Defining leadership has always been difficult but identifying it, on the other hand, is so easy, it is almost intuitive. People are naturally drawn to strong leadership and even more so during a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has put world leaders in strange positions of having to walk the tightrope, a near-impossible balancing act of a nation’s public health versus its economy. Maybe that is why not everyone is a leader. People naturally shy away from having to make tough decisions. Business owners, who are leaders in their own right, are facing the same balancing act as well. Complexity runs deep in owning a business – the balancing act involves multiple caveats and layers: how to protect your bottom line, how to keep a productive workforce, how to check-in without micromanaging are just a few examples. History has shown that the human race are survivors, time and time again- this is not the first pandemic that we will survive, nor will it be the last.In this article, we explore the different ways you can improve your leadership skills in the new normal.
1) Increase your accessibility as a leader
Right at the top of the list would be increasing your accessibility. Recently, an interesting article posted on Forbes titled “The Next Big Thing: Virtual Leadership” outlined something very important: “Virtual is not a synonym for invisible”. Especially during this time where workplaces become remote and working from home becomes the new normal, being accessible and visible as a leader becomes even more so important. Great leaders are often held with high esteem not just because of hierarchy but also their personality. Mutual respect in the workplace is not built simply on work performance but simple things such as day-to-day interactions. Leaders can achieve this by encouraging open and honest conversations in their virtual meetings – allow your employees to voice their opinion on issues regardless if it is big or small. Employees should be empowered to approach leaders with problems, be it work or personal. This can go a long way in helping create a more collaborative workforce. One powerful tool that should be used by leaders as well is to seek feedback. While seeking feedback is crucial at every level of a business for the purpose of self-improvement, doing so as a leader facilitates an open office culture. As an employee, knowing that your feedback matters work wonders for your productivity and sense of belonging in an organisation. The increased accessibility as a leader will also build resilience in your organisation for the next crisis that may happen in the future. Start now: culture is cultivated over time and not built overnight.
2) Continue to encourage training and upskilling among employees
Be constructive, not critical. A fall in productivity and revenue may be expected during this time and may not be in your control. Working from home allows for downtime and may be a great time for your employees to regain balance of their work and personal life, that may set them up for more optimized work productivity in the future, post COVID-19. From a leader’s perspective, it also presents a unique opportunity to analyse current business practices and seek improvement. Interestingly, working at an office setting may not as be as productive as one may think: a 2018 report by Marsh & McLennan Insights and Mercer outlined that requiring employees to come to the office just to monitor them has led to presenteeism (the act of being present at work as a manifestation of job insecurity) and will cost organisations in Singapore $7.6 billion by 2030. As a leader, the best thing you can do at this time is to set checkpoints for employees to achieve across a more flexible timeline. On top of that, support them with learning and training tools. While this crisis has caused downtime, one can take advantage of it by equipping their employees with online courses. Ideally, these courses should be geared towards leadership or soft skills that they can apply to both their personal and work life. With the advancement of technology, there are now a plethora of online courses to choose from covering a diverse range of topics. Ideally, choose one that is live and instructor-led to allow for engagement and interaction that your employees may be severely missing during the lockdown.
3) Do not take yourself too seriously
Last but not least, have a laugh – literally. While mainstream media continue to focus on economic downturn and fall in business productivity, it is important to understand how working from home may take a toll on your employee’s mental health. A traditional workday is cut up and structured by home and office spaces. Converging them may be stressful to some and adequate support should be given in case. During this time, encourage sharing of jokes in your work group chats. Take the lead and forward one of those funny memes you received from your friends. This will help build a positive vibe in the day to day interactions of your employee amidst the hourly news updates on mainstream media.
Navigating leadership in the new normal is no easy feat. All that you decide to do now as a leader will set up your business in the future, post COVID-19. Make smart decisions and implement these best practices to make sure that you and your organisation come out the other end not only unscathed, but improved and ready to tackle new business challenges that may come. Let go of the variables that you cannot control and focus on the ones you can. If you have not implemented any of these practices yet, it is not too late – starting small is better than not starting at all, and your employees will thank you for it!