Grow as a Leader During COVID

Sep 30 2020

We were wrong. COVID isn’t a temporary roadblock for 2020. Weathering the storm has been a journey of discomfort and self-reflection as we figure out how to handle our businesses and support our teams. As leaders, we’ve gained strength and clarity around what matters most and how to move forward. We’ve partnered with long-time client, Chris Haley, CEO of Legacy Shield, to bring you 4 critical things we’ve learned about leading a team through COVID-19:

1. Understanding where your business falls in the “stages of loss” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, finding meaning) is a critical part of moving forward successfully.
First, we were in denial over Covid and felt things were over-hyped. We saw companies be reluctant to adapt quickly and instead preferred to keep doing business as normal. When the financial impact started to show and people faced layoffs, cutbacks, isolation, and problems with childcare—we saw business leaders get angry over what was being asked of them (both by employees demanding increased privileges, and by new governmental rules making it harder for companies to function under their usual parameters). Then bargaining started as business owners and employees began to compromise to keep the business running while allowing employees increased flexibility. Then sales started to take a hit again and PPP loan money began to run out. We noticed more talk from business owners who felt defeated again, and we heard stories of mental health struggles as people started to realize the longevity of the situation and the need to cope with harsh realities.

Then something amazing happened. Businesses started showing signs of acceptance and innovation as they realized they could continue to operate as well (or even better) in this new normal. We saw a renewed excitement for doing great work and an open mind to change. Finally, we realized that there was meaning in the chaos that we’d observed. With meaning comes opportunity. Many companies (including ours) realized we’ve come through this stronger and better poised to serve our clients in more effective ways. This has opened up new business opportunities that we might not have discovered.

2. Your people matter more than anything else. Be good to them.
If you hire great people and you do the right thing for them, an experience like COVID-19 can strengthen your team and relationships. Your people must remain mentally and physically strong so you can continue to deliver products and services to clients. Great leaders are using this time to connect more with their teams—through personal phone calls, video updates, Zoom-based team building activities, and more.

Having empathy for your people is critical and you can’t make good decisions and communicate effectively without it. You really can’t check in with people too much these days. Check in with your team when you don’t need something (and when you don’t have a problem that you need their help with). Encourage your managers to do this too.

Be prepared to manage something you weren’t expecting—overworking. Since many people are new to working from home and there aren’t many places to go, we’ve noticed people having a tendency to work during times they normally wouldn’t (like evenings and weekends).

Legacy Shield occasionally allows their team shut down their laptops early on a Friday and take a mental health afternoon. Burnout can be avoided, but you have to make a conscious effort and pay attention to signals from people. Ultimately, if you’ve hired good people don’t worry about them slacking off at home—the exact opposite is probably true.

3. Mental Health is an ongoing problem. Be aware and take action.
It’s easy for people to wrap their heads around anything temporary, but once we start to realize that there is not a clear end to this in sight, we struggle to cope. Be willing to admit when things are hard, bring up mental health often, and encourage people to talk to each other more often. Remind your team that we are dealing with a marathon, not a sprint.

Figure out what your team enjoys most and try to build on that. Legacy Shield held virtual happy hours during the most restrictive part of the quarantine. More recently, they have started weekly activities like online games and trivia competitions led by third party hosts to make things even more fun. This has all been well received by their team. They’ve also started holding a regular Monday morning virtual staff meeting to kick off the week after learning that one of the hardest things for people was the transition from Sunday to Monday. This has been harder in quarantine since there aren’t as many distinguishing factors to separate the weekend from a weekday. This is also something we’ve been doing at Peoplr with our team for several years and we’ve found that it really helps everyone to have to “show up” for work at a specific time and re-engage with their work and one another.

4. Leverage your resources.
Learn from other companies and adopt best practices when you notice them. Many of the things we’ve learned and recommend in this blog have stemmed from personal experience and years of managing HR for businesses of all sizes. But we’ve also taken note of great ideas that we’ve seen from other businesses and leaders that we admire.

Look at companies and people who inspire you, both personally and professionally. Take note of how they are handing Covid-19 and how they are leading their teams during this difficult time. Read, watch, and listen to what people are saying and doing, remaining open to criticism, new ideas, and change. You can’t do this by yourself and now is the worst time to be an island.

Ask us your Human Resources and talent management questions via the online chat tool in the lower left corner of your screen. We love helping companies align their people with their business needs, and we love to share what we know.


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