The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic forced upon us a new way of living – social distancing, working from home and homeschooling. The sudden and rapid change in pace, lifestyle and norms was difficult for many of us to process.

There was an exponential growth in the number of Covid-19 cases, so the storm of the pandemic seemed distant until it had arrived at our doorstep and then seemingly exploded, raising public alarm. Threat or fear can trigger our amygdala to automatically activate the fight-or-flight response by sending out signals to release stress hormones that prepare our body to fight or run away or stay paralyzed.

An Inspiring Story

For example, one of my clients shared how she felt paralysed by fear and despondency when CV-19 hit our shores. In months prior, through coaching, she had made amazing progress in identifying work that fulfilled her, and was knee-deep in networking when the outbreak of CV-19 was announced. She had to cancel her travels, conferences, and other meetings she had lined up because social distancing was advised. Because of the uncertainty, and impending crisis, she became anxious that she was back to the drawing board, and felt that her efforts over the last 2 months were down the drain. She was ready to throw in the towel. She nearly canceled her coaching session with me.

“And yet you are still here,” I acknowledged when we met. What she shared made me reflect on her powerful personal leadership. She replied that she pulled herself out of despondency, and reminded herself that coaching would plant a seed of insight. She trusted that it would shift her to a more empowered mindset to face the challenges. She made her decision to show up for her coaching session based on hope, and this led her to more intentional and empowered behavior.

Optimism – A Shift Toward Possibilities

Optimism is a key component of successful personal and professional leadership. It is an important facet of self-management which influences emotional intelligence. In their article, “The New Leaders – Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results”, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzio and Annie Mckee observe that even during tumultuous times, emotionally intelligent leaders “can visualize a brighter future, communicate that vision with resonance and lead the way.” In The Leadership Advantage, an essay from the Drucker Foundations’ Leader to Leader Guide, Warren Bennis shares that optimism is one of the key things people need from their leaders in order to achieve positive results. The first step to leading others is to exercise personal leadership, and that includes the ability to stay optimistic even when the situation appears dire. Optimism influences our perception of choice. When we have a positive outlook, we are focused on possibilities. When we are despondent, our focus is on what is not possible.

There’s a lot happening right now that we cannot control; so it is important is that we focus on what we can control – our perception, our vision and outlook. This in turn will influence our decisions and lead to considered action, rather than hasty decisions based on fear.

In my client’s case, her decision to hold on to hope that she could shift her perspectives led to a fruitful session. We processed her challenges together, she re-anchored in her values and purpose, and discussed next steps that would move her into intentional action. Her personal leadership led her to designing her next steps with creativity and intention. She regained her momentum, left the coaching session feeling energized – and feeling even more hopeful.

In the coming weeks, we as a community will be facing greater uncertainty, painful certainty, and loss of control in face of the pandemic. As we work from home, let’s work from hope. This will keep our mind clear, our thoughts focused and our actions intentional. Let us look for the possibilities, and not give in to doom.

By Sharanya Rao, Career & Leadership coach at Coaching 4 Good.
To schedule a session with Sharanya, click here.
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