And what is this “normal” you speak of…?
Let us agree these are crazy times. If nothing else, that should transcend political, geographic, or ideological lines. We are, without a doubt, in crazy times.
But what does that mean. I mean, to those of us in leadership, what does this all mean? Do we do more of the same? Do we need to do things differently? Do we need to poll the masses for the proper course?
What’s it all about, Alfie?? Sorry, got a bit carried away there; that movie was even before my time…
Seriously, though, these are unusual times. It is easy to become overwhelmed with all the things being thrown at us, and just as easy to forget that leadership is a skill, a learned skill, and it has not changed much in a couple thousand years. It certainly has not been by changed into something entirely different because of this pandemic.
Having said that, our leadership emphasis may change, depending on circumstances, environment, or even demographics. One day communication wins the day; the next day, resolving conflict is front and center. Both are leadership skills we should all possess but can become more or less urgent based on the times. So, what about now? Well, let us look at where you may want to focus your attention today. Here are some leadership tenets that are more important today due to the craziness of this pandemic:
- Lead by example – a positive example. By this I mean you should be certain to walk the talk; demonstrate you are taking the same hits as your staff. If there are sacrifices, yours come first, and subsequent events are shared among all.
- Be you. Even if you may not be all that great. Genuineness trumps contrived or opaque. Aggressive transparency is a virtue right now. Few secrets, no cliques, and display some vulnerability in your leadership behavior.
- Demonstrate empathy. Be nice. Don’t lead with “because I said so.” Be nice. Calm voices. Phrase your needs as a question, not a demand. Frequently ask about personal situations, challenges, and status. Demonstrate empathy, and realize you probably have a little more time to deal with some weirdness than you previously had. It is just courtesy. Be nice.
Now those three above are good, maybe even great (if I do say so myself). But how can we manifest these things? Apply them? Actually do something right now that represents them?
- Never mention sacrifices without including your own. True, sometimes the relative differences are meaningful (10% reduction of a $1M salary may not immediately hurt as much as 10% of a $50K salary) but do it anyways. It shows that you are part of it, even if people roll their eyes a bit.
- Check in regularly, and on a schedule. Employees need to know pre-determined opportunities to consult with you, where they can share concerns (work and personal) and ask questions. And do not forget to share back. Strangely enough, the more you share, the more others will share with you.
- Do not rely on text, email, and chat alone. It is not enough, and 100% inadequate for anything negative, critical, or correcting.
- You are now part of the personal support group for every employee in your charge, like it or not. They will look to you regarding how to act, react and behave to changes and/or crises. Ask how they are doing (frequently), get status updates, offer resources, listen intently, explain your feelings, etc.
- Communicate. Communicate. Do not let assumptions grow into rumors, that grow into unchallenged fact. Examine resentment and malcontent behavior quickly. Remember that you are on-stage, all the time. All eyes are on you. Words, behaviors, body language, all of that. Meaning can be derived from the color toothpaste you use, so be mindful.
- Encourage Innovation. It need not be a brand-new invention, or some uber-styled disruption. It may mean to simply create something new out of the old ways of being. It can be innovative to ask for input from a team of 12 if prior process had a single decision-maker.
I hear people arguing over “back to normal,” “new normal,” “old normal,” “there’s no going back to old normal,” etc. Give it a rest. “Normal,” as a broad descriptor, changes all the time. What was normal today was not normal five years ago, and no pandemic came in to do dirty things. Normal evolves; there is yesterday then today.
Prepare for tomorrow’s normal. It may look like yesterday’s,… it may look entirely different.
My final thoughts: Do not miss this opportunity to “manage normal.” Take a hard look at what is happening in your world right now because of this zombie apocalypse and evaluate before reverting to the ways of old. If today’s ways have some good, positive, productive elements, keep ‘em and make that part of tomorrow’s normal. If what we are doing today sucks, ditch it and do what you used to do. Make your own rules, then make your own “normal.”
Your future, your decision. Make the best of it.