Leading Through COVID-19: Leading the Return

The week of May 4-8, 2020 marked a turning point for many as several states started taking the first steps toward reopening public spaces previously closed due to COVID-19. Many more states have already set end dates for their stay-at-home orders and have released details about a phased return to some version of normal life. Although many states have either started returning or announced dates in May where they will begin taking the first steps concerning a return, others harder hit by this health crisis are left in waiting under indefinite orders to continue social distancing. Regardless of where you live and when you will return, a few things are true for us all: This has been an extraordinarily difficult time and we have all been through a great deal of change.

CLS started this blog series in early March to help all leaders navigate a completely incomparable situation. Due to the novelty and nature of this crisis, we were all in the same relative position since we had absolutely no idea what was about to happen. Since then our paths have diverged greatly based on a variety of factors like the industry we work in, where we live and how well our organization was equipped to work under our new conditions. Because of this, it no longer makes sense to dispense leadership advice based on the current events of this week because everyone is in a very different position due to recent events.

This entry will be the last in the series and, because of this, it will highlight the key takeaways from our previous posts. Although our individual situations are different, the points that follow are timeless and consistent with the messaging CLS has included in our programs since we opened our doors in 1969. COVID-19 brought about a unique set of challenges that had to be addressed, but the true value leaders in organizations provide remains:

Support and Direction

At the end of the day, this is what a leader does. They provide varying levels of support and direction. When a follower is looking to you for leadership, they need you to do one or both of those things. When a follower is frustrated by your approach, it is often because you are doing too much of one or not enough of the other. Supplying the appropriate amount of support and direction is incredibly difficult to do and it takes a great deal of “perfect practice,” but it really is that simple. When we are faced with a crisis and a high degree of change, people on your team will feel less secure and will be less capable of performing their key job functions. This will lead to an increased need for you to provide high levels of both support and direction (even for high performers). This was the primary advice provided throughout this blog series.

Credibility, Believability and Trust

You may have the title but that by no means guarantees that “you have the room.” You are the leader which means your organization has granted you a certain amount of authority to make and implement decisions. This power granted by your organization will give you the potential to influence to a degree but, in and of itself, is unlikely to get you the results you need to be successful long term. These past two months have provided you with a fantastic opportunity to build referent power and respect with your team (which will certainly be put to the test in the months ahead!). Building this reputation with your team takes a lot of time, and the only thing that can shorten this time frame are circumstances like this. If you really want to achieve results of significance as a leader, you will have to do so with your team by behaving in a way that proves you are credible, believable and trustworthy moving forward.

As mentioned above, this is the last entry in the series. The advice dispensed throughout was entirely based on content from our programs with the verbiage adjusted a little so it could be understood by all (not just those familiar with courses like Situational Leadership®: Building Leaders, Empowering Situational Leaders™, Situational Leadership®: Taking Charge and the rest of our curriculum). This has been a time of difficult challenges and extreme change, and CLS felt compelled to share the knowledge and experience we have built throughout our history with anyone interested in learning how to become more effective at influencing others.

Our new Returning to Work Handbook: Reflections and Strategies for Managers continues this trend and represents a natural conclusion. This guide will help you and your team reflect on the changes you have experienced these past few months and structure an actionable plan you can use to navigate in the weeks to come. Even if it is not your time to return to public space, it is time to start thinking about what has happened and what you can do to bounce back as quickly as possible. It is also time to start encouraging your team members to do the same. We encourage all leaders to utilize these guides and reflect (perhaps even ask their team to do the same). We are exiting a climate that required knee-jerk reactions and entering one that requires increased consideration, thought and planning.

We have come a long way these past several weeks, and we still have a long road ahead! Leaders are more important now than ever before, but it is not a burden we shoulder alone. Prepare yourself and challenge your team! Remember: Leadership is not something you do to people, it is something you do with them.