A Reflection on Leadership During a Lockdown – LogiSYM May/June 2020
These are unprecedented times for corporations. Businesses are focussed on continuity plans and recovery actions. Nevertheless, critical KPIs are still expected to be delivered although the reality is that productivity in business continuity mode or in a work from home environment, is likely to be lower than in the normal work place.
There are many issues that are yet to be tackled openly. Employees health and wellbeing is said to be paramount however, empathy, motivation and mental health has rarely been top of the discussion at performance reviews. Leaders need to demonstrate new skills and meet current levels of emotional stress and staff isolation. Leaders need to walk the talk now more than ever.
I believe it is about what people need during a time of crisis – but there are 2 provisos:
- Continuity of employment and income is fundamental – this will vary by industry. The intent is not to compare the implications of the airline industry versus your local bakery. Businesses need to do the best they can, as well as with the government support schemes on offer.
- Professional help – there is no substitute if there are fundamental issues. The appropriate consultation may be needed as soon as possible depending on circumstances.
But beyond those 2 critical points, let’s assume the majority of corporate workforces are managing in some sort of continuity plan. Generally, all are trying to get on with their jobs as best as they can at different levels of lockdown. Businesses and organisations have their own work culture to varying degrees and now is the time that this culture will be tested.
A culture of ‘single point of decision making’ for example, is unlikely to help people through this tough emotional time. So what do people want during this lockdown period?
a. People want to contribute – Share their feelings, what they’re going through, compare notes with others. Have a moan about home schooling or talk about what the future may be like once it eventually normalises. Clearly people are different. When it comes to motivation, energy management and engagement, now is the ideal time to get valued inputs. Understanding of what helps during this difficult time and what is needed in the longer term.
It is now that we can test and shape team culture. There is possibly no better time to reflect on this. There are lots of views and opinions out there. People want to talk more than ever – this may well shape the new normal that we will see emerge.
b. To be cared for – a support network, people to speak to, comfort in knowing someone is out there, keeping an eye on them and seeking their inputs. Some work colleagues live alone, they don’t have family around them. This can cause its own daily challenges which can increase feeling of true isolation.
c. To have some fun – we’ve all had to sacrifice our hobbies, not seeing our friends and extended family and simply not going out. It’s ok to have a work call that is about non-work issues every so often – play a game for instance which can double up as a team energiser. It makes up for those informal work chats by the coffee machine or photocopier. Those lunches with your work social group, the banter in your office cluster. More importantly it makes people feel normal again.
d. Leverage a trusted network – it’s not like a townhall with senior leaders. It’s an informal connection where people feel comfortable in openly sharing their feelings and opinions. The bond that is created and strengthened here should not be under estimated. It will give people new insights into the wider network of support there is to help them through this time. That is the point, to actively encourage people to connect in different ways and in a way that is meaningful to them.
So how do we do this? There are several ways, depending on your environment and circumstances. You will need to find what works best for you and your team.
a. Plan specific sessions to talk – like 15 to 30 mins twice per week, on any topic that you feel will help diffuse your primary tensions. Try it – at the end of the week, or at the start, a weekend may even work better for some people to truly disengage from the rigours of the daily grind.
b.Make time during planned work meetings – start with a 15 min general ice-breaker and on a “feel good” theme.
c. Big meeting groups – you may choose to divide and conquer, start as a big group and split into different themed teams to tackle different interests.
d. Start small, but do get started. Who knows where it will lead. The possibilities are endless and it is also a great way to bring passionate volunteers forward to help the team cause.
The Closing Thoughts
However it is designed and executed, it is important to recognise that people who are in a sustained period of working from home, need a support group more than ever.
Leaders need to step up their ability to show better empathy – a human side to leadership and to be open with their own vulnerabilities. It can’t just be delegated to HR to manage.
These are the times when relationship building and soft skills are paramount in lifting spirits and people engagement. The office environment has been stripped bare. You are left with the foundations of the human relationships you had prior to the crisis, which may not be sufficient at this moment.
People are full of ideas, willing to talk and share these now more than ever. A different type of culture, maybe an evolved culture might be needed.
The value of doing this now is critical. It can strengthen your teams’ bond, resilience and energy during a time when people, teams and the whole organisation most need it. It could give you a real head start as we plan a return to ‘normal’.
About the Author
Alex Lombardo has worked in an MNC environment for the last 20 years in both Tech and Supply Chain functions. He has a passion for building and maintaining trusting relationships.