Leadership in times of crisis
Lead presentations during meetings

For the past two years, the pandemic has disrupted how the workplace functions and how our individual team members have adapted within the workplace. This has required leaders to react quickly and re-evaluate how their organizations operate. Many leaders had to shut down their business operations completely under government mandates or relocate their employees to work remotely.

 

In ordinary times, if were to ask what qualities make up a strong leader, we would likely state the following:  

  • They promote a strategic and compelling vision to inspire others

  • The desire to treat others well

  • They admit to their mistakes and view them as a learning opportunity

  • They develop others to ensure actions that produce a positive outcome

  • They communicate effectively

  • They delegate wisely and effectively

While these qualities remain important, the upheaval and constant change that has occurred since the beginning of the pandemic has certainly made us reflect on what we want to see in our leaders. During these times of crisis, key competencies that additionally stand out are empathy, flexibility, resilience, and innovation.  

 

Empathy

When leaders provide empathy and a human-centred view that emphasises wisdom, trust, respect, and compassion; this leads to higher organizational performance in addition to the well-being of individual team members. Let them know it’s ok to be anxious and remind them of resources that are accessible to them. With many team members feeling lonely and isolated, it is also important to maintain regular communication with them.

 

Leaders can show empathy by having consideration for how others think and feel. It is also important for leaders to ask questions and actively listen to concerns and/or challenges that their team members are encountering. While empathy is not a new skill, it is important to develop and demonstrate empathy as a leadership competency in the future of work.

 

Flexibility

With many employers facing challenges retaining good staff members, being flexible is another key attribute. There are several areas where this can be achieved with hybrid work, remote work, flexible shifts, and workplace accommodations.

 

If your employees are currently working from home and that is their preference, evaluate whether it is important for them to work onsite. Research has indicated that employees are happier and more productive working from home. In the latest survey from Ergotron, it was noted that 75% of employees polled have indicated that their work-life balance has improved and 56% reported that their mental health has improved while working remotely or in a hybrid environment. It has also resulted in savings on cost and time in relation to their commute.

 

Leaders can also review how their team member’s scheduled work is performed. For employees with children, many parents have had to assume extra duties when schools and daycares were closed. In these circumstances, if work does not necessarily need to be completed in the 9-5 timeframe, why not let your team members choose the hours to complete their work duties? As long as the work is being completed, this allows for a happier, more productive team member. Workplace accommodations can be made in some circumstances to include a flexible work schedule, reduced hours, modified job duties, or additional training.

 

Resilience

To maintain organizational resilience, leaders must have “the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper” (Denver, 2017). A resilient organization is one that not only survives over the long term, but also flourishes.

 

It is also important for both business leaders and employees to understand personal resilience as we are now more aware of how our mental and physical health affects ourselves and each other. Personal resilience enables us to adapt to adverse situations by developing the coping skills required to function both psychologically and physically.

 

As a leader, you can help by discussing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or other resources (crisis outreach, emergency shelter, counselling, and support services); promote self care, and designate a quiet space for meditation. You can also encourage positive relationships within your teams, have fun team building exercises, maintain daily interactions with your team members, and promote healthy activities such as walk and talk meetings

 

In order to ensure a resilient culture in your workplace; you are making decisions that are precise and timely, you are committed to embedding resilience into the workplace culture, and you are committed to your employees’ learning and development.

 

Innovation

Leaders have had to make quick decisions while adjusting to the changing landscape throughout the pandemic. Some employers who did not have the capability of moving their workforce to a remote location, had to make other adjustments. However, there is no question that technology plays a big role in the development of alternate solutions.

 

Many organizations that rely on fundraising events, like not-for-profits, found unique and clever ways to promote events online. Other employers, such as food services and restaurants, came up with creative solutions such as enhancing their takeout menus and/or expanding space outdoors for dining. Additionally, savvy organizations ensured that they took advantage of government funding through various grants (Ontario Trillium Foundation), and government programs (CERB, CEWS).

 

Organizations with greater innovation are expected to be leaders in organizational growth over the next year. As many employees’ roles have shifted, and more businesses are relying on technology to address the skills gap, adapting innovation for upskilling ultimately leads to retention.

 

As leaders continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, they will continually need to display empathy, flexibility, resilience, and innovation to ensure the engagement and retention of their employees. Each organizational leader must consider their own unique set of circumstances to ensure a collaborative, resilient, and capable workforce.