As the current global pandemic becomes ever more unpredictable, there’s never been a more pertinent time to hone your leadership skills. For business owners and senior management, it’s likely that you’ve endured tough times in the past, and those lessons will serve you well. However, in unprecedented times where anxiety laughs cruelly in the face of rationale like an E-number induced bully in the schoolyard, there are new challenges on the block.
With companies enforcing remote working, or reduced hours, now more than ever your management skills will be put to the test. Here’s how to improve your leadership skills in times of uncertainty;
Start with self-leadership
Urgh, self reflection: every CEO’s kryptonite. But the old adage still stands that great leadership starts with great self-leadership and that can only exist first with reflection, followed by action. Begin by turning down the noise and turning up your inner voice. You never made it this far by ignoring it, but it’s likely it has been drowned out of late. Great leaders have the ability to fine tune the frequencies to maintain a curiosity and ambition, which helps them to grow and become better versions of themselves. As advised by management writer and blogger Rosa Say, “Take initiative. Volunteer to be first. Be daring, bold, brave and fearless, willing to fall down, fail, and get up again for another round. Starting with vulnerability has this amazing way of making us stronger when all is done.” This inward reflection offers boundless benefits and meditation can help with this – even just for 10 minutes a day. If meditation isn’t for you, try ‘quiet time’ and reflection. You’ll be surprised what nuggets of wisdom surface – then it’s just the ‘simple’ matter of putting them to work. Remember that a huge part of the noise that comes from leading is an unspoken self-imposed pressure to perform, progress and ‘achieve’. Try to practice releasing the pressure valve and don’t be a hero – ask for advice if needed.
Great leaders set clear goals
It’s your responsibility to act as the filtration system amidst the heady toxic cocktail of media exposure, money worries and cloaked motives. Try to keep the situation in context for employees. Point out past successes and key learnings that the company has gone through and learned from in the past. It’s naturally tempting to shift into external results-focused mode while missing the internal work that is most required here, but bear in mind that the best leaders are very clear about what their goals are, but are deftly flexible about how they get there. That flexibility may just be the secret ingredient in this no-recipe climate.
Clear communication is key to leadership success
More than ever before employees will appreciate transparency. Try to be as open as possible (within reason) to avoid any blind u-turns during rocky times. This will build much-needed trust. According to Meredith Parfet, CEO of the Ravenyard Group, a crisis communications firm, “The fundamentals of communicating with employees about the coronavirus (which apply to any of your key stakeholders) begin with time-tested principles for any crisis: Open, honest, clear, and timely communications to build trust and demonstrate capable leadership. Employees need to believe that their organization is able to handle the crisis. If you have not already communicated to employees about the virus, you should do so now. If you have, remember to take a human and humane approach to address their fears and be sure to update them regularly.” More important than talking, you’ll need to listen. Don’t procrastinate or succumb to distraction tactics, then say clearly what needs to be said today, because certainty isn’t guaranteed tomorrow. Your teams’ needs should be at the fore, and are easy to empathize with, because deep down these are essentially exactly the same as your own. Although you may feel you have more at stake from a financial perspective, now is the time to turn your attention to human-led-leadership and adopt an open forum of communication across all levels. This will be the best investment you can make at this time. This will also mean reinforcing your own network of support from business partners, mentors, family and inspirational people in industry.
Innovate teams and see them evolve
Use this time to find alternative ways to show strong leadership. Showcase your ability to flourish in times of crisis by adapting and evolving, and remaining emotionally available as well as professionally nimble. Look for the opportunities both at the office and in the community to make positive imprints, no matter how small. Parfet of the Ravenyard Group agrees on this approach, “Sometimes fear makes us feel powerless. Leaders can help the people around them feel safe by strengthening community. How is this possible when people are being asked to work from home and workplaces feel like petri dishes? Make mental well-being a focus alongside health and safety. In addition to communicating facts and preparedness plans, be sure to address the human toll a crisis takes. Issue a morning message or video from the CEO”. If you haven’t already, this is the perfect time to ask employees to identify both cost-saving ideas and new markets to go after. It’s also a great time to find out more about them as people and the diverse skill sets they possess, as you may have to call on them outside of their regular set of KPI’s.
So as the conventional reference points for success shift, embrace the ‘business as (un)usual’ model, and go forth and lead.