This is a guest post by Tamara Ghandour, keynote speaker and adviser.
Recent events around COVID-19 have turned most of our worlds upside down. The situation is rapidly evolving, leaving most people with a sense of uncertainty around how everything will play out, in the short and long-term. That uncertainty leads to stress, decreasing productivity, and quality of work.
For those of us in leadership roles, there are many things that are out of our control right now. We can’t control what happens with this virus, nor can we control how our clients, or the marketplace, will respond to it. However, we can control our work, and more important, we can control how we guide our teams.
Changing times require changing leadership. Here are five essential do’s and don’ts for how to effectively manage your team during uncertainty and create a path forward.
#1 Realism over Optimism
In times like the one we face now, it can be tempting for us as leaders to adopt an outlook of extreme optimism. We want people to feel good after all. However, this exaggerated optimism can be detrimental. Being overly optimistic in your leadership actually puts your team under more stress because they think the situation is not actually being handled and that you have your head in the sand.
I was recently in a meeting where the VP of the team stood up and told everyone not to worry. He told his team to smile and not spend any effort stressing out about the situation. You can imagine the eye-rolling that happened when he left the room. In that moment he accidentally added more stress to the team.
The better option is realism. Going to your team with a realistic lens of the situation and a balanced perspective of the positive and negative aspects can help put them at ease. Acknowledging the uncertainty that exists and the reality of the circumstances helps them see that you are aware of the context and that you are at the helm as the leader giving them a path forward.
#2 Action Over Answers
It is impossible to have all the answers and your teams know it, especially at an unpredictable time like now. How we lead is by showing that we are taking action, not by claiming to have all the answers when we don’t.
A colleague was telling me about their company-wide town hall meeting where employees can ask leadership anything that is on their minds. In the last session which happened just as all the COVID-19 events were shaking out someone asked what their plan was for the company. Were they going to work from home or not? Unfortunately, leadership didn’t have an answer of any kind. What she told me was the following, “I didn’t care if they had an answer, I just wanted to know they were thinking about it, exploring the options, investigating in some way.”
What your team, your clients and everyone looking to you for guidance needs is the assurance that you are doing something and that reasonable steps are being taken. It can be investigation, or research, or evaluation. All of these are a way to take action, and this strategy builds on tip #1 of being realistic. Teams get behind leaders that take action.
#3 Investment Over Workload
A lot of our teams are now working remotely. Staying productive to keep operations running smoothly is a priority at this point. However, during all this uncertainty, we need to also show our team that we are investing in them and that we care about their well-being. This time should not solely be focused on clearing the workload, but also looking to the future and taking steps to move forward together, so it is critical to invest in your team, particularly at this time.
As Greg told me, “I know that innovative ideas are what’s going to get us through this, not business-as-usual so I purchased Innovation Is Everybody’s Business for my team to keep them engaged and give them a shared sense of purpose and connection. It worked! We are a stronger team now than we were before all this mess.”
#4 Innovation Over Restriction
This is an amazing opportunity for leaders to encourage innovation in their teams. Necessity is the mother of invention, and with all the restrictions and constraints in place, we can challenge our teams to drive innovation and think differently about how to do things. It could be coming up with new ideas to deal with travel bans or even how to stay connected and collaborate as everyone works remotely. I’ve seen some great examples of businesses pivoting to meet the new demands of their customers. Instead of layering on more restrictions, I suggest using this time to encourage innovation. The reality is you will need it to get through this and your team is primed to deliver.
#5 Empathy Over Authority
We need to be strong leaders in uncertain times. It is important to lead with authority and focus on realism, action, investment and innovation. However, at a very personal level, we also need to have empathy and listen to our people. In times of uncertainty, whether it’s because of disruption in the organization, industry or marketplace, or because of external circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic that are creating uncertainty across the globe, we need to take time to acknowledge the stresses and frustrations of our people and connect with them on a human level.
I recently had a business development call with someone I barely knew. My first inclination was to launch into the task at hand but instead, I took a deep breath and asked him one simple question, “How are you doing with all this?” We spent a long time having an authentic and deep conversation about the shake-ups in our world, the stresses we were facing and what we were doing to stay positive.
Now more than ever, your team needs to know you are there for them, and that means being the type of leader that steps up, especially when times are tough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The impact of Tamara’s break-through work on human-centric innovation can be seen in individuals, teams, and organizations across the globe. She is the author of the newly released book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business – how to ignite, scale and sustain innovation for a competitive edge. As the creator of the proprietary Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) assessment and the president of LaunchStreet Consultancy, Tamara has helped tens of thousands gain the competitive edge by unlocking the power of innovation through digital training, online tools and the fist of its kind, IQE assessment. With 25 plus years of work experience, Tamara knows what it takes to truly drive innovation, relevancy, and value in an ever-changing, complex world.