How Do You Lead During a Pandemic?

Remember back in the good old days, when things used to be so much easier? Back when your inbox was overflowing, your day was filled with meetings you had to attend and toilet paper was the last thing on your mind? Yes, I’m referring to a month ago.

How fast things have changed! As if being a leader of people isn’t hard enough, now you have to worry about leading people during a global pandemic. How do you keep your team motivated and productive? What do you need to do differently? What needs to stay the same? Here are five tips to get you through the next four weeks…and beyond!

1. Be flexible and ask for help.

Things are different now, and they may never be the same. Companies without a “work from home” policy were forced to implement one on the fly. Essential employees are asking for unusual work accommodations to stay safe, like medical masks or even their own office to limit interaction with others. Policies that seemed permanent, like the number of hours one must work to maintain benefits, are changing because it’s the right thing to do.

The challenges coming your way can be overwhelming, but remember to stay flexible and openminded. You may not immediately know the answer, but it is out there. Now is the time to tap into your network, whether at work or online. Someone has the expertise to help you figure it out…if you ask! (And isn’t that the hardest part? Stop thinking that asking for help is a sign of weakness or a lack of knowledge. It’s actually a sign of a great leader.)

2. Keep it real and avoid the spin.

Do you know what employees really hate? Guessing. What’s going on behind the scenes? What does this mean for my job? Why is my boss so quiet?

As a leader, you’re probably privy to a lot of insider information. You know how meeting cancellations are affecting your company’s bottom line. You know there’s talks of furloughs or pay cuts. You’re feeling the stress, but trying not to show it.

You might not be able to share it all, but share what you can. Authenticity is one of the best ways to build trust with your team, and trust leads to greater engagement and productivity. There’s nothing worse than when the boss says “everything is great,” when everyone knows it’s not.

What does it look like to be authentic at work? Be real. Let your team know when you’re having a bad day. Give them constructive feedback, even when it might hurt their ego. Let them know about your failures, and what you learned from them. The most impactful and memorable leaders know that real always wins.

3. Set up structure to regain a sense of normalcy.

Humans are creatures of habit. In the last two weeks, I’ve eaten more and worked out less than I have in years, and it’s because my normal routine was shattered.

The same can happen at work, but instead of gaining a few pounds, you might see a decrease in motivation and productivity. To avoid the downturn, establish a routine for a new sense of normalcy. Team meetings and one-on-ones are a great place to start.

Weekly Team Meetings: Use Zoom or the video conference call tool of your choice to get your team together weekly. Start out with a social check-in, but end with what each person commits to accomplishing that week. It’s a great way to keep up team dynamics and morale, but it’s also way to increase accountability.

Weekly One-on-Ones: Again, I recommend Zoom for this one! One-on-ones are a time to discuss each individual’s projects, goals, opportunities, etc. It’s also a perfect time to do a mental “check-in” with each person. Whether your team is sheltering in place or still coming into work, COVID-19 is a lot to handle.

You may want to begin each one-on-one with this simple question: What’s one thing we can discuss today that will make this meeting worth your time? Let them lead the way. For more questions to ask during a one-on-one, check out this great agenda from Quantum Workforce.

4. Ask for feedback…and act on it!

This one really is as simple as it sounds. Give your team permission to give you feedback that’s both positive and constructive. You might ask:

  • What am I doing well?
  • What do I need to change?
  • What do you personally need from me?

This small action goes a long way in establishing trust and respect, and it’s a way to begin creating a culture of feedback.

That said, how you receive feedback and what you do with it matters. Your team will be watching, and getting defensive will break their trust in you. As this HBR article points out, humility is key, and while it’s okay to ask questions to dig deeper, resist the urge to defend your actions.

For example, your subordinate might say that you need to change your communication style. A good response might be: Thank you for sharing that. Could you be more specific? Could you give me an example?

Once you have clear feedback, you can begin to implement changes.

5. Offer recognition, gratitude and personal development freely.

According to research by OCTanner, 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving, and 65 percent of North Americans report that they weren’t recognized even once last year.

Most of us think we do a great job of recognizing our teams, but the stats say otherwise. How can we fix it?

6. Look for the good and express gratitude daily!

Find things to thank people for each day, even if they’re small. Offering to take notes for the team during the meeting? Taking a last-minute phone call at 6:30 pm? Both are worthy of a thank you!

7. Personalize the way you provide recognition.

Everyone is different, and while some love public praise, others find it embarrassing. (Hint: If you don’t know what your team prefers, ask!) Maybe you say thank you in an email where you copy your boss. Maybe you write an old school handwritten note delivered by snail mail. Maybe you say it on a team call. No matter what you choose, make sure it works for the individual!

8. Allow your team the time and budget to expand their skill set.

Professional development is another form of recognition. It shows you believe in your team enough to invest in them. It doesn’t have to be expensive either! Free or low budget options are everywhere online, especially now. If you have a small training budget, sites like Udemy.com are a great resource. (This article lists even more!)

Team training can be done in person or virtually.

Courtney Ramsey is a keynote speaker and trainer who helps businesses achieve better results, reduce turnover and increase engagement.

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