Successful leaders focus on the impact they have on others instead of focusing on themselves, and create a culture that drives employee behaviour in their absence. Authentic leaders who supported their workforces during the crisis have demonstrated their leadership skills and reliability, and as the focus shifts from public health to individual organisational recoveries, it is critical to build on that trust.
As we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, leaders now have an even more compelling reason to strengthen their connections with employees. Addressing their emotions of anxiety, grief and uncertainty in the workplace is the foundation required to rebuild organisational health, productivity and motivation. At the same time the crisis presents an opportunity to overcome the stigma of mental health in the workplace and start an open dialogue to address the issues.
Walking the leadership talk
Trust is never more important than in a crisis and therefore it is essential that leaders maintain transparency to build loyalty and lead more effectively. The leader’s words and actions can help keep people safe, help them adjust and cope emotionally. The crisis will end at some point and it is the leader’s role to make sense of what happened and how the organisation and its people will emerge.
Leaders need to understand the thinking of their employees and plan accordingly. Whilst some will be enthusiastic to return to work, others will be worried about the health risks and safety at work. The next phase of recovery will require clear and inspiring communication, that drives trust in leadership and helps employees to believe in the future of the business. Return planning processes should be transparent, addressing what leaders know as well as what they don’t know. Most leaders don’t have final answers, but communicating the steps taken and what they know for certain will help employees to stay informed and ensured about their leadership team’s ability to lead them though the crisis.
Whilst communicating the high-level strategy is critical, it is equally important to address practical difficulties employees will be facing and making the focus of communication the well-being of employees, not work. For example, how easy and safe is it for them to travel to work, or how will every-day office life look like. Having conversations about the emotional impact of the pandemic might feel uncomfortable, but authentic leaders who are open and compassionate can strengthen connections with employees. On the other hand, avoiding the topic or acting empathetic without showing real compassion can lead to undermining the authenticity of the leadership team and their ability to move the organisation forward.
United in crisis
Leaders are important sources of resilience for employees, and by showing gratitude and honouring their teams and their contributions, they can create a real sense of belonging. During the pandemic, people across the globe honoured key workers by clapping at an appointed hour each week, showing not only their appreciation, but also highlighting that everyone is in the crisis together. The simple gesture created a great sense of community, honouring those on the front line.
According to recent research, social bonds grow stronger during times of great uncertainty, leading people to come together under common values of mutual support. Only a few months ago we saw Queen Elizabeth II calling upon all Britons to unify and identify in the face of COVID-19 saying “The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again”
A crisis can produce great leaders, those whose words and actions comfort in the present, restore confidence in the future and who can turn a difficult situation into a catalyst for positive change. At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.