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How To Lead During COVID-19


Today, the following 10 leadership and business book authors answered this question for me:

  • Question: While we surely will find ourselves challenged by COVID-19 in the foreseeable future, what is the most important thing a leader can do as they lead their business/organization?

“Leaders have had some great opportunities as a result of COVID-19. Topping the list: hire the best people, not just the best people geographically convenient. The world just gave permission to have people working remotely. Take advantage. As a bonus tip, it is more important than ever to remember that your team is made of humans and this is an extremely difficult time for humans. Build in extra supports for your team.” -- Michael Solomon and Rishon Blumberg, co-authors of, Game Changer.

“First, don’t allow yourself to become so overwhelmed and distracted by the uncertainties—what you don’t know—that you lose sight of what you do know, and what you can control. Second, you must establish a protocol for maintaining high-structure, high-substance 1:1 dialogues with the individuals on your team. Don’t allow your communication to become increasingly disorganized, incomplete, or random.” -- Bruce Tulgan, Founder & CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., and author of, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.

“The most important thing a leader can do during periods of significant change and times of uncertainty, like we’re experiencing now during the pandemic, is to listen to his or her people. A great deal has changed in employees’ work lives in a short time, so it’s more important than ever to have a pulse on how their views on the ideal work environment may be evolving. Do research with employees to understand their desires and concerns about the future of work, where they would work best, and why. We’re learning more about how employee wants are very diverse. Adapting to those differences will strengthen the capabilities of a team and organization. For every employee, consider what enhancements are needed for safety, productivity and wellbeing.” --David Grossman, Founder & CEO, The Grossman Group. For more advice on how to lead your organization through the pandemic, see Grossman’s new (free) ebook, 12 Tips for Employers to Navigate the Future World of Work.

“The most important thing a leader can do in this COVID-19 environment is to recognize that adversity represents their greatest opportunity to lead. People watch leaders very closely in a crisis. So, the way you treat them matters greatly. Empathy, flexibility, recognition and communication will go a long way to establishing you as a leader who creates trust. And trust is the most important ingredient to leadership success.” -- Walt Rakowich, former CEO of Prologis and author of, Transfluence: How to Lead with Transformative Influence in Today’s Climates of Change. 

“Be human. COVID-19 doesn't discriminate. It affects every person from executive to staff. We all experience the extra challenges, stresses and anxiety brought on by this pandemic – in addition to the regular stresses of life. When leaders try to shoulder the load in silence, it sends a message of isolation to the team, rather than strength and connection. But when leaders can admit ‘it's okay to not be okay’ and that all of us – even them – experience challenges, it allows the team to rally together, support one another and become resilient together.” -- Nathan Magnuson, Corporate Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator, Coach and author of, Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise.

“While the direct impacts of COVID-19, including debt, small business failure, unemployment, poverty, and families rebuilding from significant personal losses are truly challenging, the deeper, long-term crises that pre-existed COVID-19, such as increasing disparity, climate change, unintended harms from technology, lost trust in institutions and failing leadership, have also been accelerated by the pandemic. The key requirement for leaders of any organization is to repair the damage from COVID-19 in a manner that creates the possibility to transform to a wholly new sustainable future; so, in other words, the challenge is to fix the shorter term issues and set up an approach to the long-term problems at the same time. The long-term is here today.” -- Blair Sheppard, Global Leader, Strategy and Leadership for the PwC network and author of, Ten Years to Midnight: Four Urgent Global Crises and Their Strategic Solutions.

“The natural tendency during times of uncertainty is to try to fix things and resort to telling people what to do. This almost always backfires because it misses the mark of what people really need and leaves a wake of negativity and resistance. Instead, the most important thing a leader can do in times of volatility and stress is to lead with compassion. Leaders have more opportunities to do this than they often realize but it requires deep self-awareness, a willingness to listen and connect with empathy.  The acronym, REACH2, is an easy way to remember what to do: 

R stands for resonance. Leaders need to connect with others in a way that is in tune with their thoughts and feelings. 

