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Leading During COVID-19

After this first handful of weeks of social/physical distancing from life as we knew it, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of how businesses are leading during COVID-19.

The virtual conferencing boom has been a saving grace for collaboration, innovation and even humor. The U.S. stimulus package, sizable donations and various fundraising efforts have been popping up every day to support local businesses, hospitals, and the overall battle against the Coronavirus.

As much as we try, we still cannot ignore the pillaging and mayhem at grocery stores, the record-breaking surge of layoffs and unemployment claims, and the seemingly endless amount of uncertainty and misinformation being delivered to society.

It has been a frightening transition, to say the least, and people’s jobs are in a more vulnerable position than ever before. As leaders must establish plans and strategies to generate and maintain business, they must also adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment for the sake of the company and its people. And the recent business choices of executives have painted a picture of how well (or not) they are adapting and leading during COVID-19.

Lately, the phrase “control what you can” seems to be used daily. This holds great truth as we must now readjust that initial 2020 plan our teams put in place at the end of last year. Many of the original business objectives and goals will need a makeover, to be placed on the back-burner or even thrown away.

But one business strategy that sticks out and should remain a priority is building and strengthening your leadership team (as it should be year-round). Leaders, both at an individual level and together as a unit, can either make or break a company. And this crisis puts them to the test to prove themselves worthy of that ‘leader’ title. You and your executive peers must all encompass certain qualities to not only endure the day-to-day challenges we’re currently experiencing, but to also become stronger and well-prepared for life after this global nightmare.

Flexibility and adaptability I’ve watched a friend of mine struggle with her superior for years but this pandemic has caused even more impairment to the team and their working environment altogether. There’s a lack of understanding and support when it comes to the work-from-home needs, increased micro-management, irrational expectations with projects and productivity, and a constant demand for results when clear and logical directives have not been given. Of course, my friend is extremely thankful she’s able to keep her job during this time, but she and her colleagues are struggling in an even more rigid and militant-style workplace.

Aren’t we “in this together” though? This virus affects every single person on this planet in some capacity. Therefore, everyone should have a level of understanding that adapting to change is required, which also means people must be flexible with new solutions, methods and ways of life. Social distancing and homeschooling while simultaneously working from home is already a struggle — adding more limitations will suffocate your employees.

Transparency and respect After being laid off, people are posting on LinkedIn and giving their former employers an outpouring of gratitude. This is because managers are leading during COVID-19 with transparency and respect, knowing that many families will be greatly affected. Although these newly unemployed folks face another challenge ahead, they’re able to leave the company with grace and a positive attitude inspired by the integrity of the leaders.

Whether you’re in the position to keep your workforce on board, or have to execute on a plan to furlough or layoff members, employees will expect an explanation of the true business reasoning — sugarcoating has no place here. And with that, providing valuable tools and resources (letters of recommendation, severance packages, free counseling/therapy sessions, family support, etc.) will not only help people feel the respect they deserve but also point them in a direction to continue moving forward in a positive way.

Compassion and empathy We sometimes forget to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. But as a leader, empathy is crucial when making tough decisions that will change people’s lives. On top of transparency and respect, compassion and empathy are just as important.

I love that landlords are waiving rent payments for tenants and executives are forfeiting their salaries to pay workers. But I also think about the leaders of the “essential workers” industries. They’re dealing with overworked medical professionals, harassed grocery store employees; people simply scared for their lives just by going to work. These leaders must manage a full workforce that is now on an escalated level of anger, frustration, exhaustion, sleep deprivation and so on. Listen to people’s concerns and feelings. Nourish their emotions with understanding. Doing so will give people a better sense of safety and help build on their mental stability.

Altruism and giving back We’ve all seen it — company leaders have directed their teams to manufacture ventilators and donate them to hospitals, make hand sanitizer, and even Bob Kraft had the Patriots’ jet flown to China and transport over a million N95 masks back to the States. We’re living in a world where giving is now a daily contribution and choices are being made from the heart.

Although philanthropy is typically a piece of many businesses, it’s clear now just how much people actually have to give to others. We’re discovering innovative opportunities, big or small, to show up and give back. These acts help deepen the connections with people; a way to get up close and personal even at six or more feet apart.

Pandemic or not, many companies struggle with poor leadership or a gap in the leadership team. Employees need and deserve the support and guidance from the top and your executive members need dependable peers as well. It’s obvious that effectively leading during COVID-19 is impossible without the support of each and every person around you. And having the wrong leader or lack thereof to lean on can be detrimental.

I can only emphasize the importance of having those strong and forward-thinking leaders at your side. As we all continue to navigate through the unknown, the future of your company will remain in your hands and those of your leadership team.

But, at some point, this will end. This virus has definitely forced a change in scenery, but another contrast has yet to come. Prepare for what’s next once those clouds part in the sky. As you continue leading during COVID-19, shift your business strategy to ensure you’ve got the right people at the forefront to progress your company beyond the pandemic.

Published by Hanna Shea Executive Search



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