We are all somewhat in free fall. That’s hard if you’re a leader, used to being in control - the person with the answers. Harder still if you are one of those leaders who like things to be just so.
You cannot promise your people that everything is going to work out just fine by Easter (!)... because you don’t know that it is. And you can’t tell them not to worry... because it’s just not that simple – and bland platitudes are less than helpful. But even in such a hostile landscape, this is a critical moment to develop true leadership credentials. You can choose the kind of leader you’ll be through the chaos and uncertainty - consciously choose your leadership lane and stick in it.
A few core ideas to help you navigate:
1. Connect. Make time. Listen to your people. Find out what’s going on for them.
Ask: It's a challenging time. How are you coping?
2. Prioritise. Focus on what’s important. This is absolutely not a good time for sweating the small stuff (was there ever?). Now is a moment to let the little things slide. Your people may need to prioritise critical stuff that’s nothing to do with work and you'll do the relationship harm if you ask them to work on something (they see as) trivial.
Think: “I would prefer this to be done – but right now, it’s not important. It can wait.”
3. Develop. Is there an opportunity here? We are all developing new skills and ways of doing things. Empowering your people with the chance to gain mastery in a new thing is great for morale, engagement. We all need a boost.
Think: “I could do this myself but I think [x] could help. It’s a new thing and s/he might need support, but it’s a great learning opportunity for them.
4. Trust. If you didn’t trust your people when they were in the office it’s going to be harder now, but showing them you have faith that they will do the right thing is key. If you don’t feel able to do that, start talking to them more.
Think: “S/he hasn’t replied to that email yet…. But I know there’ll be a good reason. I don’t need to chase.”
5. Share. Share what you know and your plans, if you can. Be open and honest. Remember what you say matters less than what you do. A disconnect between your stated position and what people then actually experience sets them on edge.
Say: “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but what I can tell you is [….] and I’ll let you know if that position changes”
6. Accept you are human too. No-one expects you to be unaffected by the situation. Reach out. Ask for support if you need to. You are vulnerable, and acknowledging it builds connection. And (subject, of course, to how well you have done on 1-5!!) your people really want to be there for you too.
Say: “I’m not feeling great today. Have you got time to talk?”
You are not in control. But you can choose your leadership lane.