From this week forward, The Center for Leadership Studies will be releasing a weekly letter intended to guide leaders at all levels through these difficult and unprecedented times.
Over the course of our 50-year history, we have built a level of expertise on the subject of leadership and a knowledge of the real problems organizations and individuals face that make us uniquely qualified to provide practical, actionable and expert advice during this time.
We are fortunate enough to have worked with thousands of organizations from Fortune 500 companies, mid-size and small companies, organizations and governments who are all dedicated to taking on the responsibility that is leading people.
How we lead through this crisis will have a drastic impact on how we, our families, our friends and our organizations will fare through the coming months and into our return to normalcy.
Leadership is more important now than ever and we will be there with you throughout to help guide you through whatever is to come.
We also know that you will have specific situations or questions during this time, so we have created an email address for you to send your questions to. We will answer them in regular posts throughout the week, so be sure to send any questions to email@example.com and check back regularly for answers and updates as we hear from you.
Leading Through COVID-19: Going Remote
Go back one week. We lived in a very different world just seven days ago. Sure, people were aware of and concerned about the impending threat represented by COVID-19 prior, but last week was like nothing most of us have ever seen.
Since March 9, 2020 our lives have completely changed. These things were unimaginable 10 days ago:
- All major college and professional sporting events have been cancelled or postponed
- The United States is under a national emergency
- The stock market had its worst crash since the Great Recession
- Many states have cancelled all classes for public schools
- The Federal Reserve has cut the interest rate to zero
- Many companies have instated a travel ban and remote work mandate
Any one of those events would have been the biggest news story in most years. Many of them have never happened before. Ever. Also, that is not close to a complete list and we will certainly be adding to it as we move forward.
Back to today, March 16, 2020. If you have been charged with a formal leadership role at your organization, your direct reports need you like they have never needed you before. There are many perks to being a leader, but it also means you have to show up in a real way during times like these.
Many of your direct reports have been forced to work in brand new and/or frightening conditions. Some may have family members or have themselves been personally affected by COVID-19. Most are experiencing an extreme level of stress, anxiety and discomfort due to our current set of circumstances.
This week is not a time for success; this is a time for engagement. Whatever your plans, goals or deadlines were, they have changed. Everyone needs time to adjust to this new reality. People need direction and support which is what the following list was designed to help you do:
- Inform yourself and your team. Know as much as you can about how your team members will be impacted either because of where you live, what you do and how your organization decides to react. Relay information quickly by only relying on facts and data from a reliable source or expert. Also, ask your direct reports how they are being impacted and relay that information up to leadership so they can make more informed decisions.
- Build the relationship. If this has always been important to you as a manager, that’s great. If not, this is a good time to start. Connect with each of your direct reports as soon as possible to ask some basic open-ended questions:
- How are you and your family?
- What’s on your mind?
- What has surprised you the most?
- What does your remote work environment look like?
- What else are you going to have to do to keep yourself, your family and your friends taken care of this week?
- Set immediate priorities. Once you better understand what your team is going through, reset their immediate individual to-do lists in very specific terms. This is not a time for any form of “use your best judgment” type of messaging. Connect with your leadership after you understand what your team is going through and ask them about current priorities:
- If they don’t have any identified, inform them of your teams’ status and help them to develop a plan.
- If they are asking something that is unrealistic based on your current restraints, fight to protect your team from being asked to do the impossible and help leadership reset expectations.
- If they have a coherent and realistic plan, simply relay it to your team by communicating your new direction and timelines.
Lastly, let’s look ahead. Life may look different and nobody knows when, but we are going to get back a sense of normalcy at some point. Organizations and leaders that act quickly, readjust on the fly and put people first are going to be significantly better off than those that don’t whenever we find ourselves on the other side of this crisis.