many of our 2020 goals were not achieved. Three-year initiatives only have two years left to complete. We’re moving forward as if we have not just survived a global pandemic, and we are holding ourselves accountable to expectations that we set before “coronavirus” was a common household word.

Give yourself and your team some grace.

To the senior leaders out there, now is the perfect time for a strategic plan refresh. This may not line up with your expected timeline for planning. We aren’t existing in an expected current state, either.

Ask yourself and your team, what did we learn from and through the pandemic? Then explore your strategic plan:

  • What initiatives can be delayed?
  • Which can be removed?
  • What is important now to include?

If you aren’t one of the senior execs, you can still prioritize the focus of your teams, your department, or your own work. Determine what is necessary, what can wait, and what can be dropped. Leverage those trusted relationships you’re maintaining, building or repairing to discuss these priorities with those whose input, insights, and decisions are required.

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About the author

Kristy Kainrath, MBA, PCC

Kristy Kainrath, MBA, PCC is a strategic thinker known for her passion in helping others be their best selves through awareness and purpose.

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