The number of Americans telecommuting to work doubled in 2020. Businesses in every industry saw their plans disrupted, their workforces hard hit by COVID-19 and its fallout, and massive changes in their supply chains and demand for their products.
Faced with unprecedented challenges and an ever-changing economic landscape, C-level executives were forced to rethink their approaches, priorities, and organizations. Along the way, many gravitated toward the same key strategies for leading during COVID.
Here are some of the top leadership strategies for managing COVID-19 and how they can benefit you.
Strategy 1: Prioritize and Decentralize
As organizations expand, they can lose sight of their core values and mission. In fact, when asked, 60 percent of workers can't recall or repeat their companies' vision statements.
During normal times, momentum and habit compensate for this complacency. Employees continue doing business as usual, and the results are good enough to slide under the radar. But when a crisis hits, momentum screeches to a halt, and habits crumble.
People become confused, and their efforts become scattered and conflict with one another. Disillusionment and disconnection set in. Resources are misallocated, and opportunities are missed.
This is why one of the most powerful things an executive can do in times of crisis is to prioritize.
Specifically, they must:
- Get explicitly clear on the organization's core mission and vision
- Communicate those ideas unambiguously and often
- Reconnect workers with the purpose that drives them
- Leverage that focus and unity to identify and pursue the actions and opportunities that matter most
In many cases, this renewed focus creates fresh energy throughout the company. It builds camaraderie and big-picture thinking in high-impact ways. It provokes creative problem-solving and innovation that can drive the company forward, despite the challenging environment.
In order to take advantage of this potential, however, executives need to employ the second half of the strategy as well. They need to decentralize decision-making and implementation.
This means authorizing and empowering workers and local or team-level managers to make decisions and act quickly. This gives them room to think outside of the box and on their feet. This will enable them to react with agility when new challenges and opportunities arise.
It will also increase their faith in themselves, their teams, and their leadership in ways that fuel future growth.
Strategy 2: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication has always been chief among leadership skills. When it comes to leadership in the corporate world during COVID-19, however, its importance is impossible to overstate.
But standard communication isn't enough. With so many executives leading remotely during COVID and workers stressed and scattered, crisis communication needs to be:
- Crystal clear
- Honest and transparent
Navigating COVID and the wrenches it throws into standard lines of communication requires focus and intention.
During normal times, communication tends to follow the Rule of Seven or the idea that a person needs to hear something seven times in order for it to stick. When leading staff during COVID, executives must multiply this rule by at least two.
Stress, distraction, and rapid change make it harder than ever for employees to hear and absorb new information. Telecommuting and adapting to the new tools they need to do so can add extra layers of complexity. To get messages through, leaders need to repeat them far more clearly and more often than usual.
Finally, when leading during the COVID crisis, it is critical for executives to set the right tone. Leaders need to project calm, confidence, resiliency, and reasonable optimism at all times.
Strategy 3: Avoid False Dichotomies
Many “dos" and “don'ts" apply to how corporate leaders should act in a crisis. Perhaps none is more important than this: avoid false dichotomies.
Leadership during a crisis is fraught with tough decisions. When sales plummet, and new costs spike, and standard practices fly out the window, organizations can fall prey to fear and the impulse to do something now.
At first glance, many choices look like a decision between one of two opposite options—firing staff or holding on to them and bleeding money. Or perhaps shutting down operations or keeping the doors open for normal business.
Often, both options are equally bad. Leaders can feel trapped and pressured to take swift, decisive action anyway.
In reality, however, organizations almost never face situations in which they have only two (terrible) options. Other possibilities always exist. They just aren't necessarily visible at first glance.
Successfully leading change during COVID requires the strength and presence of mind to push back against these situations. To recognize that “urgent" is not the same as “important" and that better solutions to important questions exist. They just need to be found.
It is critical that executives give themselves the time and space to consider all their options and to take the path less traveled. This strategy is key to building an organization's future while in the heat of a crisis.
Strategy 4: Give Credit Where It's Due
Leading with emotional intelligence has never been more important than it is right now.
The workforce at large has endured massive changes. People have transitioned to working from home. Many are putting in long hours and extra shifts to keep things running or keep projects on target.
People's health and schedules, and the health and schedules of their families, are changing day to day and everyone continues to have to adapt on the fly. Just making it through a single day's work can feel like a herculean task.
What does this mean for leaders? It means that their people need to feel seen and heard. They need to know that their efforts are recognized and meaningful.
Leaders need to:
- Consistently look for things done well and effort expended, both large and small
- Acknowledge people's work and wins often and publicly
- Communicate that they recognize and empathize with workers' stress
Praise should be consistent and specific. Whenever possible, it should include names, dates, numbers, and other details to make it more “real" and enable other workers to connect to it.
Feeling seen, heard, and appreciated refuels stressed and burned-out employees. It creates the energy and the will to keep moving forward even when it's hard.
There is also a need, however, for executives to show empathy and compassion when goals are not met. When the challenges of real life cannot be overcome, and employees need extra time and grace to handle family challenges, health conditions, and other obstacles, for example.
Showing that empathy and grace now will pay dividends for years to come.
Strategy 5: Think Forward Instead of Pulling Back
It is a fundamental truth of every pandemic that the world never fully goes “back to normal" when the worst of the crisis passes. Key aspects of life and business are irrevocably changed.
Leaders who understand this know what others do not. They grasp that they cannot simply wait for the chaos to be over and then resume business as usual.
They must lean into the change. They must begin to create their organizations' futures while the crisis is still upon us. To wait would be to miss vital opportunities.
Successful leaders are:
- Looking for new markets for their products
- Creating new value or services for existing customers
- Reevaluating operations for new efficiencies or resiliencies
Leading During COVID: Level Up Your Leadership
Being a leader is always a high-demand job. Being a leader in the midst of a pandemic is simultaneously invigorating and draining.
Like everyone else, executives must adapt to changing dynamics at work and at home under intense pressure. But being present, making good decisions, and employing the strategies that lead to success requires:
Now more than ever, leaders need to master the art of balancing self-care with giving their best at work. They need:
- Safe spaces to work through ideas and priorities
- Help elevating their perspective to focus on what's truly important
- Guidance in taking their leadership skills to the next level
Executive coaching provides all of those things. In fact, there is no better time to invest in executive coaching services than right now.
At this moment in time, the needs of your organization are changing. Your entire industry is likely changing. As the saying goes, “what got you where you are won't get you where you want to go next."
Just as your organization is investing in retooling for the future, now is the time to retool yourself for the demands to come. A coach can assist you in becoming more resilient, more thoughtful, and more prepared to show up every day as the leader you are meant to be.
Find a Coach
If you are leading during COVID and ready to level up your skills, don't wait. Our user-friendly system makes it easy to find a coach who focuses on precisely what you need and who is ready to start helping you reach your goals right away.
So take the first step toward your best future and find a coach today.