South Africa entered a national lockdown in late March this year and for the first time, “work from home” became a new normal for many companies. This pandemic has brought about a change to our workplace ecosystem DNA, in so many ways. Every relationship in the workplace has been affected and behaviours challenged in ways previously unimaginable.
Business leaders have not escaped the forced changes and have had to adapt. Fast. Now more than ever, leadership matters, and is increasingly expected to be the driving differentiator between those companies that will thrive, and those that will not recover. What are the leadership traits that your business will need to not only survive the devastating impacts of the lockdown, but emerge from it stronger and with a thriving business?
The truth and nothing but the truth – honesty without ambiguity. Sobering presentation of the projected future reality will garner the support of your team and win you their trust simply because people are proven to respond better to the known, than to the unknown.
- Transparency in communications
Consistent and reliable fact-based communication is an essential ingredient for bringing organizations together and reducing anxiety in the workplace. Be brutally honest at all times, but be sure that you are airing fact-based information rather than merely your opinions.
Employees affected by the loss of colleagues, friends or family may find themselves in a situation where they are working while grieving. As their leader, you will need to be sensitive enough to know when to refer team members for counselling, when to break up meetings that are encouraging unnecessary conflict and when to offer words of encouragement. You may need to push boundaries of flexibility with regards to sick leave policies, etc to fit into the new normal of your business. If you are generally not an empathetic leader, ensure that you surround yourself with others that fill the gap. An unintended insensitive remark can have tragic consequences on your team’s fragile psyche in this time.
- Hybrid Team Management
Working from home gave many businesses the opportunity to assess whether remote working would be possible for that business and for many, ways of working will permanently change in favour of more team members working remotely. As the leader of that team the challenge will be on you to manage teams where individuals within that team are working remotely. It is an opportunity for you to change the spaces within your traditional working environment in favour of collaboration so that, when your team is together, total collaboration and ease of communication is facilitated.
- Be flexible and adaptable
As uncertainty becomes a certainty, as a leader you will need to be conscious about “sticking to your guns” on every decision that is taken simply because circumstances may arise that could not be foreseen. Your business may experience a COVID outbreak, a key member of your team could become infected outside of the workplace, to name two simple examples. If you are unable to adapt, this could usher in the demise of your business. You will need to be mentally agile enough to change course at short notice and confidently lead your team into new waters.
- Be humble
As a leader, you are often expected to have all the answers. The reality is that you are human and no less fallible than anybody else. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unchartered waters to the shores for every leader, for which you simply do not have the experience or instinct to navigate alone. You will need to rely on expertise that you do not have. It takes a strong leader to display the humility to admit that they don’t have an answer to a particular question. Don’t fear standing aside to defer to a team member better equipped for the instance at hand.
- Actively listen
Because of the impact that COVID has had on many families, as the leader of your business or your team, you will need to hear the comments and anxieties of your team, and use this input to make informed decisions about your team and the way forward for the business. Listen to understand rather than listen to respond will prove invaluable to ensure your decisions carry the support of your team. The saying “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion” holds true right now. Although you simply cannot please everybody, you will more easily be able to justify your motivation if you show that you have heard and understood.
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