Here we are, almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t think anyone would argue that everyone and every company has been impacted, be it positively or negatively. Last March was when it started here in the U.S. It was earlier or later in other parts of the world, but that didn’t matter. For everyone, business as usual came to a halt, forcing organizational leadership to adapt how they lead amidst COVID-19.
For some businesses, the pandemic created opportunities in which they had record years. Others had to make sweeping changes to keep in the black. Some were forced to make changes to avoid going out of business and suffered losses, layoffs, and more.
If there was ever a time that leadership was put to the test, this past year was it. I’ve been asked what lessons can be shared from the pandemic. Obviously, there were some tough decisions to be made. And the way an organization’s leadership went about it could either enhance or destroy the team’s trust and morale.
Sure, difficult decisions had to be made in many businesses, but leadership had the opportunity to make them in a way that would build more trust with their teams. Leaders were able to be more “real” than usual. They could build connections, be more approachable, and show empathy in these frightening and difficult times.
I’ve been reading a lot about leadership during times of crisis. For me, there are a few core ideas a leader can’t ignore during a pandemic. Doing so would put them at a disadvantage. With that in mind, here is my list of some of the core leadership actions and tactics that will help leaders come out better on the other side of this “mess.”
Make Tough Decisions and Make Them Quickly
If you have to lay off employees, don’t make them suffer through long periods of uncertainty. Yes, it hurts. But like a Band-Aid, pull it off quick. It’s a sad reality that many, many organizations are going through.
Deliver News Quickly and Often
Employees want to know what’s happening. If you want to lose control, withhold information. You’ll quickly find that employees will make assumptions and create their own reality, even if it’s not true. Don’t let them come up with a false reality that could become the rumors that kill motivation and productivity.
Be Realistically Optimistic
Your employees are looking up to their leader, so tell them what they have to look forward to. If the company is suffering, find the silver lining in the dark cloud.
Listen to Your Employees
Create a forum where employees can share their ideas. You’re looking for anything that will improve the situation, and that means revenue generation, money-saving ideas, process improvement suggestions, new product ideas, and more. The people you may be furthest from on a typical day-to-day basis may have insights you’re not aware of— and ideas you never thought of.
Trust Your People to Do Their Jobs
People know what they are good at. Don’t get in the way of what they do best. In other words, don’t get in the weeds and get tactical. If you do, you’ll find yourself struggling to be strategic and think “big picture.”
Don’t Be a Loner
In trying times, you want to unite and all move in the same direction… together! If there was ever a time your employees needed to feel a sense of team, this is it.
Be a Learner
Don’t shy away from examining how others are operating their businesses. What are the successful CEOs, inside and outside of your industry, doing? How have they navigated these uncharted waters? What can you learn from them that you can apply to your organization? Answer these questions and you’ll be better equipped to lead your company and your people through the pandemic.
Take responsibility end-to-end for what happens. In the customer service world that I spend much of my time in, we’re taught that when you are confronted with a problem, it’s hardly ever your fault. However, it becomes your opportunity—even your responsibility—to resolve the problem.
There’s something I’ve noticed about these ideas and others I’ve read. It really doesn’t matter if it’s during a pandemic or in the best of times. The pandemic puts a spotlight on leaders and magnifies every decision that is made. However, if you stick to these fundamentals, they will prove to be the foundational principles that work, not just during a pandemic, but all the time.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Shep Hyken’s Forbes’ article.
Shep Hyken is the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service and experience expert, Hyken helps organizations create amazing customer and employee experiences. His books have appeared on bestseller lists including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and others.
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