Great Leaders are defined by challenging times.
It is not when things are stable and predictable that reveals character; it is their performance under duress. While challenging times can be seen as a test, they are also opportunities to demonstrate one’s courage, values, and integrity. When a Leader behaves consistently with principles when the company is flourishing and in crisis mode, people rally behind them. The COVID-19 pandemic has created such an opportunity.
COVID-19 has impacted everyone globally and tested leaders’ fortitude and capability. Leaders must not only guide companies through challenges created by COVID, such as how to keep operations running safely, but it requires a new level of empathy and compassion for all employees enduring the additional stress. When employees do not have their basic safety needs met, they will not be able to perform, and everyday challenges will magnify. Thus, Leaders must be attentive to broader life stresses and not strictly focused on business issues.
So what specifically has COVID-19 required of Leaders?
More than simply navigating business challenges, leaders must genuinely care about employee well-being and be willing to take creative and unprecedented steps to support their team. Leaders must connect with people at all levels of the organization to hear their fears, challenges, and needs. Equipped with this information, they must engage their teams to develop creative solutions and new processes that enable the flexibility that COVID demands. These solutions could be as simple as expecting leaders to engage in one-on-one conversations with each person they lead, intending to listen and understand. And it can be as significant as creating processes for job sharing, flexible work hours, resourcing home offices, relaxing attendance policies, and even paying during extended absences due to employee or family COVID illness.
A willingness to take bold measures in commitment to employees may be costly in the short term, but the benefits of loyalty, engagement, dedication, and commitment will pay off in the long term. Employees are the people who make the product, manage the business, and represent the company to customers. Unhappy and stressed employees will directly affect customers’ experience of the company, which likely has a much more costly long-term impact.
However, return on investment for treating employees with compassion must not be the sole driver.
When numbers are the driver, authentic, mutually caring relationships become transactional and turn an attitude of “it’s the right thing to do” into “what’s in it for me?” It is our teams’ concerns and needs that must be the driver. Great leaders realize they cannot shy away from these challenges and hope they go away. COVID demands our Leaders step up and embrace the challenge demonstrating their true character and the strength of their values. They leverage experts, tap into creativity, discuss potential solutions, and demonstrate consistently valuing their people. As with any hardship, COVID has been the catalyst that enables leadership greatness to be revealed or poor leadership to be magnified.
Great leaders meet these challenges and make companies great for the long term by handling crises with compassion, principled boldness, and willingness to do the unconventional, demonstrating their personal and (hopefully) corporate values.
So lean in, commit to your team, and demonstrate that everyone matters. Have the mindset of everyone surviving this together and creating a unity that ensures thriving on the backside of this crisis. This will enable leaders to distinguish their company, demonstrate their enduring values, and reveal their commitment to employees and customers.