Authored by Maggie Norman, CarrierDirect's Director of People.
For those of you wondering where to turn for support in leading your teams through the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. It’s probably not in a fine print of your employee handbook, and it definitely wasn’t a part of the lunch and learn you missed last fall. No one “missed it”, it’s just that, until now, most of us have been lucky enough not to need these types of crisis management resources.
As managers our role is to lead our teams and lead the business towards a collective goal. When priorities change, the economy faces unrest, and the way we do business has turned on its head. Most leaders we talk to are struggling with how to provide teams the support they need to be successful. In the conversations we are having right now, the same common theme is emerging from managers “I know I need to support my people, but how do I lead with empathy?”
We’ve spent the past month attending webinars, coaching our customers and learning first hand how to support our teams in these uncertain times. Here are our four things you can do to show your employees the empathy they need right now so they can focus on the critical job our industry must take on
You’re not supposed to have all the answers; it’s OK to say, “I don’t know”
That doesn’t mean people won’t turn to you with questions. As managers we set the tone for how much our team understands about the company’s current position, the business forecast, and individual job security, or not. Even if you only have part of the story, keep lines of communication open. Commit to sharing the information you have, and communicating updates as soon as you have them.
Be honest and vulnerable in sharing the information you have, even when it’s hard. Making things up is worse, it undermines your credibility at the most integral time, and you will never be able to get that back. When asked, if you have information, share what you can, which is likely more than you normally would. If you don’t, admit it. As leaders, one of the hardest things to admit is “I don’t know.” But if that’s the truth, tell them. Your people will trust you more and thank you.
Take advantage of ideas and inputs from your people. If you find yourselves around a (virtual) table of leaders, hashing out solutions and hitting a dead end, open the door to the rest of your team. If we, as managers, don’t have all the answers, maybe someone else does. Asking team members at all levels for suggestions and solutions is a great way to build trust and a new sense of purpose for people across your company.
Two heads are better than one, especially when it comes to problem solving. A variety of perspectives and inputs can help us all solution better. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “Crisis is an opportunity riding on a dangerous wind.” By taking advantage of what everyone brings to the table, each of us, regardless of position, rank or tenure, can help build a promising future for your organization.
Remember that your people are people
The reason to be open and honest is because the most important thing you can do right now is Lead with empathy. It has been said recently that today’s CEO is the Chief Empathy Officer of the organization. Leaders, especially those at the top, should be focused on the health and wellbeing of their people first, and the health of the business second. Companies constantly talk a lot about how “people are our greatest asset”, and now more than ever we need to put “our money (time, energy, resources) where our mouth is”. It is only through making sure our people are safe and healthy that we will come out on the other side of this as strong, or stronger, than we went in.
Treating people like people is not some grand concept. Expressing care and commitment to employees can be as simple as picking up the phone for a check-in, or being flexible with schedules to account for at-home priorities. Make sure your team knows what company resources are available to support them during this time. If you don’t know if your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, telemedicine benefits, or other remote friendly benefits, check in with your HR department. All our lives are uprooted in so many ways right now. In the words of my father “...don’t forget that everyone’s doing the best they can, with what they’ve got.” Make sure your team is safe and healthy above all else, don’t just assume that they are.
Practice servant leadership
Start by asking “What can I do for you?” This is the foundation of servant leadership. Being a servant leader means flipping the traditional power hierarchy upside down, putting employees at the top, and leaders at the bottom. We, as leaders, work for our people, not the other way around. One on one time, especially during times of change, is best spent with you as an active listener and a coach to your people.
Servant leadership, especially during a crisis, is one of the fastest ways to build trust with your team. Let them know you are working hard for them, ask them for feedback on how you can do better and be better for them. Position yourself as a support system for your people and let them know they are valued. When people feel valued, they value what they do.
We don’t think any of these 4 recommendations are rocket science, but they’re unfortunately things we often see go to the wayside in crisis. More importantly, ALL of these pieces of guidance are absolutely relevant in times of peace and times of war. All of these guidelines are regularly regarded as core tenets for the most successful leaders, they’re simply more relevant now than ever.
If you’re looking for more from us on Communication and Culture during a Crisis, check out Episode One of CarrierDirect Office Hours here, or feel free to reach out to me directly by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.