With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people and businesses are all learning to cope with a situation that is unlike anything we’ve experienced during our lifetime. People are currently facing a drastic disruption of daily life; how we live, work, play, and socialize transformed overnight. And this is only the beginning, as lasting effects will create a “new normal” that’s different for every individual. 

What we’ve discovered is a prevailing perception that only the mentally ill have fragile mental states. But the reality is that even those who considered themselves mentally strong are discovering the fragility of their own mental state right now. 

As we all struggle to make sense of our new lives during these unsettled times, it’s easy to get swept up in the negatives. But letting ourselves get caught up in the adversities and bad news can lead to a survivalist mindset, which—in turn—keeps everyone fearful and frantic.  

Great leaders are not just playing defense, but are playing offense in this marked shift to help people live more meaningful lives. Here’s how they are doing it: 

Lead with Optimism 

Choose to embrace a positive mindset and, with that, improve our overall mental health—especially with May being #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. I’m very encouraged by what I’m seeing through the leaders in my own organization, as well as in many businesses that have chosen to balance empathy with execution. We’re feeling a refreshing surge of creativity and seeing it reflected in businesses around the world that have the foresight to channel this time and use it as a force for good. This pause in our normal personal and professional lives is an opportunity to recommit to learning and growing, and I see more fostering and collaboration than ever before—across competition and in peer groups. We’re taking more time to connect and talk through issues. The innovative problem-solving skills we are cultivating will have a long tail positive impact.  

Leverage Purpose in Crisis 

Businesses must lean into their intention now more than ever. Pinpoint your drive, if you haven’t, and use it for good among your team and clients. We had a clear purpose and strong culture pre-COVID-19, which has helped us navigate and prioritize what matters most. We’ve amplified what we already believe and have scaled our programming reach beyond our employees—the aperture is open, and our clients and the industry at large are benefiting. During crisis, the pace of decisioning accelerates, and we find it’s easier to make rapid decisions through the lens of our values and purpose. It also supports a democratized decision-making culture, where everyone is empowered to answer the simple question, “What do you recommend?” 

Manage Today But Stay Focused on Long-Term Vision 

While there is plenty to focus on now as it relates to people and clients, climbing above the minute-to-minute firefighting is impactful for long-term success. In fact, what we do now will impact behavior and trends for the decade to come. The forced social distancing has opened a mental capacity to step back and reevaluate the most pivotal points that will have a long-lasting difference in everything we do as leaders. From employee programming to client planning, it’s important to ideate and execute in a way that is right for the current moment and beyond—seeing the forest through the trees. By keeping priorities in focus, we—as businesses—will harness energy around the right things and not become overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. 

Check In: How Are You Coping? 

It’s critical to check in regularly and get beyond the default question, “How are you doing?” A better question: “How are you taking care of yourself today?” Lead with heart and a realistic optimism, and maintain a sense of humor with your colleagues. These small measures add up to keeping your community well, and they will ultimately keep you well as a leader.  

Commit to Creating and Reinforcing Clarity & Cohesion 

It’s inevitable that many industries will come back stronger than ever in the next few months. In order to position ourselves for the ‘new’ new normal, we must observe and understand shifts in consumer behavior. One easy way is to analyze our own consumer choices. Demographics are blurring, stereotypes are breaking, our very idea of home is changing, and the “do it for yourself”—or DIFY movement—as we have dubbed the shift in behaviors and habits, is leading to new rituals and new relationships with brands. Further, an important role of brands will be to bring structure and safety into our new normalcy. Brands with scale will provide functional, personal and collective relevance—is it safe? Is it essential? Does it build connection? Is it good for the collective? In other words, they must play a more meaningful role in peoples’ lives post-quarantine. 

Moving forward, no matter how challenging the current moment is, we always have a choice. To exercise our ability to choose what we see and how we experience our reality. It’s crucial to balance the pause and the push, giving yourself and your teams both the space and encouragement to perform.