5 Leadership Lessons from living through a Pandemic

Leading and running a business wasn’t easy before the pandemic set in. Now with recent events, we are operating at a whole new level. You may fall from having to completely close your business and layoff your staff, to having laid off some of your staff, to starting to consider it, to thinking how you need to pivot your business, to being laid off yourself -- we’ve all been impacted in one way or another.

Like many of you, I’ve been reading the news and keeping up to date with the current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly, I’ve been paying attention to leadership from the public officials that govern our land to local public officials to local business owners, noticing what skills and characteristics make for great leadership in times of crisis.

Regardless of where you currently fall on the impact scale, these Leadership Lessons will serve you well.

1. Clear, direct and specific communication is essential for a successful outcome.

When shit hits the fan and things are moving fast, people need to know exactly what to do and not do in very clear and direct ways in order to have the best outcome.

We knew we needed to wash our hands for 20 seconds. However, giving a very specific example of how to wash our hands in those 20 seconds has left us all realizing that we’ve been forgetting to wash our thumbs and the back of our hands this whole time.

In your business, if you aren’t giving clear, direct and specific communication with your team, you are creating a lack of clarity which leads to diminishing trust and engagement.

You’ll most likely see an increase in problematic behavior such as increased excuses, passive aggressive behavior, gossip, and significantly lower productivity.

This isn’t the time to leave your team guessing what you really want because you haven’t communicated a thorough picture for them. You are going to need your employees to be functioning at their best right now (given the circumstances) in order to pull through, you can’t afford wasted energy and efforts as a result of confusing communication.

2. Showing up is required.

During the last week, I did an informal survey through various social media channels. Those who had leaders who were MIA were stressed out to the point of breaking. They were left navigating the unknown with no leadership or direction of what to do.

Others, who were having a much easier time adjusting to a “new normal,” had the commonality that their manager was present, empathetic and communicative throughout the last several weeks.

More than ever, you need to increase your visibility with your team right now. That doesn’t mean micromanaging them, it does mean engaging them more and being clear about your expectations.

Chances are, things are shifting quickly in your organization right now, which means you need to help your team understand what the current priorities are. Don’t assume that they understand how a change in one part of your business impacts other parts or functions. Be sure to help them connect all the dots and modify behaviors as necessary.

3. Leadership Presence makes a difference.

I spent time last week talking with a woman who works in the banking industry. Her work has been stressful as she’s been adjusting to working from home and an increased workload as the feds have been lowering rates to help spur the economy during the pandemic. Her interactions with her boss last week drove her to a point of total breakdown.

A high-performing, loyal and dedicated team member was left feeling attacked, like a subpar performer and disposable -- all because her boss was clueless how her own frustrations were being expressed and how her valuable employee was interpreting them.

Don’t forget that there is a human on the other side of your interaction. You don’t know how fragile that human may be right now.

You don’t know how they are personally impacted. They may have --

  • a loved one who is battling the coronavirus,

  • a loved one who has passed recently,

  • been coming to terms that they may never see their parent or grandparent again,

  • been at risk themselves and have been facing the fears of their own mortality,

  • had spouses who have been laid off,

  • been battling their own mental health while being isolated,

  • been overwhelmed with now having to work from home while simultaneously homeschooling their children without directions or lesson plans from the school

  • Or a combination of several of these at once.

Be mindful during your interactions with your team. While working with your people, be sure not to break them past the point of no return.

It’s vital for you to be aware, have compassion, express empathy and be vigilant about caring for your team’s well being right now.

This will gain you a lot of loyalty points that you can cash in when you need your people to really step up.

4. Innovation is a necessity right now.

Many businesses have already been impacted in some way or other. For some, it’s innovate or die. One of Seattle’s most celebrated chefs, Edouardo Jordan, has converted his restaurant Salare into a community kitchen. Part of the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, free meals packed to go are available for any restaurant worker who has been laid off or has had a significant reduction in hours and / or pay.

Through this and other initiatives, Jordan is able to pay 10 employees and make free to-go dinners for local struggling restaurant workers. By being innovative, Jordan has been able to salvage his business and retain a portion of his staff.

Leaders who foster innovation need to be able to communicate their vision and generate enthusiasm for it. They need to be able to get their team behind the vision and be willing to invest in making it happen.

Innovative leaders know that leadership through motivation and inspiration are far more effective than command and control leadership.

5. Motivating people to change their behavior can be the difference between success and failure.

Recently, the governor of New York was able to inspire over 40,000 doctors, nurses respiratory therapists and other medical professionals to sign up to join a surge health care force to help fight the coronavirus outbreak. Having an additional talent force of over 40,000 is significant and will likely save countless lives.

For you in your business, you are going to need to motivate your teams to do business differently.

We need to fundamentally change how we do business, now and going forward.

During this time particularly, we need to proactively address the fears and feelings that show up during change and upheaval so we don’t have to spend an unreasonable amount of time managing the problematic behaviors that will manifest in the absence of strong leadership.

We need to learn how to :

  • deliver honest feedback in a way that is clear and focused on upleveling the human and the output

  • connect and show empathy instead of distancing ourselves

  • step up our level of accountability while simultaneously learning how to give each other and ourselves more grace

To be clear, it’s certainly easier to look back and say “if we’d done it this way, it would have been better.” That’s not my intent here. My intent is to learn from this crisis and apply it to your day-to-day life as a leader. If we don’t learn anything from this experience, we’ve wasted a momental opportunity to bring us to the next level of our greatness.

Even if the unfortunate happens and your business does not survive this economic crisis, you will.

You will re-evaluate and reassess and figure something new out. You’ll be on to your next chapter in your journey. Regardless of how it shakes out, you’ll be able to use these leadership tips in your next chapter, whatever that brings.

If you are a leader who is struggling to develop and deliver an inspiring message to your team, or is struggling to navigate the recent human resources challenges in your organization, don’t hesitate to reach out to see how I can help you.

In service to your greatness,

~Aubrey Armes, PHR

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