If there was any time to show exceptional leadership in your business, that time is NOW. This is the first time in living memory of a health pandemic of this scale. As everyone tries to get used to the new normal, strong and inspirational leadership may be just the thing that may help your business weather this uncertain storm.
A few leaders have already risen to the challenge. For instance, Tim Boyle, president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company, has recently announced that he is cutting his salary to keep his employees paid during the COVID-19 outbreak. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman has told his employees that despite the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, their jobs will be secure through this year.
There is no denying that this year is going to be tough financially for all business leaders involved. Have you been exploring all possible options to stay afloat with everyone on board? While thinking of new ways to stay viable, it may be comforting to remember that all businesses are in the same Corona boat so you are not alone.
Governments all around the world including Singapore have dived into their reserves to come up with stimulus packages in a bid to keep businesses and the economy going. In the wake of these bailout measures, are your businesses utilising the government grants for the long term good of the business?
In the United Kingdom, the government and businesses are able to (through a furlough scheme) share the cost of continuing to support employees who, through no fault of their own, are simply not able to carry out their role from home during this enforced period of remote working. Furloughing means that businesses can continue to pay these employees their usual salary and benefits, so they know they can continue to meet their bills while the business will be able to reclaim 80% of that salary (up to a government-set limit) from the UK government.
Sending out the right messages to your employees and the industry is so significant right now . Industry reputation counts for a lot, take a look at what's happening with Zoom. This pandemic has exposed so many undesirable traits in leadership skills pertaining to their organisation. Even world leaders are grappling with extremely difficult decision-making and struggling over what to do next for their nation.
The question to ask during this climate - Are you a trailblazer in our new world or are you one who only looks after yourself when the going gets tough? What image do you wish to cultivate for your company and business in the long run?
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The ideal top skill for anyone in a leadership role and even as an individual, is communication. Warren Buffett quoted in an article "There's 1 skill you need to improve that you'll find in the most successful people": "Without good communication skills you won't be able to convince people to follow you, even though you see over the mountain and they don't."
Communication is a 2-way street, unfortunately, there are some leaders whom no matter how good they are in other skills, are unable to tie down communicating effectively with their employees. Especially during these critical times when everyone has no handle on a pandemic and most employees are confused, lost or in need of a renewed purpose, they need clarity and direction.
Whether or not it is in your nature, leaders have to take the first, bold step in addressing issues, employees’ concerns, clients/customers needs and always be a step ahead in communicating internally and externally. Being transparent and proactive are important traits for any kind of leader, for in doing so, your employees will follow suit.
Empathy and Compassion Are Crucial in Pandemic times
Leaders in crisis must focus on empathy and compassion first, business second, towards both their own employees and their customers. It should be almost automatic to a leader to understand that only by making people safe will we ever grow out of this crisis.
In these unknown times, it’s essential not to lose sight of your human side or your company’s cultural values, and channel them into realistic but focused strategies and actions that will protect your employees’ well-being and improve your workplace culture over the long term. In moments like this, every interaction we have is telling a story about our leadership. Showing your human side will help instill trust in your employees and reassure their psychological safety. It doesn’t help to just preach being positive or think happy thoughts during a pandemic, for this is truly unprecedented and uncharted territory for everyone. It is possible this event can cause collective trauma, and it could be evident among your employees and your clients.
There's a wide range of potential responses people can have. Some reactions are physical (e.g. aches, pains, fatigue, poor sleep, increased/decreased appetite) and some reactions are emotional (e.g., hyper-alertness, mood swings, nightmares). There's no "right" way to respond to trauma. All of the responses are normal. These physical manifestations and emotional expressions are normal responses to abnormal events. It's the body's way of coping.
Hence, this is a time for you to be an exceedingly human leader. If you try to skip past empathy and just focus on the job, you'll only make things worse. If you give some time and space for acknowledging it, you create the psychological safety that's needed to be able to get any other kind of work done. Clients and employees will respect you for it once this season is over.
Adaptability and Speed to Market
Even the most capable leader, executive, entrepreneur or freelancer would be forgiven for struggling to adapt to a global pandemic. The impact of Coronavirus has been unrelenting: hospitals at capacity, students sent home, conference cancellations, sold out inventory, markets in free fall and cities under lockdown.
Adaptability is required first and foremost when circumstances change. It’s easy to get attached to certain business outcomes, especially when they’ve been planned long in advance or have significant emotional weight.
Unfortunately, no medical expert can confirm when this COVID-19 pandemic will end. We could be looking at many weeks or even months of social distancing and isolation. In other words, dealing with this virus is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A marathon no one signed up for. We are all swimming in the deep end of the ocean with our heads just above the water, trying to breathe.
Learning to adapt will then help employees with mental toughness, also known as Resilience. It’s clear that the people who can let go of their past plans and embrace the new environment ahead will thrive.
Already we are seeing companies pivot from live events to online webinars, and remote-first workplaces becoming the new normal. Manufacturing companies not in the healthcare sector pivoting to make ventilators, and many other reputable companies who are choosing to give back their services which they normally charge, for free to the community just to share resources, support humanity and promote solidarity against a deadly unseen enemy.
For Engaging Leaders, our core business has always been about the human connection, our teams enjoy meeting clients and pitching in person, but that’s obviously not going to happen now. Therefore we adapt, and we need to embrace online facilitation and discussions as the new reality. By doing so, it gives us time to think about adaptability, the ability to improvise. Circumstances happening around the world now are rapidly evolving and we have to exercise some intuitiveness and sensitivity to the market, our industry and how things are moving at an accelerated pace just to survive.
Are you and your teams aligned on this new journey in this new norm of our economy? How can we help your leadership team strategise and support your employees in navigating the business, giving back to the community and projecting the right image for your customers? Because once this pandemic is over, your clients will remember that your company was a shiny beacon of light, hope and support during those turbulent days of Covid-19.
Monica Tan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Tan, Engaging Leaders, leads our clients through a journey of performance and change. With more than 15 years of client and project management experience, she serves as a key advisor to our clients.