— Or, how to make a difference when no one’s paying attention.
Ok, as Forrest Gump so adroitly quoted his mother, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and I certainly don’t mean to call anyone reading this “stupid,” per se, but leading in challenging times – in this case, either the current pandemic or the resulting economic fallout – isn’t hugely different from day-to-day leadership.
But, it’s not the same, either.
We know for certain that burying our head in the sand and pretending that nothing is going on is positively insane. It’s like your 2 year-old child closing his or her eyes and saying, “you can’t see me.”
Though many leadership skills are timeless, and probably should be exhibited anyway, there are always times when certain skills have more value than others. Leadership is, after all, situational.
If you find yourself between two slugs arguing, it’s probably not the time to haul out your skills at articulating your leadership vision. A necessary skill, to be sure, but at that moment, conflict resolution knowledge would be really helpful.
There are 5 keys to leading effectively during these times; they aren’t necessarily difficult, but to ignore them will certainly make your life more difficult. Here goes:
See and be seen. Visibility is a big deal. Now’s not the time to hide out in your office, pining away the days or lamenting for better times. Get out, be seen, be available, and most importantly, be heard. High visibility coupled with credibility is a near-guarantee of success in uncertain times. People need to see you and see you frequently. Hopefully face-to-face, if your environment and social distancing allow. Otherwise, lots of phone calls, zoom calls, videos and texts.
Want cheese with that whine? No open complaining, commiserating, or whining. Not now (assuming it was ever ok, which you know, of course, that it isn’t) especially. Your folks don’t need to know that you feel as out of control as they do. It doesn’t help them, or you, to believe that things are hurtling out of everyone’s control. I can’t promise that your positivity will always result in their positivity, but I can promise that any negativity will spread like wildfire.
Remember, you were young once. Put yourself in employees’ shoes; this is uncomfortable, and there are plenty of unknowns. Lots of things are changing around them, and they are neither fully aware of the rationale, nor in control of, any of those things changing. They need you to chart a course, plan, devise a strategy, set courses, directions, goals and objectives.
Make sure all are aware of them, and why they exist. This is a big deal. Crafting and disseminating plans in the face of adversity can be a powerful call to action. It gives employees a focus… a guide to action instead of incessant hand-wringing and worry. Further, it provides an outlet – a vent, if you will, for that nervous energy that seems to engulf some people when things around them are changing faster than their comfort allows.
Ask and ye shall receive. Now’s the time to ask for input, comment, and feedback from all, and do so frequently. Help people understand as best you can, explaining why things are happening (when you know), and why we’re taking this specific action. But in the end, they’ve got to do what’s necessary to help your organization (and themselves) weather this storm. Don’t allow so much discourse that we forget why we’re here. Empathy is important, but grace and accountability can coexist.
Execute. No, I don’t mean public hangings or firing squads, as tempting as they may be. I mean taking decisive action. A key component in motivation and employee trust – in helping employees see that all is not lost, that forward progress isn’t stalled, and that someone is in charge – is the act of action. Think, decide, act. A cornerstone of exemplary leadership, and a management skill that serves us all very well. Even when you don’t feel in control, recognize that your locus of control is infinitely larger than many you lead. You aren’t “still considering it” or “thinking about it,” you’ve decided not to do that for now.
Demonstrable actions are the key to success during challenging times. People will look to you for behaviors, thought process, attitudes, positivity and most importantly, direction and active leadership. You’ll eventually be judged on what you did, and doing something will always trump not.
Lead, and do so demonstrably. Do something.