Leadership advice

These are stressful times. How do leaders help us stay resilient?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

Resilience isn’t a quality, it’s a journey. It’s measured by the time, effort and energy it takes to move from anxiety to calm, sadness to smiling, self-doubt to confidence and from hurting to healing. It’s important for newsroom leaders to know that this journey varies for each of us – and that can be a challenge for tough-as-nails bosses.

Managers are often promoted for their journalistic skills, their ability to fight for good stories and develop great coverage strategies. But emotional intelligence may not have been automatically bundled along with that package. In fact, because we tend to like people who remind us of ourselves, strong, tough leaders may not be able to easily empathize with team members who show fear or concern. 

Even if you prefer the company of stoic folks who keep their feelings to themselves, you need to adapt your leadership approach during this crisis. People are carrying heavy loads you might not know about. Anxiety or depression  — often hidden disabilities — may grow. People may be feeling guilt about their distance from elderly family members. Your staff members or those close to them may have medical histories that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 and they’re on edge. They may be lonely. We know they’re tired.

So, assume your team is a symphony of needs. Some may be laughing in the face of overwork and uncertainty, while others are losing sleep. Now’s the time to ramp up your emotional intelligence and rely on others on your team to alert you when they sense someone needs support.

Here are some things to practice.

  • Empathy: In addition to “What are you doing?” ask “How are you doing?”
  • Social awareness: Pay attention to cues from people – even when your communication is from a distance. Which chatty people have gone quiet? Who’s making surprising errors? Who’s snapping at people for inconsequential things? Who’s arguing the merits of a story when what they can’t bring themselves to say is “I don’t feel safe doing it”? Who’s working night and day without a break and needs YOU to say “rest now” or they won’t? (And BTW, you set the tone. If you don’t rest, the team thinks you’re the example they must follow.)
  • Knowing the limits of your expertise: You can be a great listener, coach, and cheerleader, but when people are experiencing serious problems, you need to direct them to specialists: HR, EAP, or their own health providers. Assure them there’s no stigma or shame. Your goal is the same – to build their resilience at the moment they need it most.
  • Set a good example: Don’t feel the need to be the first to arrive and the last to leave each day (from wherever you are working). People take their cues from you. Be strong, be human. Have a safe venting zone with other leaders to share frustrations (budgets, anyone?) so you don’t keep them inside or dump them on your team. 
  • Celebrate: Identify even the smallest wins and pay special attention to the people whose work is often overlooked. Every effort is serving your community at a time it’s needed most.

Coming: We’re getting on each other’s nerves. How do we resolve real conflict in a virtual newsroom?

Have questions? Ask away.


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