As we navigate these uncertain times, effective leadership is more important than ever — but what type of business leader shines most in a crisis? In today’s guest post, Dr. Fiona Jamison, Owner & CEO of Spring International, a WBENC-Certified WBE, shares her insights on why it’s important to lead with empathy, openness and sincerity.
What type of business leader shines in a crisis?
A decisive executive who fearlessly maps the route forward, right? Confidence and self-assurance should absolutely be part of every leader’s toolkit. But managers who rely too heavily on their own expertise often lack empathy and forget to solicit their employees’ input and listen to their concerns. And really, who knows better what workers need or want than the employees themselves?
One of the most valuable and enduring management lessons we should take from the coronavirus pandemic is a simple one: The smartest leaders tackle uncertainty with openness and sincerity. They don’t dictate “business as usual” when anxious workers are dispersed to their homes and juggling childcare, meal prep and terrifying news. Instead, they ask, “What do you need right now?” and “How are you really doing?” – this is what continues to build employee engagement during a crisis.
Even stressed-out teams respond with respect and appreciation, which leads to deep and true engagement. Engaged employees are happier, more productive and more loyal. And that holds true even—and perhaps especially—when they’re toiling at home or are risking their health and safety as essential workers on the job.
If you haven’t given much thought to employee engagement recently, the good news is it’s never too late. Engagement is always an essential, but it’s particularly relevant when teams are forced to disperse for off-site work. To nurture engagement during a crisis, take these four steps to heart:
Forge authentic, meaningful connections. This comes naturally in the office when you’re chatting while making coffee. It’s much harder when your team is scattered, so you must make a greater effort. Launch meetings with a brief but sincere check-in question such as “What’s your biggest challenge right now?” People first, work second.
Move beyond the annual employee survey for more frequent, actionable feedback. The world has changed so quickly that anything you gleaned from a previous employee survey is completely irrelevant now. In pulse surveys, one-on-ones or focus groups, ask workers about the short-term goals they’re setting and what the business can do better. What resources or support do they need to shine?
Let go of your presumptions. When the coronavirus forced me to close our office and put my workers on 80% hours, I assumed they would all want to go back to “normal” as quickly as possible. I was surprised to learn that some preferred to stay at 80% and with the enhanced flexibility, productivity increased. I was reminded yet again that I’m a leader but not a mind-reader.
Act on what they want. Experts say we’ll see a post-pandemic surge in the number of employees who work remotely. Leaders who had insisted that remote work wasn’t an option quickly changed their tune when shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Many workers thrived. Why not let them continue to do what works for them to promote engagement?
If we’ve learned anything during this crisis, it’s that remaining flexible and open allows you and your team to succeed in ways you never could have anticipated. Sadly, it often takes a crisis to trigger change.
I don’t know when we’ll face our next challenge, but I do know that there will be another. And another after that. Boosting engagement now will help your business—and you—to weather any storm with compassion, strength and stellar leadership.
Fiona Jamison PhD, the CEO of Spring International in Philadelphia, helps businesses thrive by showing them how to use employee feedback to forge stronger connections to their workforces. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.