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Four Ways To Deal With The Demoralizing Delta Variant

Office returns delayed. Business trips halted. Morale down the tubes. The lingering pandemic creates yet another unprecedented leadership challenge. Some advice for getting through it.

The health damage is sadly, easy to spot: nearly 630,000 new cases a day worldwide on average, and more than 9,500 daily deaths since Covid’s delta variant arrived. The toll on organizations is also relatively easy to quantify: ships unable to unload cargo because of a global shortage of healthy workers; firms forced to push back their September office re-openings; and high-profile events such as the World 5G Conference in Beijing becoming virtual events.

The latest Covid surge is also taking an exacting toll on the mindsets of people up and down the corporate ladder. It’s harder to measure, gauged more in frustration, snap decision-making, and a return to the uncertainty that many people thought they were past, at least in the U.S.

In reality, we are facing the same set of problems that many have been feeling during the last 18 months, and in practice, many of the ways to combat that frustration still apply. The challenge however, is that businesses are often driven by momentum; many organizations have seen tremendous progress in the health of their workers and their bottom lines since the beginning of the year. Many see a path forward to more stability. The delta variant’s surge may be putting a stop to that.

The frustration, at least among some senior executives, is that their vision of everyone coming back to the office, happy to see one another and ready to take their companies to new heights, has been dashed … again. One added problem is that the impact of the delta variant—and whatever comes next—varies considerably by location. Some workplaces may be fully vaccinated in areas of the world where Covid has remained contained, while in other places, the virus is running rampant among many unvaccinated people.

Here are four things we can do:

1. Senior executives, empower your middle managers who are closest to the context to make decisions on when to open certain facilities. Those managers are the ones having conversations with many employees, finding out which of their teammates are dealing with sick relatives, uncertain school and daycare situations, technology problems, and other issues that have developed during the last 18 months. When conditions are changing rapidly, push the decision-making closer to the evolving face of the work, and trust the good judgement of your leaders.

2. Ensure a diversity of opinions are heard on these important issues. As simple as it sounds, go around the table and give everyone on the team equal time to comment on issues. It can be efficient, doesn’t allow 1-2 people to dominate the conversation, and encourages the dissenting views to speak up rather than stay quiet.

3. Do an honest self-assessment about our own personal drive and motivations and how this might color our decisions. Many of us have a deeply ingrained bias for action and that may not serve us as well as illuminating a broader range of choices to give us more optionality.

4. Finally, double down on energy. Bringing the energy to your teams is a profound multiplier of effectiveness, especially in times of disruption and uncertainty…and of course if you don’t maintain your own personal energy and motivation, you can’t bring it to others. Much like the rules on a plane—you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else.


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