I’m Sorry for Who I Was During COVID-19
How Stress Affects Our Leadership and Lives
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a uniquely challenging time for leaders. It started with fear, moved toward frustration, and is now producing fatigue. Zoom calls, homeschooling, leading from a distance, and stress over the unknown future takes a toll on everyone. While this crisis brings out some of the best in humanity, it also exposes weaknesses in ourselves we didn’t know we had.
Most of us feel placed under a weight unlike any other time in our lives. The coronavirus has become, in many ways, our own personal leadership stress test.
Throughout COVID-19, I’ve come to believe that leaders are a lot like bridges. Now I went to seminary and not an engineering school, but as I understand it, all bridges have cracks. During normal loads these cracks are small or even invisible. However, if 100 fully loaded semi-trucks crossed the bridge at the same time, these tiny gaps become far more severe. Drive the trucks off and the cracks seem to disappear again.
All of us have cracks or “gaps” in our leadership. These are the small character issues that keep us from leading in the ways God designed us to. Under normal amounts of stress, others don’t notice these issues and we often aren’t aware of them ourselves. The increased stress load of the last few months exposed all of us. Issues such as anger, fear, and comparison might normally be managed or concealed. The stress of times like this uncovered them for all to see.
We have a choice to make. We can view this time as a gift that exposed the issues we need to work on. Or, we can view this time as something to simply get through and put behind us. One choice is difficult, the other is easy. One choice prepares us to lead ourselves and others better in the future, the other destines us to repeat our same mistakes.
Here is a challenge for you before things “get back to normal.” Spend some time thinking and praying through the 4 categories below. Think about both general themes and specific events. When you are finished, ask some trusted friends to share how they would assess you in each of these categories below. Teams who are courageous enough to discuss their insights as group can accelerate their growth. The goal of this process is twofold. First, identify and work on growth areas before the leadership test occurs. Second, identify your leadership strengths you should leverage moving forward.
Your leadership. How did stress impact your leadership? How did you lead emotionally? Were you nervous, angry, or frozen in place? Did you instill confidence in those you lead? How was your decision making and your ability to chart a course forward? Did you spend more time creating a new future or lamenting the loss of what was? What was your most difficult leadership challenge during this time?
Your relationships. How did you allow stress to impact your relationships? Were you short, withdrawn, or angry with others? Did others seek you out for encouragement or try to keep a distance? Did you find ways to stay connected while working virtually? Is there anyone you need to ask forgiveness from or make amends with?
Your soul. How did you do at abiding with Christ through the recent stress? Did you prioritize time to pray? Did you turn to any vices or addictions that dishonored Christ? Did you have a deep faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God, or did you find yourself constantly worrying? Did you feel spiritually ready for this test? What work needs to be done in your own soul before your next challenging season?
Your wins. Where did you excel in leadership, relationships, and tending to your own soul? What are you most proud of during this time? When and where did you feel especially alive? When did you feel particularly helpful? What would others say were your greatest strengths and contributions?
As you honestly consider you answers to these questions, do not forget to pray and ask the Lord for guidance. COVID-19 was hard (and will continue to be). We don’t have to pretend it wasn’t. Thankfully, COVID-19 was also a test, and one that showed us where we need to improve. We would be wise to learn from it and prepare for the next time crisis hits.
God gives us an incredible, undeserved gift by not counting our coronavirus sins or mistakes against us (2 Cor 5:19). We can give a gift to those we lead by learning from our mistakes and becoming a better leader for the next challenging season.