Leadership during COVID-19

Some thoughts from our Managing Director, Chris Cansfield, on what defines leaders during times of crisis. 

On a daily basis, I am reading articles on LinkedIn that suggest my actions during this pandemic will “define me as a leader.” I agree, and take my responsibility as a leader very seriously. 

COVID-19 is causing a humanitarian crisis of global proportions, with millions of lives disrupted. Personally, I have never led a team through a pandemic, and I do not know any leaders who have. In the absence of a defined roadmap, we rely on our experience and values to guide us.

Leaders also face the additional stress of significant financial pressures, unprecedented health risks, while also managing their own mounting work/life challenges and trying to stay updated with changing restrictions and policies.

It feels challenging because it is!

As I navigate these unchartered waters, here are three areas that I hope will define me as a leader.

Be vulnerable

In a previous article, I shared my own experience with mental health and suggested that “you would not drive a car without servicing the engine.”

Leaders will not be able to lead effectively if they are also struggling.

In order to look after and successfully lead your teams through COVID-19, you must first focus on yourself. How are you practicing self-care? Are you eating healthily? Are you getting enough exercise? What are you doing to ensure your engine is firing and you’re present enough to guide, support, and lead your team as they live and work through this crisis? 

Extreme stress can affect the way we all act. Cool-headed leaders and team members may suddenly act very differently. Teams formerly consistent in delivering against deadlines and turning in high-quality work may become less predictable. In my opinion, this is not a time for the “tough love” approach to leadership.

As a leader, I am sensitive to the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has on my teams’ lives, and I try to be vulnerable by regularly engaging in a two-way dialogue that sets the tone for the rest of the team. 

Be transparent

It is true to say that hard choices need to be made, never more so than during a crisis.

Many leaders have been faced with the choice of whether to make people redundant and risk losing talent (not to mention significantly impacting their employees’ lives), or keep their teams intact and impact their cash flow. But there are almost always alternative options if leadership teams can collaborate and be creative about how to solve the problem.

Whatever you do, be honest and transparent in all of your communication. 

Deliver consistent and clear messages

Employees want a leader to be empathetic, compassionate, and to project positivity – even when they do not have all of the answers. This is a difficult balancing act!

My approach to communication is incredibly simple…we live in an era of rapid dissemination of information (most of which is questionable at best). I choose to rely on the official government sources to share important updates on COVID-19.

My philosophy is that in any communication plan, it matters less that you communicated something and more that your team understood it. The focus should be on what your team takes in, especially in a situation that is volatile and unpredictable.

What’s next?

We now need to face the next leadership challenge…how do we bring people back into the new work world (a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual) and help our teams to navigate expectation vs reality?

How do we ensure our people are highly engaged in this new work world?

As a leader, it’s your job to make this happen.