11 Sep 2020 20:44 IST

When adversity strikes, leaders need to show up

Making people a priority and taking accountability for the good and the bad reveals character

In a topsy-turvy world that we live in today, none of us know what the future holds or have a rule book to follow. Everyone is learning on the go as the situation keeps evolving. Organisations have started dealing with prolonged work from home set-ups, and are figuring out ways to ensure productivity even while working remotely. No one was prepared for the crisis to lastso long. As we discover more about the virus, newer challenges continue to unfold. Increased number of cases, extreme unemployment, high levels of fear and anxiety, financial crunch, and unimaginable pressure on the business.

In a situation like this, managers and leaders inevitably have a pivotal role to play. On the one hand, they are accountable for business results, and on the other, they are also responsible for the well-being of their team members. Tall ask, given where we are at and its constraints. It is at this time that exemplary leaders will stand out. Some competencies that will truly differentiate competent leaders are:

Mindful choices

Leaders will need to prioritise and carefully choose their area of focus. They might need to re-evaluate their business models, product lines, marketing channels, sales methods, and restructure the business to cope with the evolving marketplace.

This will need foresightedness and agility, and the ability to gauge the pulse of the customer and consumer needs.

Employee well-being

Leveraging synergies within and outside the organisation to maximise innovation, finding cost-effective ways to do business, and hiring the right talent will be key to business recovery and success.

Unfortunately, this pandemic has cost a lot of jobs and pay cuts. Leaders and managers who can maintain mentally healthy and emotionally resilient teams even during these times will truly see the impact of what motivated teams can do. This possibly is the most critical competency and most challenging.

Emotional resilience

A leader’s own emotional resilience in such challenging times is the cornerstone of what they can achieve. Staying calm and focused even in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity will go a long way.

Everyone looks to their leaders for answers. The truth is, in such unpredictable times, they might not have all the answers. And it is okay to say so. Leaders who have the courage to say that will earn their team’s trust by virtue of their honesty.

Lead from the front

Don’t expect the team to do anything that you won’t do yourself — so if you are expecting your sales team to be in the market or your manufacturing team to be on the floor, be there first. Show ownership and accountability.

The learning and growth mindset, as opposed to ‘been there, done that’ will allow leaders to experiment, learn from mistakes and failures, and also inculcate the same ethos in their team members.

Inclusive leadership

With most teams working from home, and some in the field, leaders have to be the binding glue that brings people together towards a common purpose, vision, and goal. Everyone must feel valued and included, and managers need to consciously remember to not let the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ ways to take over.

While training budgets might be slashed and development journeys might be on hold, good leaders will continue to coach team members on the job. Trust them with new projects, new responsibilities, and guide them through it. Because, it is the people, who will stay with you and the organisation, during and after the pandemic.

Adversity does not build character, it reveals it. The year 2020 will surely make a chapter or more in the history books of the future, with stories of how humankind overcame this challenge. It’ll be interesting to know which leaders and organisations get mentioned.

(The writer is Founder, Managing Partner, Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm.)

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