Given our usual lifestyle and ability to travel in the present globalized world, we are all quite familiar with the feeling of being on an aircraft going through a bit of turbulence, at some point in our lives. Most of us must have experienced a thousand of these and the one thought that never occurs to any of us is how calm and composed a pilot’s voice sounds during that time. It’s that steady voice that eases our nerves, directs focus, and gives people the feeling that they are safe and “everything is going to be okay.”
This above situation is one of the many examples of how an effective, focused and steady leadership is essential for helping people transition through tough times; In spite of hundreds of people having multiple thoughts while being up in the air, the flight in turbulence with a trusted leader is a community offering each other mutual support. Case in point: the recent COVID-19 pandemic which has engulfed almost every country across the globe in its grip has placed extraordinary demands on leaders in business and beyond. From world leaders taking decisive actions at the national & international front to health professionals working in hospitals, education, leaders are trying to figure out ways to create an online learning environment for students, and scientists working day & night to save lives, leadership at every critical juncture has become important and it is during this time that corporate leaders too need to step up and take the charge.
Leading your team during the present situation
The humanitarian toll taken by COVID-19 has undoubtedly created an atmosphere of fear & panic amongst employees and other stakeholders. The massive scale of the outbreak and its sheer unpredictability makes it challenging for executives to respond and the speed & agility with which organizations react can be a major differentiator in the current scenario. Following are the three phases which leaders must go through in order to hold their teams together and ways in which they can respond effectively:-
Initiation phase and Response, where it’s all about our immediate reaction towards the crisis and the simultaneous action to deal with it. This involves:
- Being bold and proactive while taking decisions: During a time of crisis, it is more important for a leader to be agile, proactive and make decisions quickly rather than worrying about being 100% perfect or accurate. Taking action at the right time & moment becomes critical and a good leader must be brave & bold enough to own up to his/her decisions.
- Diversifying your teams and creating task forces: Dealing with a situation like COVID-19, which is having an impact on each & every sector of business needs the creation of multi-disciplinary teams or task forces of people who are adaptable, collaborative and can make decisions quickly enough to respond effectively. Having these organized networks of teams for various fronts (Medical advisory, Financial, External Communications etc.) will help leaders mobilize their organization better and promote rapid problem solving & execution.
- Effective communication strategy for employees & stakeholders: Much like a captain of a ship, it is a leader’s responsibility to steer his/her organization through rough waters and hence during a crisis, everybody looks up to a leader for the next step or reassurance. Through an open, fair, and effective communication strategy, leaders can influence the mood of the organization and navigate the emotions of employees in a constructive manner so as to shift the atmosphere from shock & panic to acceptance, optimism, and action.
Embracing the new normal, where we’re adapting to newer and more efficient ways of working while helping people embrace the new change. This involves:
- Having an empathetic and supportive approach towards people: It is important to understand that this is first and foremost a human crisis and hence having an empathetic approach towards employees is critical. This means acknowledging their personal & professional challenges, paying careful attention to their well-being, encouraging them to voice out their concerns and take corresponding measures to support them (flexibility in work timings, providing suggestions to cope up with stress etc.)
- Charting out clear & meaningful goals: While we’re all coping under the weight of same socio-economic challenges, it’s also important to not lose sight of our work and targets which is why charting of clear and meaningful goals by top leaders and the action plans to achieve them (both long term & short term) will help an organization to keep its people-focused and committed.
Thinking and learning for the future, where we need to think about new opportunities, wherein we can drive systemic and innovative changes and develop insights from the experience to learn for the future. This involves:
- Identification of new trends & opportunities for growth: It’s a well-known fact that the worst of times can bring out the best in people— stretching them to think more broadly and advance more intelligently. It is important to remember that the present situation is also a potential opportunity for businesses to grow and hence, leaders should prioritize the induction of creativity and innovation in the organization by engaging with experts, analyzing trends and thinking “out-of-the-box.”
The present situation is indisputably one of the most urgent cross-border and cross-demographic problems in the recent history of the world. Nevertheless, it is said that difficult times bring out the best in great leaders and it is possible that perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak and reaction of global leaders towards the pandemic is carving the way to a much more advanced and brighter future that will lead companies to radically rethink and reimagine themselves.