Virtual Teams — How to lead through uncertainty.

June 17, 2020
5 min read

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has brought a level of uncertainty akin to what Pearl Harbor, the Great Depression, and the Civil War did for the previous generations. We can draw on those experiences to find the confidence to get through this.

No one, not even Dr. Anthony  Fauci, knows what the outcome will be. It is a completely unknown and unprecedented crisis. COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work. The lines between the two have become blurred. While we are all in this together, it is also very personal: whether we are leading a family, a team, or just managing our own affairs, we each have a  different and unique response to this uncertainty.

3 Basic Needs.

fassforward has 20 years of experience in working with teams and individuals on how to tackle difficult challenges. One of the most effective tools we use is our 3 Basic Needs model. During this current crisis, everyone can benefit from this tool. It is based on Jungian psychology that there are 3 basic needs every human being requires to thrive:

Secure to feel safe
Control to feel able
Approval to feel validated

These needs exist in both our personal and professional lives.

COVID-19: The trigger.

If you are like the rest of us, COVID-19 is triggering feelings of anxiety, frustration, and regret.  The best thing we can do is to acknowledge that these feelings are situational.  We can be proactive in addressing them. Many of us, however, enter what we call the “red zone”. We let these feelings of anxiety, frustration, or regret project into emotions of fear, anger, and shame; what we refer to as “projected emotions”.  These projections take place when we slap a thought onto a feeling. We tell ourselves a story that turns into an imagined reality as if it is a fait accompli.

We have negative thoughts about what a post COVID-19 world could look like, or have recurring thoughts about what we should have done in the past to be better prepared for this crisis; “should of, could of, would of.”

One of the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the surface is that most corporate cultures did not encourage discussing feelings. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and regret are common even in our pre-COVID-19 world. When these feelings enter the red zone, they can lead to destructive behaviors: workaholism, substance abuse, over-eating, etc.

Understanding our Basic Needs.

The basic need to feel Secure was severely impacted by COVID-19. This Event triggered feelings of Anxiety for all of us.  This is a normal feeling that can even be beneficial if that anxiety is used as a call to action. We enter the red zone, however, when we let that anxiety become a Projected Emotion of Fear. For example, 9-11 occurred 3 months after I started fassforward. We were all anxious after that horrific event. I let my anxiety turn to fear. I slapped a thought onto my anxiety and created a story that we would be out of business.  I had visions of myself living in Grand Central Terminal eating cat food. My fear caused me to Freeze. I felt paralyzed and unable to do anything other than obsess over the risk of losing this business that I had just started.

COVID-19 has also tested our basic need for Control. In the current Situation of “Shelter-in-Place,” we have all lost some control and have felt frustration about it. That frustration can be productive if it results in taking charge of what we CAN control. However, we enter the red zone when that feeling of Frustration turns to Anger. For example, I have had Outbursts at my children when they’re interrupting my workday. I have had thoughts of still homeschooling in September (and that has not been pretty).

The 3rd need may be a little more challenging to recognize; the need for Approval. We all need to be validated in this crisis. The trigger is Failure, real or perceived. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect. For example, COVID-19 forced many of the client projects we were working on to be put on hold. I Regretted not getting one specific project over the finish line before the crisis hit. Rather than focusing on what I could currently do about the project, I went into the red zone and did the “Shame on me” dance. I kept replaying the thought of “What if I had pushed more aggressively to secure the project before COVID-19?” I became Passive and my inner critic became very loud!

Getting Stuck in the Past or the Future.

The commonality in all of these examples in which we enter the red zone is that our thoughts are dominated by “If only” or “What if.” We are either in the past or the future.

How to Remain in the Present.

The most important way to address our 3 basic needs (as well as our families and colleagues) is to free ourselves from the “If onlys” and the “What ifs” and remain in the present.


Take a step back, and ask yourself “what do I need to feel secure?” Choose a simple action you can take that will help restore your balance and well-being. In this COVID-19 world in which all of our daily routines have been thrown off, it can be as simple as taking a deep breath.

Take an action no matter how small:


“What do I need to feel in control?”  A key first step is accepting that COVID-19 is out of our control and to choose to focus on what is in your control. I can’t control that my 4 kids now need to be homeschooled or when they will go back to school. However, my wife and I can make a daily schedule. One that allows us to divide up homeschooling responsibilities and still leave time for our day jobs!

Focus on what you can Control:


“What do I need to feel approval?” We need to remind ourselves that we all make mistakes and that we could not have possibly predicted this once-in-a-generation crisis. I can beat myself up over not getting the project approved before COVID-19, or I can take steps now to try and get it approved after COVID-19.

Fix the problem, not the blame:

Give yourself (and others) the Present.

As challenging as it might be in the midst of this unprecedented crisis, staying in the present and in control of what we can control is the best gift we can give ourselves, our loved ones and our colleagues.

David Frost is fassforward’s Head of Executive Coaching and Managing Director. He strives to do good work for good people. He also focuses on business development and operational improvement. David previously spent 20 years on Wall Street. He received his A.B., magna cum laude from Princeton University.

Rose Fass is a founder and CEO of fassforward consulting group. She has the unique gift to take a mess, and quickly put in place effective steps to reach an outcome. She is a natural facilitator who can connect with all types of individuals at all levels of an organization from the C-suite to people closest to the work.

Eugene Yoon is a graphic designer and illustrator at fassforward. She is a crafter of Visual Logic. Eugene is multifaceted and works on various types of projects, including but not limited to product design, UX and web design, data visualization, print design, advertising, and presentation design.

Andreas Pichaeli is a motion designer and producer at fassforward. He is keenly interested in using technology to express ideas, creativity and emotion. His work encompasses; graphic design, presentation design, video production, animation, audio editing, data visualization, e-learning, webinar development, and production.

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