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Let’s Just Pause for a Moment…

Scenario: I just started in a new leadership role the week the world shifted on its axis. I don’t yet know my team members. I’m a people-oriented leader, but how can I create rapport and trust with people I don’t really know and will not meet in person until who knows when? How can I keep people motivated and productive during this uncertain time?

This is a scary time to be a leader as it truly is a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous! Many businesses are either temporarily closed, hanging by a thread, or adapting their operations. Others are busier than ever in response to the pandemic. Still others are trying to forge ahead with planned changes and restructuring. Meanwhile we are all working and living at a distance from each other, just at a time when we most need others. What is a leader to do?

“In light of COVID-19, if you are worried about productivity versus people, you are worried about the wrong thing,” says Mike Massaro, CEO of Flywire. In these disconnected and uncertain times, leaders are rising to the occasion and demonstrating compassion and empathy for staff who are experiencing significant changes to their working environments and personal situations.

Research in neuroscience would suggest none of us are currently working at our cognitive capacity.  This means it may be appropriate to lower expectations where possible. At the same time, the science tells us that the brain needs a meaningful connection to our colleagues and to some certainty. For that new leader (or anyone!) in a leadership role, here are five strategies to support your team:

1. Reconnect with your core values. Remind yourself of what you stand for and make decisions based on your values, not your own anxiety.

2. Tell your story. Employees and new leaders both, want to trust and be trusted. Employees want to hear the leader’s story.  Share your journey to where you are now as a leader and some of your learning along the way.  Often the belief is that leaders need to be strong and not show their cracks.  This is a time to demonstrate vulnerability and share your worries and fears and not be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

3. Identify a shared goal. Employees need clarity and connectedness.  A clear goal, no matter how large or small, creates certainty.  When employees can see themselves and their work in that goal, they feel connection and meaning.

4. Check in. Begin meetings and calls with asking, “How are you doing?” and take time to listen to other’s response.  Others first need to know you care before you move on to check in on what they are doing.

5. Identify strengths. We all need to be reminded of what we bring to the table.  In times of uncertainty and upheaval, our confidence is the first thing to take a hit.  Ask employees to talk about the best work experience they have had, their past accomplishments and what strengths they used and help them remember what really motivates them.


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HR Atlantic is proud to present weekly publications connected to COVID-19. Please feel free to contact us to further discuss this article or any concerns you or your business may be facing during these difficult times.

Written by: Carol Gabanna
Consultant, HR Atlantic
Published: May 2020
All rights reserved.