Social distancing has the potential to affect everyone’s state of mind – so how can leaders help others and themselves remain present and focus on the positives?

As we embark on week four of stringent social distancing regulations, changes we previously would have found hard to imagine have become our new normal.

My colleagues, clients, business associates, family and friends are facing challenges. Some have lost their jobs. Some are working out how to adapt their businesses. Others are struggling to balance working and helping with schooling from home.

Never has it been so important to look after each other (and ourselves) than during this unusual time.

There was an excellent article released by BCG during the week which calls on leaders to be human first, which means engaging with employees on a personal level and being sympathetic to their situation.  Vital to this is the ability to remain present and mindful as we navigate our leadership responsibilities. The more we are able to do so, the more effective we will be when connecting with our teams, inspiring them to remain strong and united.

The value of presence

Presence is a topic you may have heard me talk about before. It is essential for high functioning teams. And something we discuss at length in our leadership programmes.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a story about my lovely horse Opal and how she taught me a valuable lesson about presence when I was distracted while working with her. Our equine team members demonstrate the importance of presence on a daily basis: if people aren’t truly present when working with horses, they will invariably respond accordingly. They may become disinterested, refuse to engage  or simply walk away. Have you noticed that when your mind wanders while you are with your team, your partner or kids they can intuitively tell and react in different ways?

At the beginning of all our programmes, we discuss the importance of presence and encourage everyone to stay in the moment. We often begin with a simple breathing exercise, an effective mindfulness tool that allows participants to focus on the present, setting the tone for their work with the horses.

This is a simple technique that can be easily used to start off virtual meetings to bring the team together and focused.

We also structure our programmes in line with evidence-based research that recommends frequent breaks to ensure information and learning can be digested in an effective way. A 2020 Forbes article quotes author Hortense le Gentil, who says, “breaks allow you to check in with yourself and refuel. Checking in helps you align with yourself as you step back, get some distance, remind yourself of your ‘why,’ and examine whether your thoughts, your words and your actions are congruent.”

Active listening is another way to make sure you’re present with someone. Too-often, we listen to others only to answer. Active listening is a learned skill that can be developed over time. It involves putting in effort to hear what others are really saying.

Be conscious of those around you

As I said in my blog a few weeks ago, humans and horses naturally exist in ‘herds’ which goes back to our base needs for comfort, safety and protection.

Being conscious of those around them is vital  in a herd; if one member is distracted it has the potential to compromise the comfort and safety of the whole herd. So too is this awareness of others vital in our workplaces.

We see this all the time during our programmes, where the human team members focus on each other, forgetting they have another teammate – namely the horse they are working with.  The sheer size of this teammate usually ensures that he or she won’t be left out for long as it is hard to ignore a 600kg colleague!  During one of our emerging leaders workshops, our horse Darcy started picking up the equipment in the arena in his mouth. It is like when a member of your team is not engaged and so starts to play on their phone!  

Everyone’s self-isolation will look different. Some (me!) are in a house full of partners, kids and parents, so for us it’s about co-existing in the same space. Others who live alone may have different challenges.

I try to find positives; this is the most I’ve had my husband home in years. And my children. That makes it an opportunity to slow down and reconnect with my ‘herd’. Find new ways to have fun with those you’re at home with and embrace technology that allows us to link up with others outside your home.

From a work perspective I’ve loved participating in fun, supportive virtual meetings with business associates here and around the world. Check-in with your colleagues and team members. Are there individuals who are feeling isolated and alone? How can you and the team support them?

Look after yourself and others

Working, caring for family, reaching out to friends…. it probably feels like there’s so much to do right now. It’s hard to stay present when your mind is buzzing with the next task on your to-do list. Even if you’re not that busy, you might be suffering mental strain from the sudden change in routine.

Beyond Blue has great resources for coping with the current crisis, one of these being the use of Mindfulness tools. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation have been scientifically proven to be among the most effective techniques to reclaim that headspace. As mentioned above, we regularly use mindfulness techniques in our programmes. How can you as a leader encourage the use of these tools for your teams (and yourselves!)?

I’ve found the extra time with my horses, without having our client programmes, has helped maintain and strengthen our connection, trust and skill set. I am actually grateful for this.

If you need some help, there are apps including Headspace and Smiling Mind to name a couple which can help with mindfulness exercises.

And finally: cut yourself some slack on the bad news. It’s easy to spend all day on Facebook reading articles, seeing pictures of toilet paper hoarding or feeling guilty because a friend keeps posts photos of her home school efforts (which look better than yours). Use apps such as Forest to stay focused, off your smartphone and in the moment.


What are your tips for staying present and mindful? Let us know in the comments. And to subscribe to more updates and leadership tips from Leading Edge Life Skills, please comment below to ask to be added or email