The rollercoaster of emotions Kenyans are going through

Ideas & Debate

The rollercoaster of emotions Kenyans are going through

The jokes emerging on the internet from people stuck in lockdown at home for weeks and soon to be months at a time have been cheesy at worst and classic at best. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The jokes emerging on the internet from people stuck in lockdown at home for weeks and soon to be months at a time have been cheesy at worst and classic at best. Take this prediction: “There will be a minor baby boom in nine months, and then one day in 2033 we shall witness the rise of the quaranteens!” Or the more circumspect jibe at the anti-vaccine stalwarts that says “Once they come out with a coronavirus vaccine, I don’t want to see any anti-vaxxers getting one. Don’t be a hypocrite!”

But laughter is indeed the best medicine in an increasingly grim environment where there seems to be absolutely no scientific nor biblical prediction of when the end will be, whatever “the end” means. Hence the heaviness that many of us are experiencing has actually been likened to grief. Brené Brown is a University of Texas research professor and best-selling author of several books on leadership.

She runs a number of podcasts and last month hosted David Kessler who worked with the late Elizabeth Kubler Ross on her seminal psychological analysis of grief which came to be known as the five stages of grief. The Kubler Ross grief model as it came to be known, identifies the five stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance.

During the March 31st podcast with Professor Brown, Kessler spoke about the fact that many of us are actually grappling with grief as we go through the horrors of the covid-19 pandemic even though we may not have experienced the death of a loved one. He goes on to remind listeners that the five stages are not linear and one can experience depression before trying to bargain or experience anger first, followed by denial.

More importantly, he challenges the leaders among us to rapidly understand these stages and lead our teams to acceptance and to a sixth stage that he has written a book about which is finding meaning.

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I was listening to this podcast and high-fiving an imaginary colleague as I was taking a much-needed pre-curfew walk in my neighbourhood. All around me were pedestrians from various walks of life: families wearing expensive masks and, like me, walking for exercise rather than walking from work and labourers coming back from a hard day of work with worry lines etched behind makeshift masks strewn together from bits of cloth hurriedly found among old clothes. I high-fived my imaginary walking colleague because Kessler’s point about the non-linear path in the grief model was exactly what I had been enduring over the last three weeks.

I have tended to swing between depression about potential business losses, followed by denial that this cannot be happening to us, right now at this time, acceptance that it is what it is and I need to man up and lead my team to hitherto unknown frontiers, followed by depression. Then I rinse and repeat this manic mental gymnastics process every day. It’s exhausting!

But Kessler’s challenge was to find meaning in all this chaos, and help our teams innovate, respond to a dizzyingly frenetic change of pace and build our businesses to survive this. This takes an inordinate amount of willpower to set aside our own primal fears and wake up to the current reality.

More importantly, it requires us to recognise that our own employees are also in varying stages of the grief curve, so trying to stand up and wave pompoms at the fantastic opportunities that are emerging may be pointless if we don’t first understand that not everyone is on the finding- meaning-hymn sheet that we are singing from. I recently spoke to someone whose employer had just instituted deep salary cuts for all employees as their revenue sources have been greatly impacted by the government lockdown of certain sectors.

She was appalled that some senior managers were still in denial that the salary cuts had been instituted and were getting angry at the numerous requests from the human resources department to consent to the cuts as is required by law and sign the acceptance letters.

“How can someone who is leading a team of a hundred people be called a manager if they are not helping their own team deal with the new reality?” she mused.

We all deal with grief differently and there’s no time like the present to witness the inherent strengths and weaknesses within our teams.

However as leaders of teams, our jobs do not accord us the luxury of wading slowly through our feelings. Finding meaning is a critical leadership muscle that we must develop, because this too shall pass and we must be prepared to keep our businesses running at all costs. Or we will collapse into a heap of business extermination.

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