Many of us are justifiably concerned with how to lead our teams through adversity in these extraordinary times.
If you are a leader charged with keeping things going, consider these tactics:
Focus on stakeholders. When adversity occurs, fears run high with employees, clients, and shareholders. We tend to focus on what’s happened rather than serving others. Employees need to know that leaders are in place, focused on the present, and engaged in answering an evolving set of unanticipated questions. Clients need to determine how to navigate the uncertainty and whether we can help them do so. Shareholders need to know trustworthy people are in place to navigate the difficulties.
Do what’s required. Leaders who help us navigate through rough times are invaluable. Keep your head down, focus on the individual needs of team members, help remove obstacles, and deliver for your customers. This is a time to expand our collective capabilities. The words of George Bernard Shaw may be helpful, “Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness.”
Focus on the essential. The big rocks matter now more than before. Leave the small stuff untouched. The essentials are team health and well-being, customer service, process execution, and maximum clarity. Transparent, frequent communication best serves all of the essentials. Display this level of communication, and you will see understanding turn into commitment.
Become change ready. Reframe problems in solvable terms. Don’t fixate on the unfixable. Scan the broader organization to determine where to best apply your talents. Raise your hand and step in to fill any leadership vacuum. When your boss seems stressed and lashes out, don’t take it personally, ask what else this could mean? Recognize that they may need help, offer without being asked, and become a relief valve for them.
Don’t treat middle managers as mushrooms. These leaders keep the trains running on time. They are on the front line with customers and employees who need more information, at precisely the time senior leaders want to share less. Make sure they have the facts and as much clarity as is possible. Don’t allow leaders to gloss over the current reality. Put people in place who know how to communicate and give them the explicit authority to do so. Transparency is a necessary condition for building trust and pushing through uncertainty.
Recognize the people doing the work. Distractions, stress, and overwhelm rule the day. The situation requires leaders to make a conscious effort to thank people for staying engaged and taking care of customers and each other. A few words of encouragement will go a long way toward restoring energy and confidence throughout the team.
Ask essential questions
1. How can you step up your contribution to the team?
2. What can we stop doing to make room for vital work?
3. What processes can be improved, replaced, or designed to relieve the pressure?
4. How can you better assist your overwhelmed boss?
5. What do you need to learn and know now that you didn’t acknowledge before?
6. How can you show up differently in your leadership role?
7. In what ways can you be a contribution to your peers, team, boss, and clients?
Takeaway: It’s challenging to find the silver lining in adversity when we are experiencing it. Be heartened that every decision and action we take right now can help others get through these times with a bit more ease.