At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders reported feeling more energized than ever. With the unprecedented uncertainty created by the global health and financial crisis, leaders felt a rush of adrenaline. Organizations responded to the crisis by freeing their leaders from typical constraints – budgetary, bureaucratic, political, and strategic – to reinforce a sense of urgency. This newfound freedom, paired with adrenaline, resulted in remarkable high performance.
While this was a common experience for many during the first few weeks, so too was the palpable shift from invigoration to listlessness as the pandemic progressed. While the first few weeks felt revitalizing and meaningful, adrenaline began to wane, energy began to deplete, and exhaustion set in.
The Ivey Academy’s Executive Director, Mark Healy, shared his personal experience regarding this shift in the introduction to a livestream from June 10, 2020:
This shared experience was examined further in Harvard Business Review’s If You Feel Like You’re Regressing, You’re Not Alone:
What explains this shift? In my experience as a psychologist and executive advisor, I’ve found that crises follow a rough pattern: Emergency. Regression. Recovery.
In the beginning, when the emergency becomes clear, team energy rises, and performance goes up … Leaders tend to become the best version of themselves in this phase, and teams instinctively pull together and become highly productive … The urgency created by the shock paves the way for rapid decision-making and turbocharges teams’ bias for action.
Then the second phase hits: a regression phase, where people get tired, lose their sense of purpose, start fighting about the small stuff, and forget to do basic things like eat or drink — or they eat and drink too much.
The concept of regression comes from developmental psychology and describes how people roll back to a less mature stage when faced with pressure. Regression is one of the mind’s ways to defend itself from confusion and insecurity by retreating to an emotional comfort zone.
Not only is the regression phase unpleasant, it’s also unavoidable. Fortunately, there are strategies that leaders can utilize to mitigate the negative impact of the regression phase and prepare their teams for the inevitable recovery phase:
About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment.
Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.