Notes on Work During Quarantine

Job Portraits co-founder Miki Johnson reflects on this period of professional transition.

How do you lead when you don't have any answers? That's what I've been asking myself again and again as we all navigate this new normal, individually and together. And while I don't have any answers to the Big Questions we're all grappling with, years of practicing and encouraging vulnerability and empathy in professional spaces have offered me some insight into how to lead with confidence while forging a new path forward.

Last week, I wrote small LinkedIn posts each day as an exercise in distilling my thoughts and opinions on best practices for leading your team through uncharted territory. Today, I thought I'd consolidate and share them here.

From March 24, originally posted on LinkedIn.

"How can I help my team?" is the wrong question right now.

Instead, ask: How can I best help each individual on my team? In moments of extreme change and ambiguity like this, people need radically different things.

Yesterday we ended a tough call about needing to cut people's compensation by asking everyone to share the one thing they most needed from the company. The answers were RADICALLY DIFFERENT.

Some people need to keep working, others need permission to work less. Some need transparency and clarity, others a space to be emotionally distraught.

As leaders, this is INVALUABLE INFORMATION. We all know we have to overcommunicate in times of crisis, and this helps us know exactly what to communicate, how, to whom. This helps everyone feel seen and appreciated (direct feedback from team members afterwards)—and THAT is what really matters right now.

From March 25, originally posted on LinkedIn.

Every good story has a crisis in the middle.

The hero leaves their current reality to explore a new world. On the way they encounter challenges and torment. When at long last they overcome, they are granted new gifts and powers, which they take home to share with their community.

The stories we tell ourselves matter. They REALLY REALLY MATTER right now.

As a leader (of any kind), I encourage you not to shy away from the difficulty of what we are up against. But don’t forget to finish the story, either.

From March 26, originally posted
on LinkedIn.

We need to be doing less.

I’ve heard from so many people who are beating themselves up for not being more “productive” right now. For not immediately pivoting their business online. For not working their normal hours because they are also homeschooling their kids. For having their concentration destroyed by worry over the safety of  loved ones.

First I want to say that kindness is what will get us through this, and that starts with kindness to ourselves. So please repeat after me: I am doing the best I can. And that’s a lot.

And it’s more than that.

This is a chance for us to reassess a million little things we assumed were just the way it had to be. I, for one, have long had a huge question mark in my gut about the sheer number of hours we work.

What if we used this as an opportunity to see what we can accomplish in the few hours our kids are sleeping or being blissfully self-contained? What if we all learn to hold better boundaries between work time and “us” time because there is no separation if we don’t create it? What if we really embrace the idea that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”? Every great athlete knows the importance of REST AND RECOVERY.

We are being given a collective wake-up call. Let’s agree to not snooze our way through it.

From March 27, originally posted
on LinkedIn.

There is only one leadership technique. Leading by example.

Our actions speak far louder than our words. When your words and actions don't line up, it creates dissonance and confusion. This is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS in this moment of crisis.

First, because our teams need clarity more than almost anything right now. So many things are ambiguous, so we look to leaders to help us make sense of them.

Second because, as leaders, we are facing the same challenges our teams are. I personally have a tendency to retreat into controlling and constricting when I'm scared, tired, confused, and stressed. And guess what—I'm all of those lately.

But those are the opposite of how I ask our team to show up. I talk constantly about being vulnerable, getting curious, giving the benefit of the doubt, and trying new hard things.

So in the more difficult moments over the past weeks, I've tried to remember to coach myself first. What would I say to myself if one of our team members was acting this way?

Because we are all human, I haven't always been successful. In those moments, I recognize my less-than-ideal behavior and take responsibility for it. This, too, is leading by example.

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