Leadership Lessons from Our COVID Year

Because of the challenges of the pandemic, employees have become partners in the future of your business. They need to be treated like it.

Business leaders have been forced to make difficult decisions in the past year, resulting in clarity around leadership: Let’s call this COVID Clarity – key realizations borne out of the pandemic. One of the key takeaways in clarity is that your people are your most important asset, especially in challenging times.

More than ever, it’s clear that employees are more than a box on an organizational chart. Because of the challenges of the pandemic, they’ve become partners in the future of your business.

Michael, a business owner, told me, “People, People, People — I learned the importance of having the right team of capable and adaptable employees and salespeople.” In Michael’s business, which provides home access for individuals with limited mobility, it’s been his biggest lesson learned, during the COVID crisis. With his example in mind, let’s take a look at three COVID Clarity questions to consider.

Am I spending the right quality time with my people?

Since the pandemic began, you’ve been in consistent contact with your employees, which is important. Understandably, most of your interactions may have focused on core sales tasks and solving problems. Yet, most business owners and sales leaders have gotten away from the informal interactions and personal discussions that connect you to your people and build trust and belief in your leadership. Now, it’s time to “plan” for “unplanned conversations.”

Map out time with your team to discuss how the past year has affected each person. Then ask: How can I help you? From these talks, you’ll better understand the emotional tenor of your people. Consider meeting in person. Your people are a wealth of information about what’s happening in the company, with customers and in the market. Asking their opinion and their input will help them know that they’re part of the solution, and that is motivating.

Are my employees sure of their roles?

Many of your employees have found themselves in unfamiliar functions and often working remotely — even as sales professionals. Employees need to be clear on the what, why and how to get their work done. With so many people working remotely, the opportunity is ripe for assumptions. Many employees wake up each day unclear of their focus and core responsibilities because of changes during the past months. Clarify and provide the reason for their new or adjusted role.

Is our senior management team fully aligned?

Management team alignment has risen to the top of the list of challenges. Lack of coordination leads to frustration and unclear direction for employees. Recently the CEO of a company voiced her disappointment that two managers were working against each other and causing delays. In another example, the issue led to unclear brand messaging to their customer base. One business owner told me they lost a talented employee due to a lack of management alignment.

The best way to restore alignment is to set common goals for your management team that they can communicate to their direct reports. The coordinated planning and implementation to achieve these common goals serve to align team collaboration and functioning.

Recently, a construction company CFO confided that since last spring, every interaction with her financial manager was job related. They neither met in person nor talked on the phone about how the manager was doing. The CFO felt she wasn’t connecting with her colleague — and maybe even losing the thread that previously united them. She decided to schedule time in person to sit and just talk — like they did naturally in
the office almost each day prior to the pandemic. In just one interaction, the CFO learned a few things that would have gone undiscovered had she relied only on email and video communications. That sort of connected leadership contributes to employee retention and continued engagement.

As you carve a path forward, reflect on what you have learned through a period of great uncertainty and apply these lessons in making change. Trust your leadership skills and your people to transform challenge into opportunity.

Author

  • Larry Prince is CEO of PrinceLeadership, a New Jersey-based business consultancy that works with small and middle market companies to create growth and sustainability. Contact him via email at larry@princeleadership.com.

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