E is for empathy. We need to seek to understand instead of striving to be understood. 

A is about being aware of yourself and others. In order to lead effectively, we need to be dialed in to our assumptions, emotions and the impact of our behaviors. 

C represents connecting with compassion. When we lead from a place of compassion, we place the emphasis on others’ needs over our own and respond in resonant ways. 

H is about spreading hope. You help others to envision a brighter and better future when you spread hope which helps them to manage the stress.  

H refers to the power of humor. Remember to take your work seriously but not yourself too seriously.  Find ways to keep smiling and laughing. By keeping things light, you give permission to others to do the same.  

By leading with empathy, taking time to truly listen and fostering gratitude, leaders meet a deeply human need in all of us to be understood, appreciated and connected. And that boosts others’ ability to be resilient and open to new ideas and collaboration.” -- Ellen B. Van Oosten, co-author, with colleagues Richard E. Boyatzis and Melvin L. Smith, of the book, Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth.

“The most important thing a leader can do as they lead their business/organization into the foreseeable future is to stay focused on the “north star” versus being mired in noise. There are three ways to do this:

First, zoom “up and out” to see the North Star. The pandemic and its impacts are unfortunately not over. As leaders, we must continually find ways to lift ourselves out of the day-to-day and keep an eye towards macro-economic trends, possible disruptions towards supply chains, changes in customer behavior, and employee morale. It is critical to maintain a broad perspective and to think holistically. 

Second, redefine the North Star and ruthlessly prioritize. When COVID-19 initially hit, most leaders were in crisis management mode. Now, that time has worn on, we cannot go back to business as before. Continue to think boldly and innovatively about your company or team’s mission, strategy, and priorities. The adrenalin that the initial crisis brought is not sustainable and COVID-19 fatigue is real. Help your organization and team stay focused on what matters most. Progress is not the same as activity. 

Third, stay centered in your inner North Star. The last six months have been a roller-coaster with a wider range of emotions at the forefront. In any given week, you may have experienced everything from big wins to days of instability, frustration, and overwhelm. As a leader – how you show up and ‘who you be’ makes a difference. Be clear on the guiding principles which drive tough decisions. Be intentional in how you will execute and communicate those decisions. Ultimately, character matters. 

COVID-19 has brought a new set of unprecedented change and challenge. It has forced each of us to look in the mirror and ask: ‘who is the leader I want to be right now?’ As you look ahead to the foreseeable future, be a leader who stays focused on the north star by maintaining a broad perspective, being clear on priorities, and leading from a deep place of character and principles.” -- Amy Jen Su, author of the book, The Leader You Want to Be.

"The most important thing a leader can do in these uncertain and volatile times is to intensify their focus on the 'core triad' of success: strategyculture and execution. First, compress the strategy cycle. Institute the agility that is needed in a fast-changing environment. Next, connect with your team at a human level. Feeling respected, cared about and valued will help to relieve the uncertainty and anxiety that many are experiencing. Finally, commit to rigorous execution. Be firm on what needs to get accomplished, flexible on how it gets accomplished, and firm on evaluating what actually gets accomplished." -- Michael Canic, PhD and author of, Ruthless Consistency: How Committed Leaders Execute Strategy, Implement Change and Build Organizations That Win. 

“Invest in their team's continued technical and influential (soft) skill development. Many organizations worry about making a financial and time investment to train and bring out the best in their teams for fear they may leave – but the one thing that's even scarier is refusing to train them and they stay. If anything, COVID-19’s challenges have taught us the importance of having a team that's been training to weather storms and challenges outside of their control while maintaining a focus on how they can move the ball every day for the team goals. This isn't something that ‘just happens’ – it is a skill that is built over time through training.” -- Jake Thompson, Chief Encouragement Officer at Compete Every Day, and author of the book, Compete Every Day.

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