Leadership is a topic continuously at the forefront of an organization. People often question the characteristics of what makes a good leader. There are programs designed to help individuals build and develop their leadership skills. These programs are genuinely great resources, especially when leading under normal circumstances; however, these are not “normal” times. Leadership in the face of a pandemic has to navigate through a lot of fear and chaos far greater than in a traditional environment. This is a leadership opportunity – an opportunity to mitigate or exacerbate these
fears depending upon their response. From my perspective as a human resources professional and a manager working directly with employees I have seen three major themes continue to
emerge and reemerge as areas of opportunities for those in supervisory roles.
1. Communication and transparency
The COVID-19 pandemic is a fast-moving, ever evolving situation. This type of uncertainty can easily become stressful. This makes communication and reassurance from their employers, especially from executive leadership, imperative. From my perspective, quality communication and transparency during such uncertainty is an absolute must; it can be a make or break moment for those in leadership roles.
All too often we tend to see leaders brush off potentially negative information thinking they are protecting employees, but this tactic really creates more angst and questions. As a leader, it is often thought that you need to have all of the answers. However, this is not necessarily the case, especially when it comes to COVID-19 where information is changing rapidly. Being transparent with the information that is known and communicating often is what’s important when it comes to navigating through a pandemic.
Interestingly enough, when done right, communication and transparency can actually ease anxiety and fears, because the unknown is now not so uncertain (Argenti, 2020). When quality communication is provided it creates a caring and supportive environment that employees can stand behind. Ultimately, be honest and tell your employees what you do know, what you don’t know, what you are working on and what it means in terms of the vision (Argenti, 2020). Transparency will help to maintain credibility and keep morale positive (Agenti, 2020).
2. There will be missteps
Not many of us have lived through a pandemic before, so understand that in a leadership role, there will be missteps and criticism as it relates to COVID-19. The most common criticisms we have seen so far have stemmed from a failure to respond quickly enough, a lack of communication and transparency, and a failure of not having the right team in place to address all of the potential concerns of the pandemic. It has been in my experience that you often learn the most from mistakes and today’s climate would not be any different. Under the present circumstances, missteps are inevitable, especially since information and guidelines are ever changing. It is always important to take your time and think through situations as this allows for both time and clarity to set in. That being said, and with most things in life, it is more what you do after a misstep occurs that matters and will have a long-lasting impression.
3. Flexibility, recognizing the new normal and how it all translates into the workplace
It is important for leaders to keep in mind that as the pandemic drags on, employees are being asked to continue to both manage and merge their work life and personal life responsibilities. For some, this may be a relatively seamless transition. However, for others, this may be difficult and present new challenges overnight. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) (Lee, 2020) research indicates that 7 in 10 employers are struggling to adapt to remote work and 83% of employers have made business practice adjustments as a result of COVID-19. This is all to real for many, myself included for many, myself included. Paper processes had to be adapted to a digital workaround nearly immediately in order to accommodate life in a pandemic. These new changes have created redundancies in work tasks and inefficiencies. On the other hand, for some it has done the opposite by improving processes and streamlining efficiencies. As a result of the pandemic, several area businesses have reevaluated having a physical space entirely because their work from home programs have been so successful. Whichever side you find yourself on,
it is important for those in leadership roles to continue to work with employees and be flexible, recognizing their challenges, victories and sacrifices made along the way.
While these are not new practices in leadership, they remain best practices and their importance has been magnified during this unprecedented time. The bottom line is that people are an organization’s greatest asset. For those in leadership roles, try to put yourself in your employees’ shoes from time to time in order to keep a realistic perspective. Maintain open lines of communication and transparency to stay in tune with employees. If a mistake is made, and we all make them, address it, learn from it and move forward. My advice to successfully navigate these times is to stick to the basics and as always, continue to work with employees to determine a meaningful employment relationship.
By Krystal Schoen-Helvey, Wright Service Corp. HR Supervisor
This article was published in “An Outside Perspective,” a section of the Wright Service Corp. biannual newsletter, The Wright Perspective. This article was submitted in April 2020 as part of the LEAD Program capstone requirements to showcase professional growth during the program.