Leadership challenges in pandemic times

Today we are experiencing times when all qualities, values and rules you have lived against might be challenged. Times that may force on you a total change of your priorities and ways you operate. Pandemic is obviously something that impacts also your personal life, therefore it’s even more difficult than usually to stay calm, stable and focused on leading others. However it’s actually you who people will look at to bring stability, reduce chaos and guide them. Here are some key challenges that you may face:

Staying stable and grounded

The current world requires working via unpredictable and uncontrollable situations therefore you should not allow emotions to take priority. There will be plenty of information around you from press, internet, government that may be influencing your perception of things. Keeping a level of stability in how you operate and grounding yourself on facts will allow you to be perceived as balanced and reliable. Therefore in your actions and communication:

  •  Be honest and transparent – share what you know, set some rules of operations. You may not have the answers for all the questions or people may not like what they hear but they will respect you for honesty and transparency. 
  • Rely on data. Don’t share opinions, predictions or press articles. Refer to facts, be analytical where possible. Don’t leave space for interpretation. 
  • Be proactive. Try to anticipate issues and problems and address them before they come or grow. 
  • Communicate regularly. Be the source of information and provide updates on regular basis. Soon people will turn to you for information and will perceive you as a stable source of reliable information.
  • Stay positive. It can be difficult at times but it will help to keep morale.

Keeping balance between pushing for performance and appreciating challenging times

In order to keep people’s jobs the company needs to operate. If we all go underground and stop working the consequences will be catastrophic to all of us. Obviously new circumstances require new ways of working and looking at operations but let’s not forget that we all need to keep the ship afloat.

  • Be flexible. Shift work and priorities if/where you can. Let people know that they are the priority.
  • Be precise. Make sure that your requirements and asks are well understood. Don’t waste people’s time on figuring things out – they have plenty of other challenges to deal with.
  • Understand your team. Each one of them. Know their anxieties, challenges and understand how you can best work with them in the crisis.
  • Build trust and confidence. Help your team to regain comfort of working before you start demanding.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you check up on each one of your team mates from time to time. Be there for them when they need it.

Adaptivity – working through chaos, non-defined timeline and circumstances

Contradicting information, a flood of press articles, crisis predictions, terrifying death statistics and much more create a complete chaos in people’s minds. Additionally an inability to predict the future, impact of what’s happening and how long will it last makes people feel like being trapped. Adaptivity of all of us will be challenged to the bone. Therefore:

  •  Stick to facts – more than ever be fact and data driven. Any gossips, fake news can result in unnecessary misunderstandings, additional level of anxiety, conflicts or even panic. You don’t know what you don’t know – don’t try to be analytical if you’re not; don’t predict things if you don’t have enough facts to do so.
  • Be adaptive. Don’t get used to processes, solutions invented one day as the next day you may need to throw them away and start again. Try to anticipate situations, be proactive.
  • Prepare yourself for the worst case scenarios. First, understand what the worst case scenario means for you and your team in this circumstances – surely nothing what you have been preparing for so far.
  • Make long and short term plans. Think strategically on solving problems and try to anticipate situations but at the same time give the team a tangible and achievable goals for next 1-2 weeks. This will allow them to take one step at a time and give sense of achievement (small successes).
  • Support your company in all actions undertaken. None has ready answers and scenarios for the crisis we are observing but we are in it together and need to support each other’s back.

Building your personal brand while limited opportunities

The fact that your company may need to limit some capabilities, change the plans and priorities doesn’t mean there are no opportunities for you to grow. Don’t be frustrated that pandemic has ruined your goals and plans for 2020, take the challenge and find your way through it. If you manage this properly the current situation may bring you up as a stable and reliable Leader that is balanced and knows how to lead the Team in challenging times.

  • Out of box thinking and different ways of doing work are in demand more than ever. That’s more of an opportunity than limitation for people who are passionate about their work and who want to elevate their careers. Stay informed, observe the situation, propose solutions where possible.
  • Go above and beyond in being a Leader and Team player. A well operating and delivering team in difficult times will be a testimony of your leadership skills.
  • Stay connected. Make sure you touch base with your colleagues all over the world. Check whether they are safe, maybe there are things you can do for them.
  • Take part in voluntary initiatives if you can. Maybe even establishing and leading one is something you’re up for?

Engagement while working remote and under high stress

That’s a tricky one as in this case it might be significantly influenced via circumstances completely outside of your control. Additionally many items usually influencing engagement are highly limited or not possible in current circumstances. Therefore we are back to basics:

  •  Secure your team’s basic needs. For one that might be a monitor to better facilitate their work, for others – few days off to arrange their life for next weeks. 
  • Help to release the stress. Be in a good mood to start with, so you are not perceived as stressed and overwhelmed with situation. Be innovative: have online coffee breaks, contest for the fanciest pajamas outfit or a forum for parents to share interesting ideas on keeping their children busy. 
  • Communicate, guide, support. This time overcommunication is not a problem. Make sure people are aware about company’s actions, be clear on undertaken decisions and their background. Give guidance and support where and when required.
  • Be open. Make sure people know they can always come to you for advice, to moan or just vent.

I am sure that not all of our leaders will pass this leadership test, however I am also confident that some will discover skills and capabilities that they never thought they have, some will mature quicker than in normal circumstances. Being a leader is difficult, but being a good leader in a crisis requires a unique combination of skills, innovation and empathy. This is the best time to step up and go above and beyond in bringing your leadership style to a next level.

Stay safe…..

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