The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis, probably the biggest crisis of our time. We need leadership more than ever, however, most leaders have never faced such unprecedented circumstances. The article below lists the five most common leadership challenges during this period.
Last week, everything changed. Before March 16, corporate executives were keeping an eye on the coronavirus crisis and the volatility of the stock market, but it was mostly business as usual.
When the government began to issue stay-at-home orders and companies mandated virtual work, everyone had to shift their priorities. As an executive coach for C-level executives and senior leaders, I had an inside view of the real-time challenges for leaders.
Of course, their primary concern was for the safety of their employees, colleagues, customers, and family at home. And they were working hard to minimize disruptions to their supply chains to preserve business continuity. But as leaders look to broader, longer-term concerns, here are the five most common leadership challenges I heard from them.
How to balance being an inspirational and comforting leader while continuing to push on performance. One of my clients, a VP at a Fortune 50 company, was promoted in January to lead a more significant business division. His new leadership team had a dozen Directors around the company’s various global sites, many of whom were struggling to keep up with production plans.
To get to know his leaders and employees as well as address execution risks at the problem sites, my client had committed to travel throughout his first 90 days on the job.
Then last week, he was grounded from international travel. In our most recent coaching session, he shared with me that he was less concerned about not traveling because he could conduct meetings via videoconference and try his best to keep everyone on the same page virtually. What troubled him was not knowing how to push team performance when everyone was mentally and emotionally distracted by the crisis.
Striking this balance between getting things done and operating “business as usual” when a crisis creates anything but normalcy may be the most challenging job of a leader. I reminded my client of lessons learned from leaders during 9/11 and the 2008 financial downturn, which was to recognize that your people need you to understand their anxieties and gently help them rebuild confidence before you expect them to perform to their best ability. As one famous leader is known for saying, you must “define reality, provide hope.”
In your approach to your team during the pandemic, there will be days when you feel you need to push harder, and others when you regret doing so. Don’t be so hard on yourself because there is no perfect formula. However, make sure to prioritize “connection” with your colleagues over “correction” of everything they are doing or not doing. In the case of my client, he still had a lot of runway to cover in getting to know his new team, and just because this crisis happened within his first quarter in the role didn’t mean that he should stop that effort.
I suggested that he meet them where they are, both mentally and emotionally, rather than where he wanted them to be. Only this approach would enable the trust needed on both parts to perform at the highest level during the crisis.
How to respond to countless questions from managers and the frontline when no clear answers exist. My clients are corporate leaders, but they are humans too. They feel a sense of overwhelming uncertainty at this time but have to project calm and assuredness to those they lead. And while many companies have a blueprint of policies and communication plans they follow during crises, a lot of leaders are taking it day-by-day. Along the way, they have to keep up with more and more questions from employees about issues that they do want to address but often can’t with perfect accuracy yet.
It’s essential first to accept that perfection is impossible and the wrong thing to pursue. You will undoubtedly say one thing that will change the next day, and others may criticize you for it. But don’t take it personally and don’t worry about being right all the time.
Instead, aim for honest, consistent, and adaptive communication.