So, what kind of leader are you?

June 2020

Why now is the time you need to define your leadership.

It’s in times of difficulty when leadership is most tested. The way you react to this current situation will influence not just the way you are seen by the people in your current business, but potentially the rest of your career. How you act, communicate and demonstrate behaviours could either make you or break you as a leader.

You already know you need to keep in touch with and show support to your teams during this period of uncertainty. You are probably being encouraged to use all the best channels available to you to do so and are likely already set up on various video and messaging platforms.

But what to say, how to say it and when to show support might be less natural or obvious.

You may be worried that there is already too much talking going on. Is adding to the ‘noise’ really an effective way to communicate?

In fact, it’s clear that people are already a bit fatigued by constant video calls, phone calls and the feeling that they need to be ‘seen’ to be working when they’re not in the office. Which is why it’s more important than ever to step up as a leader.

Why your leadership is more important than ever

The time when your teams can’t easily see, hear or formally or informally interact with you, is the time when your demonstration of trust in your people and faith in their ability to deliver are vital. Along with sharing your thoughts and ideas, and being available rather than bunkering down, these actions help put everyone you manage on an even keel.

Your team will be looking to you for advice, permission and action about how they should be working in this new world. Can they take 10 minutes out when things become overwhelming? Do they need to be in front of their computer screen for the usual 8 hours? Are you expecting them to have all the answers on how to adapt during this challenging time?

With your team relying on you, it’s critical that you show the leadership skills they are looking for. So here are a few ways, beyond the usual communication, that you can steady the ship, and make the journey ahead as straightforward as possible.

How to demonstrate leadership in an uncertain environment

Show up Be more visible than usual. Actively take part in company and team comms, responding to chats and taking part in formal and informal communication. Scripted video broadcasts are useful, but so too are comments on your intranet feeds or WhatsApp groups. If you are not on these groups, get invited and take part. Being seen to be available is more important now than ever.
Show vulnerability This is the time to be accessible and human. Like everyone, you will be working in a new home environment, with the same challenges of juggling care responsibilities and worrying about family members. Sharing these dilemmas and showing how you are coping is a great way to demonstrate understanding and it helps to bring people together.
Give permission This is vital. Given the change in circumstances, expecting ‘business as usual’ is not realistic or practical. If people attempt to apply their usual 9-5 working practices or try to pretend to ignore distractions from others at home, stress levels go up. People need the boss to say that it’s ok to work differently - to embrace new routines and habits that fit in with the new world, rather than the old one.
Trust Now is the time to trust your people to make the right decisions for their own and the business’s wellbeing. Traditional ways of working rely on people being seen, showing they are working simply by virtue of being at their desks. ‘Working from home’ requires a degree of trust that the work will get done, despite not being seen or actively managed. This is natural for some managers but harder for others. Help your managers and team leaders to understand the cultural shift, acknowledge the change and empower their teams to do the right things.
Address concerns head on Speak to colleagues who are known influencers in your business to find out the real issues people are worrying about. Make sure you address these clearly and regularly alongside the business messages you want to give. Don’t be tempted to avoid them if you don’t have answers or if you fear the news is not good. People are already talking and if you avoid critical issues, you can bring more worry than reassurance.
Don’t feel you have to have all the answers Addressing concerns doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. In showing vulnerability it’s ok to say you don’t know. Is the business secure? Will we all keep our jobs? These are tough but valid questions. It’s tempting not address them for fear of worrying people but, the fact is, they are already worried! Instead, be as honest as you can and treat people respectfully.

Telling people you don’t have the answers but are doing all you can to keep people/the business/their jobs safe is more authentic than ignoring the subject or a blanket ‘it’s all OK’ response. When there are tough messages to share, consider sharing the dilemma. Telling people the business critical decisions you are facing can help them to understand the decisions you have to make, even if they are not happy with the outcome.
Ask questions – and listen to the answers There is a tendency, especially with so much information going out, to forget to ask for feedback. With so much emphasis on telling and informing, we forget to check how people are feeling. Ask questions, share the dilemmas (as above) and show you are listening by playing back what you have heard.
Show positivity This is the time people look to their leaders for hope. Remind people of the good things happening, the examples in your business where teams are working together. And remind them of your future vision, of the business you want everyone to be part of when the crisis has passed.

Getting started

If you need help with communicating effectively with your team during uncertain periods, or just help with internal comms generally, get in touch. We’ve worked with many businesses to improve their internal communications and in 2019 won the PRCA Dare award for ‘Internal Communications Campaign of the Year’.

Find out more about our internal comms offering, or read about one of our internal comms success stories.

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