Disruption is permeating most of our normal ways of doing business – and our normal ways of living. Lives are being upended, amplifying emotions and experiences. Many people are feeling anxious and scattered.
Our times require leaders to bring intentionality, clarity and consistency to their words and actions, along with a heightened awareness, compassion and grace. Now more than ever, demonstrating how we care is fundamental to building a resilient workplace culture. As one of my clients indicated, “How we navigate this now will be remembered by our employees later.”
I view culture as the heart and soul of organizations. It’s a complex, nuanced and sometimes all too ethereal a concept to wrap our heads around. To simplify, consider the notion of “culture” as “the way in which you get things done.” In that vein, the very culture in which you operate is being forged by the way in which you lead during this disruptive time.
One of the leaders I work with has a strong, calm presence coupled with a healthy spirit of competition. He’s holding virtual town halls and speaking to the multiple realities of working from home, staying healthy, and continuing to position the business to serve its customers’ needs. Another leader is thriving in this upside-down world with his natural enthusiasm, comfort with change, clarity of purpose, and a thirst for making a difference. These individuals are leveraging their strengths to lead in new ways.
Consider this seriously: The pandemic is an opportunity to reinvent your leadership style. By reinvent, I don’t mean be someone you are not. Rather, I mean dig deep to bring a compelling, authentic and ever-evolving self to your style of leadership. Evolution requires humility, courage and hunger. You cannot have an organization poised to learn if your leadership style does not embrace a commitment to your own individual growth.
If we value learning, we can demonstrate it by setting aside our ego – the protective armor that artificially keeps us safe. What an unbridled ego actually does is distance us from reality. It plays to our fears rather than compassionately making space for being human and uncertain – and wrong. I had a client tell me he didn’t like to be wrong, so whenever he was, he just changed his thinking to what he newly discovered was right! The value is in the learning, not in being right.
Leaning into the discomfort of the unknown, this unchartered territory, and the lurking fears requires a mix of surrender, trust, experimentation, and risk taking. Leadership isn’t about having all the right answers; it’s about being courageous in the face of adversity. At times that courage might be in allowing oneself to experience the vulnerability, or it may be simply sitting with someone in his or her discomfort and not trying to “fix it.” Leadership is about showing you care, having a guiding vision, and fostering a sense of camaraderie and unity.
Emerging best practices
There’s good news to report in some facets of all this upheaval. I am witnessing businesses strengthen their cultures in the areas of communications, alignment, decision-making, roles and responsibilities, accountability, and collaboration. With many team members working from home, managers are communicating more frequently – and with more clarity – about what needs to get done. There’s also a more personal, human touch to the exchanges; Zoom meetings from people’s homes will do that, as will simply checking in on each other’s well-being. Employees are reporting appreciation of the extra effort employers are making to consistently and transparently communicate plans and decisions. This level of engagement is helping people stay connected and feel informed.
Coordination of efforts across remote teams has become critical in making sure client deliverables happen and employee needs are addressed. One client has developed a strategy of having a different manager on-site each day, thereby rotating oversight of all departments. This approach has the built-in benefit of enhancing cross-department collaboration while strengthening the management team. There have been many stories that the usual tension and turmoil of “us vs. them” have been reduced and replaced with a feeling of purpose and alignment. I have heard the mantra “One Team” repeatedly. The sentiment is that we are in this together and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Working from home requires increased clarity about roles, responsibilities, expectations, tasks, deadlines, as well as the need to report progress. That translates to learning how to better manage for results, and provide appropriate level of direction as well as much-needed feedback.
There’s evidence of a deeper sense of purpose and a clarity of priorities, which is helping inform resource and time management decisions. Creativity and humor have also found their way into the foray of business under COVID-19, helping with productivity and stress. The early results: businesses are creating stronger teams that are both colleague- and client-focused.
Illumination of pain points
You may be thinking, wait, what am I doing wrong? My organization isn’t experiencing these benefits! Another side effect of this pandemic is the illumination of areas that are not so robust. Individual and team dysfunctionalities will be amplified under prolonged stress. If your organization isn’t experiencing some of these emerging best practices, ask yourself what can be done to strengthen the culture. How can you build trust? How can relationships be strengthened? What obstacles or barriers – real or perceived – can you remove for your team? How can you lead in a new way?
The invitation is to use this time to revamp your leadership, clarify your purpose, and recommit to improving communications, collaboration and accountability. Embrace the disruption with a new strategy to unify, focus and create anew.
Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations.