It may be a new year, but we’re still facing many of the same challenges. Much of our workforce is still at home balancing caring for young children and virtual learning. Those who are working in person are wrestling with the reality of keeping physically distanced from their co-workers while worrying about staying healthy.
Exacerbating these COVID conditions, many businesses now exist within a volatile and uncertain world. Will demand for our products and services continue to exist? How will pricing change? How long will supply chain issues continue to impact us? What services will be in demand? On the people side, how do we keep employees engaged to meet these changing demands? How do we help employees evolve and succeed?
With questions like these keeping us up at night, how do we lead in these challenging times? The following six leadership actions can provide direction and focus for forward progress.
- Be present with your emotions – If we want our teams to deliver exceptional performance, then we need to begin by managing our own emotional reactions to this uncharted territory. This doesn’t mean pretending nothing has changed or glossing over the challenges. We need to acknowledge our fears and anxieties about the uncertainty around us, and in doing so acknowledge everyone else’s concerns too.
We can’t solve today’s most pressing problems if we aren’t present to our own emotions and reactions and don’t maintain our composure as leaders. To be more present, check in with yourself and monitor your own mental and physical health. Institute personal rituals and routines that work for you, like meditation, yoga, mindfulness, listening to relaxing or inspiring music, eating healthier, or working out. Only then will you be able to show up as a positive and compassionate leader for your team.
- Drive accountability by leading through connection – Today’s COVID conditions are requiring many of us to lead in different and unprecedented ways. As your team members change where and how they work together, lean into these transformations to be more powerful and inspirational.
This is not the time for micro-management or tighter deadlines. Now is the time to lead through increased connection. It’s easy for our employees to feel disconnected right now, so look for occasions to intentionally create more social connections with and between your team members to increase employee engagement during these challenging times. Regular one-to-one check-ins and team huddles are essential. Your default may be to cancel these meetings because you’re “too busy” or perhaps afraid of the difficult questions that might come up, but these are critical opportunities that allow your team to express concerns, seek support from each other, and troubleshoot key challenges they may be facing. Demonstrate to your team that you care about them, you are committed to their success, and together you will get through this one day at a time.
- Define your strategic goals for the year – The new year is always a great time to think strategically and plan for the year ahead. This is even more important as we start 2021, so define your ideal future and set your new strategic goals in line with the current global landscape.
As you critically evaluate the strategy you developed in 2020 and review the events of last year, some of your intentions undoubtedly fell short of meeting your expectations. Critical products or services may have shifted, business processes may have been redesigned, and future outlooks have likely changed. As a result, suspend any projects that no longer fit and add new initiatives that can carry your business forward into 2021 and beyond. Then, cascade these strategic objectives down to your functional teams to ensure everyone is aligned and on track to reach your goals.
- Create a culture of creativity & innovation – What you did a year ago pre-COVID may not work in a mid-pandemic world. While this may necessitate some subtle and at times dramatic changes to your business practices, it also presents significant opportunity to be innovative and reinvent your business.
In these challenging times, the opening for innovation grows. Ideas that had been off the table before can now be considered. It may be clearer than ever that “the way we’ve always done it” simply won’t work anymore. Look for opportunities to be innovative and engage teams of subject matter experts and other superstars to identify what changes you can implement today to create a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow. Are there new systems or processes you can implement to modernize virtually or reduce time consuming physical handoffs? Can you streamline or otherwise redesign your customer interactions in ways that may have not been possible before? Explore these creative ideas, pilot new beta projects, and celebrate your quick wins to position your business for greater success now and in the future.
- Stop speaking & start listening – Effective communication during challenging times requires us to stop acting like we have all the answers. Resist the urge to focus on your ideas and look to your team to accurately read the current culture and context for your business. Pay more attention and start listening to others to determine exactly how you need to lead right now.
Your team will tell you what they need. They’ll show you what inspires and motivates them. Increase your opportunities to listen by creating spaces to solicit feedback, questions, and ideas. That way, you can create a more adaptive and responsive organization that addresses employees’ true needs.
- Show your appreciation for & extend kindness to others – The global pandemic has impacted people in vastly different ways. Families have lost loved ones, parents are caring for and home-schooling children while attempting to work, and many recreational and social activities are greatly limited. On the other hand, many people have benefitted from reduced business travel, non-existent commutes, and extra time they are now enjoying at home.
Challenge yourself to be mindful of this vast range of experiences. Simple acts of kindness go a long way towards inspiring your workforce. Pay attention to what others are experiencing and show your sincere appreciation for what they accomplish in a changing work environment. Whether it’s saying “Thank you” explicitly or recognizing your employees with small, meaningful gifts, celebrate your successes and be inspirational. Your grace and compassion could be the one thing that makes the difference in how people show up at work.
Many of the innovative changes you implement during these challenging times can continue even when things do settle down. Be courageous, bold, and kind. In times of change and uncertainty, employees observe and take note of their leaders more than ever. Remember who you are as a leader matters. In fact, the organizational culture and work climate your team members experience is overwhelmingly a result of how you show up. Commit to being a powerful leader and drive greater performance and effectiveness throughout your organization – even now.
Are you struggling to stay focused and keep a positive outlook right now? Want some help getting back on track to achieve your true potential? Give me a call at 310.589.4612 or email me directly for some additional thoughts on how best to be a powerful leader during these continuing challenging times. Or visit the Executive Coaching page of our website for more on how we regularly enable senior leaders to tackle their greatest leadership and organizational issues to produce breakthrough results. You might also want to watch the highlights of a recent webcast entitled “Resilient Leadership in the Face of Setbacks & Uncertainty”.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Ashley Seeley for demonstrating the power of intentional leadership and especially for her generous contribution in co-authoring this piece.