Personal development, Management & leadership, Project management

Leadership during the pandemic: managing with care

Chrissie Wright, Associate Trainer at DSC gives tips on managing during a pandemic with some wise words from Debra Allcock Tyler.

‘You might say that anyone can lead when times aren’t hard but being positive when hurtling towards a cliff is a very different matter.’

Chrissie spoke to Debra Allcock Tyler, DSC CEO. Here is what she had to say about what she has learned over the last nine months:

‘The first is that anyone can exhibit great leadership when times aren’t hard.  It’s when things are tough that your leadership is really tested. Can you still remain positive when it feels like you’re hurtling towards a cliff?  Can you still inspire hope when people are tired and frightened and so are you?  Are you able to dig deep into those things that motivated you about your charity and use them to propel you forward when you feel stuck?  If you can do those things, if you can reach into those parts of you that give you courage and strength, then you know that you will be able to survive the toughest of times.

It’s also that this is basically what we’re paid for as leaders:  to step up when things are really challenging.  There is time enough for us to rest when the battle is over – but for now our job is to make sure our teams are rested and cared for.  If you’re thinking about yourself, if you’re feeling resentful that no-one is worrying about you, then you’re in the wrong job.  Our job as leaders is to serve others. And I’m not encouraging stupid burnout – but I am encouraging perspective. A bad day is just that sometimes.  You shrug it off and get on with it.

You know when your mental health is seriously under threat and when you’re just feeling a bit down and overwhelmed.  If it’s the former get out of the way and let others take over otherwise you’ll end up damaging your charity.  And if it’s the latter (which it often just is) then put it where it belongs.  Go for a walk, have a cuppa and get back on with it.’

Leading with empathy and compassion

So what does it mean for leaders to adapt to the demands of current times:  a style of leadership that requires you to manage the short term whilst thinking equally about the long term.  The emphasis has got to be on a more values and behaviour led approach where you are able to show empathy and compassion whilst at the same time giving clear messages about what is happening. Everyone is worried and feeling stressed when there is a perceived threat or danger where we cannot predict an outcome or see a way forward.

Learn to trust others

Building relationships on trust and adapting to new working styles and patterns has been forced upon us but the positive result is that managers have realised that they can rely on their people to work remotely in a way that was never imagined before. So new bonds of trust have been built and more equality of relationships established but also with the risk of less support.

Communication is key

So as ever for leaders, good communication is vital but now in a whole new paradigm of the digital leader as an excellent communicator.

Clear and empathetic messages are essential in times of uncertainty when people may feel cut off and disassociated from colleagues.  So working hard at communication is essential.  All the former good practices of one-to-one meetings, team meetings and briefings still need to happen with the same discipline.  Positive and ‘warm’ communication will help to build trust and relationships. Daily updates which communicate the right things simply and effectively are helpful.

Catching ‘people doing things right’ and acknowledging work done well is even more important in a ‘remote context’.  According to a survey of 16,000 workers, Hays recruitment found 43% of workers said their leaders needed to improve their communication.  Employees need to be heard in these disruptive times and effective listening and meaningful conversations are ever more important.

Enforce informal and enjoyable routines

Simple drills like checking in times for the team at the beginning and/or end of the day seem to work well and the importance of colleagues getting together on-line in an informal way with on-virtual coffee chats, games and quizzes are good ways of bringing people together socially.

Finally, looking after yourself as well as your team

In survival mode, people look for security rather than uncertainty.  When we are knocked out of balance, we all need time for listening and compassion – and to make well-being a focus for ourselves and our teams.

And finally, in the words of Debra: “remember, our job as leaders is to be purveyors of hope – if you can’t find the hope, move over for someone who can.”

Join the conversation by taking part in our Positive Remote Working conference on Thursday 1 July. For more information and to sign up, click here.