Previous to COVID-19, good business leaders were perhaps associated with being transformational visionaries, workforce-centred role models with strong and extensive business experience and passion for what they did.
Post lockdown we may well be looking for something else in our business leaders including empathy for our employee and customer concerns and limitations, those who can show honesty, transparency and integrity, those who can adapt their business quickly and successfully to the completely different marketplace and those who know how to energise their workforce in difficult times.
Dr Lynda Shaw shares her top tips of how to be a good leader during the global challenges we are currently facing and how to manage stress and performance within the workforce in these difficult and changing times.
1. Stay human and grounded. The best leaders lead by example. Some business leaders did well during lockdown, working side by side with their colleagues on the shop floors in leading supermarkets. Others failed miserably with management working from home whilst they expected their staff to go in to the workplace. Work as a team during hard times, exemplify the behaviours you want to develop and radiate your passion and influence. Your employees will feel supported and loyal, and work to a higher standard.
2. Remove uncertainty for your workforce where possible because anxiety will be running high. Research shows that people find uncertainty more intimidating and more stressful than known outcomes, whether they are good or bad. People exposed to prolonged uncertainty will release stress hormones and display symptoms of anxiety like decreased productivity and low mood. Many businesses are going to have to make many hard decisions in the coming months or perhaps years, so ensure your business plan is clear, honest and transparent.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Talk to your management and team, be open to questions and ask managers and HR to be intuitive to all employee needs. If redundancies are due to happen, think carefully before making announcements to ensure you are ready to be clear and to manage expectations. Support the workers who are going to be made redundant in any way you can.
4. Be flexible with work locations and patterns – Work patterns are clearly going to change for office based businesses now that staff have successfully proven they can work well from home. If you facilitate your staff’s desire for flexibility and understanding, you breed loyalty and motivation. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different. Find out what bespoke support staff need and provide it wherever possible.
5. Trust your staff – Studies show that productivity and morale increase when people are trusted and respected to make their own decisions at work. Don’t micromanage. Instead find ways to energise them.
6. Continue to network and collaborate. Break down barriers and reach out to colleagues, competitors, and like-minded businesses to share ideas, resources and plans. Just like we are seeing scientists working together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 by coming at it from many different angles, the same can be done in business. Being united makes us stronger.
7. Think vertically – Look at cross departmental projects. Ask your team to be creative and solution based and to seek out stretch assignments in a completely new territory or to take on a failing area and turn it around. Now is the time to use change to your advantage to make things more streamlined, profitable and to improve services. Don’t let your business get left behind because you didn’t think of alternative solutions or reacted too slowly.
8. Different people will react differently to significant change. Some may struggle with isolation, some may display anger, anxiety, fear, burn out or sadness, whilst others may have felt more able to rise to the challenges or have easier circumstances. Identify who needs support and allow workers and customers enough time to acclimatise to change. Ask for feedback and be open to questions and get everyone involved during times of change.
9. Stay social – Through brain imaging, scientists have found that when people experience social exclusion and social distress some areas of the brain are similarly activated as if they were experiencing physical pain. For people to work at their best, they need to feel like they belong to a team and have positive social connections.
10. Be good at giving and receiving feedback – Give regular effective recognition and constructive feedback on how people can improve their performance and develop their skills even during times of considerable change. Seek out 360-degree feedback and inspire your workforce too. This might not be an obvious time to do extra training but when we learn new skills the brain has to create new neural pathways. Keep creating challenges.