Despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have a critical role in keeping their organizations focused and functioning. Here are some useful insights I picked up from a recent webinar presented by David Rock of the Neuroscience Leadership Institute on how to react in an “adaptive” way to the pandemic and what you can do to help your employees during this difficult time.

The first thing to understand is that many of the people in your organization (likely even you) are in a heightened state of threat. This is appropriate. The virus is present in our communities and it makes sense to respond with an appropriate level of alert and even some alarm and to take appropriate action.

SCARF is an acronym for psychological threats that trigger a heightened threat response in your brain:


When a brain’s threat response is triggered, physical survival systems start to take priority over mental resources (i.e. your higher-level thinking). This is why you (and your employees) may be having more trouble focusing on tasks and taking longer than usual to make decisions.

COVID-19 presents challenges to our sense of certainty (no one seems to know what will happen next), autonomy (cancellations of events, schools closing, employees asked to work from home) and relatedness (at a time when our instinct is to connect with others for support, we are told that safety demands social distancing). The threats multiply each other, and research suggests this buildup of threats can even be physically painful for people.

As there is a continuum of responses ranging from under-reacting to over-reacting, here are some ways you as a leader can help employees manage their SCARF responses while helping to keep them healthy and focused:

  • Name what they are experiencing and empathize. Use feeling words:
    • “It makes sense that you are worried about your job right now”
  • Communicate often and well
    • Share what you know
      • “We have enough resources to go X months without staff reductions”
    • Share what you are doing to address concerns
      • “Finance is looking at ways to reduce variable expenses and move other expenses to later in the year to preserve cash”
    • Set expectations about your cadence for communication (we will update once a week and more frequently if needed)
      • Even if there is no “new news,” it is still useful to let people know that you are working the plan, and nothing has changed
    • Encourage self-care
      • Encourage employees to eat well, get enough sleep and try to get some form of exercise (these help both physical and psychological wellbeing)
    • Look for ways to offer unexpected autonomy
      • Give the OK to adapt working hours to address childcare needs
    • Increase virtual relatedness
      • Encourage regular video meetings and instant messaging

Here at The Bailey Group, we are confident that together with you we can meet the extraordinary challenges we are facing today.  While this is not business as usual for us or anyone, we are fully committed to being of service to you, now more than ever.

Technology makes it easy for us to stay connected with you and your organizations. We have robust capability to meet your virtual coaching and meeting needs using Microsoft Teams and other platforms. You can access our website at www.thebaileygroup.com for leadership insight and tools. As always, we are available for “just in time” coaching meetings to help talk through issues that arise in real time between sessions.

We have also made an individual and collective agreement as a team to remain as healthy as we can and as open as possible to new and differing perspectives. We’ll continue to share our thoughts, insights and learnings as appropriate. Stay tuned and be well.

You Worked Hard To Reach The Top

You Worked Hard To Reach The Top

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