When a crisis emerges, leaders often tell everyone around them not to panic. Unfortunately, this almost always has the opposite effect. If someone tells you not to panic, you immediately want to know what the problem is and why you should be panicking.
What people are experiencing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is not just panic and fear. Although people often associate grief only with death, it can also happen with other significant losses. Right now, most people have lost their sense of comfort and normalcy, and this is significant enough for many people that it is triggering symptoms of grief.
In the wake of this global health and economic crisis, leaders are responsible for easing people’s fears and leading them through the uncertainty. In times like these, leaders must be even more respectful and attentive to the needs of employees, customers, and stakeholders.
But, leading your brand through a pandemic isn’t without challenges. Leaders are faced with challenges today, that didn’t exist a few months ago.
Here are a few of the leadership challenges emerging from the pandemic, and tips on how to overcome them.
Remote working is hardly a new trend, but never before has it been deployed on such a massive scale, in such a short amount of time. Organizations that have never relied on a remote workforce, have been forced to go virtual.
Similarly, organizations that previously had only part of their teams working remotely have been forced to go entirely remote. What’s even more challenging is that productivity and communication tend to take a hit when employees are new to working from home.
So how do leaders transition from leading in the office, to leading in a remote environment? By leading virtually.
By moving scheduled team meetings online (instead of cancelling them altogether), keeping in constant communication with your team, and making use of digital collaboration tools, leaders can keep their teams on track.
The key to surviving and thriving digitally is to create a new ‘normal’ for your team, and keep the lines of communication open. After all, it’s unlikely you’ll be faulted for over-communicating with your team.
Uncertainty and Fear.
Odds are your employees, stakeholders and customers are uncertain and fearful about their personal and professional lives. Leading people who are experiencing crisis and grief is not an easy feat, and it’s more important than ever to lead with respect and empathy.
“It’s vital that leaders acknowledge that this pandemic is an extraordinary global event for everyone – even those of us who are working straight through it – and that each of us is going to react differently. What’s needed from leaders right now, and in the many months to come, is understanding, empathy and respect,” says Gregg Ward, the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Respectful Leadership.
The worst thing you can do as a leader (especially in times of crisis) is to set the stage for a toxic work environment, even if that environment happens to be digital. Toxic organizational culture often leads to profit and talent bleeds, and can leave your organization thoroughly unprepared for thriving beyond the crisis.
By leading with respect and empathy, you set the tone for your entire organization, and help your employees, customers and stakeholders feel valued. By stepping up as a respectful leader, you’ll likely inspire your team to do the same.
Rapidly Changing Environment.
The global crisis is changing on a daily, if not hourly, basis. From new regulations about business closures and social distancing, to changes within our teams, leaders are tasked with adapting and remaining more flexible than ever before. Leaders who fail to adapt to the changing environment, can come across as insensitive or ineffective, and lose market share.
So how should leaders adapt to the ever-changing business landscape? By adopting a change management strategy. Leaders should begin by assessing their personal openness to change, and work on overcoming any mental barriers to change.
Once a mindset that’s conducive to change has been adopted, it’s time to deploy new strategies and inspire your team.
Leadership That Survives and Thrives Beyond COVID-19
During challenging situations, leaders must show that they understand how serious the situation is. Effective leaders demonstrate compassion and recognize that being fearful, upset or anxious is entirely understandable.
While even the best and brightest leaders among us may not have all of the answers about COVID-19, leaders must show that they are compassionate, willing to adapt, and ready to communicate. It’s time for respectful leadership to take center stage.