Leading through uncertain times requires a certain amount of vulnerability and trust.
Life has radically changed seemingly overnight. You had your plan and the world shifted on you. Now, it’s time for you to shift your plan. This will require you to be flexible and nimble.
We are still in the thick of it, so we haven’t yet felt the full effect of this monumental shift. The ripple effect will be felt for years and even decades to come as a whole new generation is at a critical coming of age just as the whole world seems to be collapsing.
It’s times like this is when great leadership is needed the most. In a world that is quickly changing, how we need to lead is quickly changing too. One of the biggest changes all of us need to make is how we think, or our mindset. Starting with, how we define “strong."
Typically, when strong is used in a business setting it means that you don’t show any emotion. “I gotta be strong” really means, “I can’t be human. I’ve gotta stay in control. I can’t lose my shit.”
In this new world we are living in, being strong takes on a new meaning.
Being strong for your people doesn’t mean knowing all the answers or pretending that you aren’t worried and nervous too. It means showing up in authentic ways that strengthens the team you have and calls them up into their best selves in quick order. It means helping them find their center so they can block out the noise and focus on what really matters.
You probably don’t have a clue how you are going to tackle your biggest challenge that’s facing you in business -- and that’s ok. It’s even ok to tell your team that. What you also want to do is convey your message confidently because you know that the team is capable of stepping up and figuring out a solution that works given the new constraints you have to work with.
There are a few cornerstones of great leadership right now. In fact, they are truly a modern leader’s responsibility.
Let's unpack them.
We need leaders to show up with an executive presence that conveys a calm centeredness, which leaves your people feeling grounded and reassured in a shakey time.
You give people information, both through written and oral communication but also through body language and vocal intonations. When people have consistent information, they feel safer because they aren’t being left to their own creative “worst case scenarios” that run wild leaving them afraid.
This means that you need to be fully present. This is no time for playing the absentee leader or the leader who doesn’t add any value or creates more stress than they relieve.
Leaders also need to be present to the emotional well-being of their team right now. This may be a new concept or practice to some. Highly sensitive people will have a harder time dealing with the massive shifts and energetic drains on their systems. Work with each individual on your team to ensure that there has been a success plan created that works for how they need to manage their self-care right now.
Examples might include letting a team member start an hour later to give them time to exercise or meditate before starting work, block out their calendar for an hour in the afternoon to take a walk or reminding them of benefits such as EAP plans or mental health coverage through your health benefits.
Encouraging your team to take care of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being will be an important aspect of getting through this difficult time.
We need leaders who communicate clearly and regularly.
No need to sugar-coat the truth, but we do need you to remember that we are humans with loved ones, rent or mortgages to pay, and food to buy.
Leaders who are transparent by communicating the big picture; where things stand, what the next steps are and when the next update is scheduled, will create a sense of normalcy in a world where normal got canceled.
Even if the news is bad news, how you are in relationship with your team during this time can make or break your business.
For those leaders who are faced with the heartbreaking task of laying off team members, be sure to communicate:
Options that you looked at before making a decision to lay them off.
Your remorse that this is the only answer.
Desire (if true) to have them return as soon as possible (again, only if true).
Thank them in a genuine and meaningful way, to let them know how much of an impact they had and how much you valued their contribution.
Ask them if they want to stay engaged and connected over this next period while we are waiting to see what happens next. You may not know how this will be accomplished, but at least you know who’s engaged at a deeper level.
Offer any support you can lend in them finding other employment opportunities.
**side note, be sure to ask them to keep you up to date with any contact information changes such as address, phone number or email address changes. They’ll be happy if there are call backs and when tax time comes.
Leadership communications need to be clear, specific and give tangible examples.
For example, this is a popular meme going around the social media channels. I found it via LinkedIn on Adam Barr’s post about the importance of “sticky messaging”. You’ve got to really spell it all out and connect all the dots in order for your message to be understood.
