Many of the big questions we want to ask right now have no certain answers. When will the pandemic end? What will life be like when it finally does end? Will things go back to pre-pandemic “normal”?
It’s been over a year since it all began, and still a cloud of uncertainty hangs over us. Organizations continue to face unprecedented changes due to COVID-19, and leading people through all these challenges can be overwhelming.
In this time of great uncertainty and change, here are some important things every leader should know:
Understand that adjusting to change is an emotional process.
Many of us resist change because of our belief that we will lose something of value or fear that we will lose our routines and not adapt well. In a survey on the impact of organizational change on employees, those who experienced recent change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared to people who weren’t going through or anticipating change (55% vs. 22%).
As a leader, you should understand that your employees will experience a range of emotions as they adjust to change and face uncertainty. Learning to recognize and identify how their emotional and psychological experiences affect them will help you determine the best way to lead and support them. You have the power to help them cope and navigate through this period (at work, anyway).
But remember that while you’re a leader, you’re a human too. You’re also allowed to feel overwhelmed, stuck or inadequate at times. This is why, as a leader, you should lead by example and get to know yourself. Evaluate on how open you are to change and how you’ve dealt with it in the past. Be honest about whether you resist change or practice looking at it as a positive. Lastly, don’t forget that everyone is in this together. You also need the support of your team, and if you communicate that, then you can all be there for each other.
Lead with empathy.
Since the pandemic began, our worlds have changed drastically and so has the way we work. Now more than ever, there is a great need for human leaders who know how to put themselves in the shoes of their employees and lead with compassion.
During times of change and uncertainty, people want their leaders to be not only resilient, decisive and confident, but also honest and vulnerable enough to show a sense of genuine care and concern. You need to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty your employees experience. Allow them to process these emotions and coach them through it. You can do this by creating a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Also, if you actively listen, you’ll learn about how your people feel and it’ll be easier for you to recognize appropriate and effective ways to support each individual depending on their needs.
Let go of perfection.
With the ever-changing environment we are in, striving for perfection is a waste of time at this point. According to seasoned leadership experts Rebecca Zucker and Darin Rowell, what leaders should aim for is progress. Mistakes are expected, but you must also recognize that you can continually course-correct as needed. With the future uncertain and changes happening at a faster pace, systems should be built to be flexible, not perfect.
Build real relationships to foster trust.
Reach out to your employees. This is important when generating trust with your people. They need to feel a personal connection with you so they can see you as a credible source of reassurance and leadership.
To build real relationships with your employees, you must be honest and consistent. For example, when someone raises a question, always provide an honest answer instead of dancing around an issue. If you aren’t authorized to discuss the specifics, be honest and tell them that. Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerable side. It’s okay to let them know you don’t know yet, but you will figure it out.
Stay connected and don’t be tone-deaf to what’s happening in the day-to-day. It’s important for people to feel your presence in our increasingly digital world. According to research about why CEOs with social media are good for business, 65% of U.S. employees think CEOs should share information through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Additionally, 75% of employees reported that their CEO’s social media account enabled them to communicate more directly with the CEO and demystify the CEO’s persona.
Check in with your people regularly. This will not only give you a strong understanding of how the uncertainty and changes are affecting their performance or attitude, but it will also let them know that you genuinely care for them.
And lastly, create hope.
Let your team know what they can look forward to. Share your vision and celebrate small wins along the way. Always remind them how much their work is positively contributing to the company as a whole, because constant reminders of how great you’re doing matter in the short-term and long-term.
The moral of this story is to treat your people like you’ve always wanted to be treated. As a leader in business, do you wish your people would ask you more non-work related questions? Do you wish someone would be there to check in on YOU when you’re feeling anxious? If you create more transparent relationships with your employees, on the basis of both your work and personal lives, your relationship as a whole will be more fulfilling for both sides.
Let’s continue to cultivate kindness, compassion and empathy in all we do. I know you can!
In love and respect,