Leadership styles are evolving as business moves beyond the initial phase of responding to the COVID-19 disruption. The challenges in the months and perhaps years ahead will require a different approach to managing high-performance teams. 

COVID-19 has changed so much about the way we live and work, so it is not surprising that responsible leadership now takes on an even deeper meaning. All the indications are that we are going to have to live with disruption for the foreseeable and we must find ways to cope and adapt to the never normal. 

However, while fast-changing circumstances mean most companies are still constantly responding and changing, the initial phase of COVID-19 has demonstrated that speed is of the essence. 

It is important at a time when companies require maximum agility and adaptability to also acknowledge how challenging that is for our workforces. Amidst to biggest upheaval many will face in their professional lives, they still feel the pressure to perform at work, while balancing what is happening in their personal lives, such as homeschooling, under the watchful eye of their personal webcam as they move from one virtual meeting to the next throughout the day.

Yes, leaders need empathy,  but they must also demonstrate they have a plan. Their teams do not expect them to have all the answers, however, they do need their leaders to be transparent about what is driving decisions. 

Smart leadership teams look ahead proactively and respond rather than react, and this goes a long way toward helping people in volatile times. 

Here are some practical steps leaders can consider:

  • Gather the troops. Develop a multidisciplinary C-suite “plan and act” centre. Gather feedback from all areas of the organisation and all types of workers.
  • Relieve people from unnecessary work and activities. At a time when people are worried about their basic needs, focusing resources is key.
  • Educate and coach leaders on the five elements: stakeholder inclusion, emotion and intuition, mission and purpose, technology and innovation, and intellect and insight.
  • Rally leaders around consistent communication. Establish strong communication governance, guiding principles and tone. Leaders throughout the organisation need to be in sync.
  • Elevate your most visible leaders based on compassion and caring. Workers will remember the faces and voices you empower to lead the charge during this time. Be sure those voices are not only wise, but compassionate and caring.
  • Tell a story, rather than regurgitating data. People are wired to find meaning and respond best to stories and analogies during times of great stress and ambiguity. What people want as human beings is the larger story, the insights.
  • If you aren’t used to working in cross-functional, agile teams, now is the time to begin. You don’t get to outcomes via functional silos.
  • Don’t allow the crisis to stop the organisation moving forward. Reserve time each day for work focused on getting your organisation and your workforce to the future.
  • Check on your people and make sure they are safe and included while working at home.

Lessons learned

The acute stage of the crisis revealed the need for leaders to be visible, to show their human side, and to be proactive with their teams. The immediate pressure related to the need to address the physical (meeting needs to feel safe and secure), mental (meeting needs to build psychological resilience), and relationship needs (meeting needs for connection and belonging) of their people.

Remote working has allowed leaders to get closer to their people in ways they never might have before, blending the personal with the professional as we all meet virtually in each other’s homes. That, in turn, has helped create more compassion and understanding that hopefully bridges the gap of physical distance.

We have also witnessed just how integral technology is to keeping the show on the road and keeping people connected. We have all had to figure out how to make these tools best work for us personally, and the reality is that our reliance on technology is only going to increase. 

While it may create a new set of challenges, you should never waste a good crisis as the saying goes. The pandemic gives many companies no choice. Now is the time to accelerate human/machine collaboration and support people as they transition to digital ways of working for the long haul.

Imagine source: Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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