After speaking with a lot of different leaders across many sectors as a Leadership Speaker, from government to private sector, I have summarized three qualities that leaders need to develop during a pandemic.
Interestingly, although COVID-19 is a concern, it is not the major issue in itself. The rise of COVID has revealed other set of challenges that organisations must overcome.
If you are a leader, these are the 3 qualities that you need to lead your team out of this pandemic:
- Pivot in a new business landscape.
The pandemic has revealed how slow/fast an organization can adapt to changes and a new business landscape and its way of serving their clients.
Plans that were drafted could immediately be overridden within weeks because of government regulation or how safely business can be conducted. Even team members are responding at a different pace to change.
Adding to this complexity, was the rapid need to digitalise the way of working. Some leaders (in Singapore) even mentioned that digitalization was a bigger concern than the pandemic because most companies had adequate safe practices at work.
Leaders during this time have to demonstrate empathy and learn new platforms of communication at the difficulty of remote work and also come out with new performance indictors and goals with their teams. They are also trying to understand how to assess effective work when everyone is working from home.
- Keep communicating in the midst of uncertainty.
This is especially difficult when they do not even know what is going to happen in their organization in a few months’ time. Some leaders consistently “over-communicate” their intention, plans and steps forward to assure their staff.
This is useful because not everyone gets it at the first go. Some miss the details. A few leader interviewed by me shared that they were surprised that team members asked questions that were already answered in their previous meeting.
Leaders have to remember to communicate and over-communicate because your team members need to be clear and assured that there is a game plan that the company is following. This breeds confidence within employees.
- Be honest and transparent.
Some companies are facing a hard time. Revenues have dropped because of low consumer spending. Countries are reporting negative growth rates. This means that a lot of companies will be affected, and this could even lead to retrenchment or “right-sizing”.
Leaders need to be able to communicate difficult issues that they normally don’t talk about when times are better. They have to have the courage to tell their teams that their company is not doing well. They need to explain that team members could be placed on long leave, pay could be cut or retrenchments could be a possibility.
However, this honesty and transparency is not consistent across organisations. Many prefer to choose a day to give the bad news of retrenchment and ask their staff to pack their belongings and leave.
This act contravenes the values of most companies, especially when they embrace values like open communication, moral integrity or “we value people”.
I spoke to a leader who went through such difficult layoffs and said that morale will not be the same as before. Employees felt a sense of betrayal when there is virtually no warning of such retrenchment exercises and an apparent lack of regard for their feelings.
Times are difficult but it is also an opportunity for leaders to shine.
Leaders need to help their staff transit and pivot to a new business landscape, keep communicating in the midst of uncertainty and be honest and transparent in the way they do things.