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Optimum Talks Blog

Leading Through the Pandemic: How will you be remembered?

by Sandra Boyd
May 26, 2020

Although it may not always feel like it, everyone working from home during COVID-19 is writing history as we sit in our home offices trying to create a semblance of normalcy. There is no road map or blueprint for us to follow, no established protocol, and no right or wrong in terms of our feelings or anxiety in the era of social distancing and shutdowns. Emotions can come in waves as our personal and professional lives collide and we are forced to adjust to our new climate. For many, it has been a struggle to find a balance between home and work expectations when the game itself has completely changed. For those in leadership positions, there is an added layer of complexity as they must grasp all these changes themselves while simultaneously supporting their team and keeping them engaged through the uncertainty.

Effective Leadership During the Crisis

While we face many challenges and stresses on a personal level, business lives are also unfolding on monitors and video calls daily. The pace of communication has been amplified, as employees watch and listen to their leader’s stories about what is happening in their organization and the business world around them. Every action, every decision, and everything said or not said by leaders of today is shaping the narrative that employees will tell for years to come. Effective leaders are aware of this and are making rapid decisions and constant improvements to their approach that will help shape their leadership story during this crisis. They are calm, compassionate, empathetic, and know when to admit that they don’t have an answer.

The Importance of Self-Awareness and Reflection

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, 40% of employees said their managers have not asked them how they are doing during the pandemic! In times of uncertainty and chaos, leaders should be frequently checking-in on their team members, offering support, clarity, and direction. Leaders need to get in front of the stories that will be told about them and how people experienced their leadership during this time. As a leader, I find that this can be done by reflecting, examining, and getting feedback on how employees are interpreting your messaging. It takes extreme self-awareness and a decent helping of humility to be able to correct what may not be working. I was recently told that I sounded scripted and not myself while speaking during a town hall. My trusted advisor was correct – my words were in line with my messaging, but my tone was off. We are in unprecedented times and it requires us to examine every aspect of our leadership to ensure we know what is needed to support our employees.

So, how will people describe your leadership style? What stories will they tell about you? Are you demonstrating empathy, are you listening, and are remembering that you do not have to have all the answers? Or are you the leader that only wants to know about results and cares very little about the employee on the other side of the screen? Make sure to set aside some time to check-in with yourself and reflect on these questions.

Leaders also need to be acutely aware of the realities of what is happening in the market. You should be clearly defining expectations based on the current reality and planning into the future beyond COVID-19. Try to be a leader that is moving with the crisis and thinking beyond it. Avoid being the one that is stuck to the strategic plan set in 2019 with no adjustments in response to the pandemic and its economic consequences.

Here are some daily reminders to utilize:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Create or adjust your vision of the future
  • Show empathy one employee at a time
  • Show up and be present and vulnerable at every meeting
  • Collaborate with your employees – they have the answers and ideas for many of the questions you are asking
  • Be positive while remaining grounded in reality – as a leader if you are not focused on the possibilities for the future, who is?
  • Show gratitude for the hard work you see happening – employees want you to notice how hard they are working
  • Ask employees how they are and listen to the answers even if that means the answers are not what you want to hear

Remember, our actions today write the story that employees will tell about you and your leadership style in the future. Decide how you want to be remembered.

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