Leaders need to increase frequency of communication and engagement right now. Things are sometimes changing by the hour. The more your business is being impacted, the more you need to communicate. Be sure to follow the transparency model above.
If you are a workforce who is now working remotely, you’ll want to touch base daily or every few days with your team in order to keep business moving. As everyone needs to adjust to the new ways of working, we need to be in close communication with each other to help each other adapt. We will get through this, and we are going to do it together.
This may require you to be a more engaged and active leader than you’ve been before.
Get used to it, this is the new landscape that we now live in. The good news is that you’ll actually be able to accomplish more as a whole than you were previously when you are really actively involved with your team without crossing the threshold of micro-managing.
3. Self-Development and Self-Care
No one can afford for you to be out of commission because you ran yourself out of gas. The old leadership model of running on all cylinders until you’ve run yourself into the ground isn’t an option anymore.
In order for your team to run at their highest potential, you need to too. That means doing the things you need to do in order to be the best leader you can be, even if it’s unconventional.
Perhaps you start an hour later to get your morning ritual of yoga and meditation in before logging in and take an hour in the afternoon to walk outside and move your body.
While your mind might be screaming at you that you "Don’t Have Time" to do these things, you can’t really afford to keep skimping on doing the things that help keep you balanced. Plus, chances are that you now have extra time that you aren’t spending commuting into the office and that you can actually make your self-care a top priority.
This also includes doing your own inner work on the emotional landscape. Having a regular practice to blow off steam in healthy ways is essential right now. Better yet, having someone hold space for you while you deal with the realities and burdens that you are holding is truly a gift to yourself.
Enhancing existing skills and learning new ones will separate you from the pack once all the dust settles, which will come in handy no matter where you finally land.
Part of your development plan needs to include expanding your capacity to demonstrate compassion as you lead and navigate through the tough times ahead.
In order for us to truly be the leaders that our people need us to be, we’ve got to be willing to deal with our own emotions in healthy ways so that we can show up solid, even though the world is moving under our feet.
4. Inspire and Motivate Your Team's Best Efforts.
This is the time to clarify for your people what is expected of them. Peak performance looks different today than it did two weeks ago, and especially two months ago.
For all you movie buffs out there, these are your "Coach Dale from Hoosier" moments in the locker room at the clutch moment in the game. Let's keep people focused on what really matters and to ignore the noise.
Some of your team may be getting really hung up on the transition to working from home, as well as added & unforseen responsibilities. Be crystal clear about what is expected of them.
Take the time to understand what this time is like for them. Put yourself in your employees shoes: A single parent who is now homeschooling their kids may be burning the candle at both ends trying to meet the expectations of their job pre-Covid-19.
This is your opportunity to remind them of their value to the organization AND offer the grace and empathy to re-prioritize their workload. After all, with all the illness and death that we are being bombarded with on a regular basis right now, we are being reminded what truly matters and it's our families and loved ones.
Today, the noise looks like suddenly working from home with your spouse, partner or roomate, kids being homeschooled and who drop into your video conference calls uninvited, pets who are annoyed that you are suddenly home or extremely happy that you’ve decided to never leave their side, imaginary office mates who leave dirty dishes in the sink (That Cheryl!) or a general feeling of anxiety.
Your job as a leader is to help them navigate as quickly through the turbulence so things can settle into a “new normal” for now -- whatever that may be.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to take right now.
Each individual will need a different touch, depending on how they adapting to the current situation.
Great leadership isn’t about knowing all the answers. Right now, no one knows anything for certain. Great leadership is knowing how to dance and move your feet when the ground under you starts to shift. If you are lucky, you don’t fall. If you fall, well darling, take a breath and take your internal inventory and get back up as soon as you can.
Right now, your people need you, more than ever.
If there is a way I can support you in being the kind of leader that your team needs right now, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
In service to your greatness,
~Aubrey Armes, PHR
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