As if leaders don’t have enough to worry about with lost revenue from partial or complete closures during the last couple of months, we also have the realities of unrest in our communities and the fears and stress from potentially one of the most significant health issues faced by workers in their lifetime.
With Black Lives Matter on everyone’s mind after heartless deaths and an awakening of what monuments should go, what police units should look like, and for each of us, more awareness that it is past time for many Americans to understand the impact of history on our culture, we can expect a lot of employees are uncomfortable and confused. Remember, you also have employees who were not happy with their work, the way they were treated, their pay or other inequalities, before COVID-19 sent them home. Whether you view yourself as a strong leader or above average, you probably need to grow competencies in the following four skills to be prepared for changes in your business and workforce:
Lead with empathy. This new chapter in leadership requires a real effort at being empathetic to all employees. Try to take all of beliefs you have and pretend you are a sponge, just like you were when you were about five years old. Whether it was learning to catch lightening bugs, finding really cool rocks, or discovering how magnets work, you were engaged and ready to learn. Now is the time, to think like a five-year-old and truly listen to employees. Keep an open mind to their concerns, whether it is about how to take care of their kids this summer while they try to come back to the office or their fears that their own job might be eliminated because you have refocused your business to survive. Caring goes a long way even when you do not have solutions right now.
Lead with transparency. Show the lost revenue due to COVID-19 and specific steps you plan for recovery. Share specifics about your concerns, because if you sound like “everything will be fine”, you will lose their trust. Clearly communicate what you know as you all work together and provide frequent updates. You may find new ways to respond to changes in processes or provide opportunities for more or different employees to shine. Give employees more time to give input and share their concerns, but when you do that, remember it is okay to share your own, especially your honesty about your own lack of understanding.
Lead by example. If there is more work that has to get done in a particular area, and it would be helpful for you to dig in and help, do it. Though you do not want to get in the habit of spending your days in tasks, this is the time to show your abilities as a team player, not task master. That means running to the post office to meet a deadline, reviewing client files, or filing documents so your team can be more responsive, or taking over the cleaning spaces so others can finish a project. Leading by example also means being aware in every aspect of your business of any inequalities. How you treat the remote teams has to be the same as the ones who come to the work site, and that treatment has to be apparent to all. Nothing can be more damaging than a manager being late for a zoom meeting because he went for a long lunch with his boss, while reprimanding an employee who did not clock in on time for work. Flexibility in schedules may become one of your biggest nightmares if you do not follow the same expectations. You may also find that the simplest guidelines like wearing a mask becomes controversial because of how people feel about multiple issues. Whatever you do, wear a mask yourself, consistently, if that is the guideline, without excuses, and do not exclude yourself from social distancing.
Mentor, sponsor, and raise up more leaders. Change can bring positive results and opportunities for your employees. Shifting responsibilities for greater productivity could be an outcome from a slow, measured return to the office. Employees who may not have gotten noticed may show up on your radar. How can you or others on your leadership team provide more mentoring in your business? What leadership skills are lacking in the mix of your team? What can you do to use this time to provide additional virtual or online training to improve leadership skills? What can you let go and pass on to others with your sponsorship efforts to put the highlight on them?
Overall, leaders step up to challenging times. Avoiding, ignoring, or ‘freezing” on difficult decisions just do not give you the results you want for successfully finishing the year. When focusing on these skills during the worst conditions, we find renewal in our own work life and benefits for those we lead which can result in long-term rewards.