In Cook County, Minnesota, USA, located on the shore of Lake Superior, you will find an unforgettable image. Growing out of the bare rock, on the shoreline of the lake, is a lone tree that is twisted and gnarled. In the book, In the Company of Trees, author Andrea Fereshteh shares that the tree has exposed roots along the rock, while other roots extend deep within the rock itself, somehow holding it in place. The local Ojibwa people, refer to the tree as Manidoo-glizhikens or “Little Cedar Spirit Tree.”  It is also called the “The Witch Tree,” by many.

The Ojibwa consider this special conifer tree as sacred, and access to the tree is limited only to tribal members. They value this tree so much that they leave offerings of tobacco to help ensure a safe journey for those travelling on Lake Superior. What is truly remarkable is that this unique tree is estimated to be three to four hundred years old! During its long life, the tree has found a way to survive and grow in the most unlikely of places – the harsh environment at the edge of a large lake. It is for this reason that the tree has become a meaningful symbol for resilience and resolve.

I have been thinking a lot about this tree and its profound meaning since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason is that in my recent discussions with senior executives and clients in my network, many have openly shared how they and their teams feeling at this unprecedented time. They describe being stressed and overwhelmed. Many are under intense pressure. Others tell me they are struggling to deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity we all face. A few have admitted they doubt whether they have what it will take to lead at this time. And as we look to the coming months, there is a sense with the leaders I speak with that things will get even tougher.

Just like the Witch Tree, you will need a healthy dose of resilience and resolve and you must strive to strengthen both within your team.

Many of us may be feeling isolated and disconnected right now, especially if we are working from home. Also, some of us are trying to balance the pressure of trying to remain productive while also managing the demands of family life, especially homeschooling young children or supporting elderly parents. It can all be a lot and drive a considerable amount of stress.

In my book, Accountable Leaders, I describe what you need to look for in each of your team members when facing adversity. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Does your team remain optimistic in the face of adversity?
  • Do your team members effectively manage their emotions and reactions to stressful events?
  • Are they able to get back on track after a setback or disappointment?
  • Do they sustain their energy to maintain their performance?
  • Do they ask for help and draw on the support of others on the team?
  • As you review these questions, what insights do you gain? Where do you need to focus your attention on helping your team?

Here are some strategies to consider that will help you manage your team’s resilience and resolve. These practices are especially important now that more organizations are working virtually.

  1. Reach out. Make it a habit of regularly reaching out to your team members to see how they are doing, especially if you are leading a virtual team. Regular check-ins via a phone call or video chat is a simple but powerful action for you to adopt.
  2. Look out for uncharacteristic behaviour. Sometimes a team member may be overreacting or getting emotional. If it is uncharacteristic behaviour, this could be a telltale sign that they are struggling. In my experience, I find that some team members may open up enough to tell you what is going on; others may not. You need to ensure that you communicate your support at these moments and help them seek any assistance they may need. This simple gesture is often appreciated and enables the team member to better cope.
  3. Provide recognition and show appreciation. Recognition and appreciation can foster resilience and resolve, especially when you explain how you value your team and their contributions. Many people are feeling unsettled at this moment. Recognition is a great way to reinforce one’s value and reaffirms the contribution they are making currently.
  4. Make resilience and resolve a regular team discussion. Another action that you can consider is to ensure that your team can openly discuss how everyone is coping with everything happening at this time. Use your team meetings as the forum for these conversations. When you do, you ensure your team knows you are available to support them when they need it. In turn, you will be valued and admired as a leader. You have the opportunity currently to be that kind of leader!