Successful Leaders’ Mantra in Times of Crisis Is Just What Working Parents Need Right Now

These three sentences will help you and your kids persevere in these challenging times.

Everyone is struggling with the excessive and complex demands the pandemic has placed on us, in all parts of our lives. It’s an anxious time. Those of us with children might be worried about how we can best help them with their disrupted lives and fears about the future. With many schools closed for the year, a problem on the horizon for many working parents is planning for summer and uncertainty about whether camps and other summer activities will be open or shuttered. Then there are concerns about whether students will return to school in the fall.

The stress of the unknown can leave us feeling lost and overwhelmed. How can we effectively cope with these uncertainties in ways that empower us and our children to persist in the weeks and months ahead, in a world where we must maintain physical distance from others? As business school professors and organizational psychologists, we dove into the research on how effective leaders cope with uncertainty, particularly during times of crisis, and the lessons that science has for working parents. Drawing on the discoveries in the new book, Parents Who Lead, there's an evidence-based way to lead your family through the unknown. It boils down to this simple mantra: “This is hard. Things will get better. We can make it so.”

“This is hard.”

In times of crisis, the best leaders accept and acknowledge the challenges of today and tomorrow. They don’t pretend that things are fine or that they have everything under control. For our own well-being and that of our children, we’re better served by acknowledging the fact that dealing with uncertainty is hard. Beyond the challenges of managing the logistics of our current reality, not knowing when we can get back to our usual rhythms adds an additional psychological burden. Like us, our children are not served by false certainty about the future. Instead, we need to be honest with them that we don’t have all of the answers regarding when life as we know it will resume—and that we understand it’s hard to exist under those conditions. Meeting the leadership challenge as parents starts, then, with acknowledging, rather than avoiding, the mess we’re all in.

“Things will get better.”

While the best leaders acknowledge uncertainty and help others cope with it, it doesn’t mean they don’t think about the future at all. To the contrary, communicating a hopeful vision of a better future is a hallmark of effective leadership. Research has shown that when leaders communicate a realistic picture of a better tomorrow, they foster resilience and persistence in those around them. As parents, we can describe what this better future looks like. The leadership challenge is how to paint this positive image without pretending we can predict the future or denying the difficulties of the present. For example, rather than telling our children that school will return in the fall, as a way to allay their fears, we might instead say, “When school starts back up, we will be able to appreciate being with our friends and teachers so much more.” It’s true, it’s positive, and it’s forward-looking. Describe how you hope and expect your family to emerge from this pandemic feeling stronger, more connected, and more grateful in ways that those around you, especially your children, can see that too.

“We can make it so.”

The best leaders inspire those around them to work through their fears and move forward in the face of the unknown. They help their people feel confident in their abilities to overcome obstacles that lay ahead. While it might seem obvious to you that your children possess the resilience to get through this, it might not be quite so obvious to them. You’ve addressed the difficulties honestly, you’ve cultivated a realistic message about your hope for how things will get better. Now it’s up to you to express, explicitly, your belief that you and your family have some measure of control in realizing that hope and can indeed make it so. Express confidence in the specific skills your family possesses to get through this time of uncertainty—whether it’s humor, gratitude, patience, grit or faith. This, in turn, allows your children to grow in their own self-efficacy and move more confidently forward their life as we now know it. Depending on the age of your children, there are things you can do to give them a sense of control and agency. For example, explain to your children that washing their hands not only helps them avoid viral germs and prevent them from infecting others, but also, by being part of a city-wide, state-wide, country-wide, global effort to reduce the spread of the virus, they are doing their essential part in helping all of us get back sooner to school, work and social life without distancing restrictions.

Repeat as needed, to yourself and your children: This is hard. Things will get better. We can make it so.

Written by Stewart D. Friedman for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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