Skilled leaders understand the need to set clear and compelling goals backed by a solid strategy. But businesses currently face an uncertain future. Long-term goals and strategies are nearly impossible to establish while COVID-19 continually adds new challenges.
The present uncertainty inevitably tests leadership skills. A manager may be adept at motivating employees during conventional times but may struggle to find the most effective approaches for ensuring that employees are feeling engaged, productive, and safe during times of crisis and rapid, unforeseen change.
Managers may need to make bold, time-sensitive decisions. Experienced managers know when to step forward and take responsibility. But wise managers also know when to rely on “soft skills” to guide teams through crisis and confusion.
What tactics will strengthen and support employee morale when the future is unclear?
Communicate often and clearly. Do not gloss over problems but be very open. Share data and statistics. Anticipate problems and discuss what can be done to overcome them. List options; talk about the pros and cons of each. Describe “if/then” scenarios. Don’t evade employee questions. Saying “I don’t know” or “This is what I know so far” is not a sign of weakness or indecisiveness.
Hear employee concerns. Rephrase; ask questions; probe. Focus on providing solutions and allow employees to bring ideas forward. When you propose changes to operating procedures, pay attention to employee responses. Accept input on how to implement and improve the changes. If an employee points out a problem, be appreciative rather than defensive. Listen to understand. Strategies arrived at with team input have the best chances for success.
Make time for individual sessions with employees. Assure them that the talks are private. Let them vent, complain, cry if necessary. Remember that people are adjusting to a new normal and are grieving a range and variety of losses. Expect varying levels of anxiety. Respond with kindness rather than judgment.
COVID-19 has generated countless changes in the modern workplace. “The way we’ve always done things” is no longer an appropriate policy. Teams may no longer be on-site at the same time … or at all. Managers need to develop ways of connecting remote or hybrid teams. Continue to hold employees accountable for performance but recognize that accommodations and adjustments will likely be necessary. Discontinue methods that are not working. Back away gracefully without casting blame. Always be poised to shift course–especially where the health of the team is concerned.
5.Recognition and celebration.
Even in these difficult times, astute managers find reasons to celebrate. Employee recognition is as important as ever although methods of recognition may be altered. Events as simple as potluck lunches and as formal as black-tie ceremonies may give way to virtual gatherings. It may be necessary to set more modest goals or celebrate smaller steps. Be aware of what has motivated an individual or a team. When a method is successful or a goal is met, explore with employees how the same approach can be used in additional settings for continued success.
Finally, managers cannot ignore their own needs during this time. Leaders who had been skilled at supervising production and efficiency are now also providing emotional support. The new demands can be exhausting. Be aware of your own stress level and make the time to engage in activities that support mental, emotional, and physical health.
Companies that continue to perform well during the pandemic all have one thing in common–great leadership. Managers are learning to take uncertainty in stride. The best leaders are turning uncertainty into stronger teamwork, deeper loyalty, and a renewed sense of community.