Now as we start emerging from COVID-19, we need to be thinking about how we can change, restart, reinvigorate and reinvent our businesses.
I have really enjoyed presenting webinars about ‘How to Lead Your Business Out of COVID-19 with Strength and Agility’ to members at the CEO Institute and Leaders in the Freight Trade Alliance in the last week. We started by discussing the need for Leaders to be better than ever. That to serve their businesses best they could no longer have a bias towards having authority or showing empathy, they now need both in equal measure.
They need the decisiveness, overt confidence and genuine (not fake!) positivity for their staff and clients to feel some level of comfort that their work is going to be okay. They need to show empathy like never before as so many of their staff continue to be impacted by COVID-19.
While they may be very grateful that their job is reasonably secure, they may have a partner who is out of work, a mortgage they are struggling to pay, elderly parents whose health and care they are concerned about. And of course, these concerns will not quickly disappear. Hence, the level of care and understanding, while still enabling people to be productive, is a skill and quality that is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for stand-out leaders, it is now an essential skill for leaders.
These two qualities then need to be overarching as you take the three steps to lead your business out of COVID-19 in this next stage. As leaders, you now need to switch gears from ‘survival mode’ to ‘recovery mode’.
- In survival mode, you needed to be decisive, to create certainty for your staff, to communicate clearly and frequently.
- Now in recovery mode, it is time to rethink, restart, reinvent. It is time to move up, not merely move on (and yes, the words you choose make a huge difference to people’s thinking and therefore behaviours).
In recovery mode, there are three critical steps for Leaders to take.
Step 1: Ask the Right Questions
We are not going back. The notion of ‘returning to normal’ or to ‘business as usual’ is unrealistic.
We can perhaps ‘hobble’ along for a time, returning to some of our old processes and working conditions. However, this is certainly not conducive to restart or reinvent or thrive.
To move up rather than simply survive, you need to ask specific questions of your team. You need to be very adept at asking the right questions for this time. And they are difficult questions to answer, so you must create the opportunity for them to think and to collaborate on the answers.
The key questions are:
- ‘How can we?’ not ‘Can we?’
- ‘What if?’ not ‘Do you think it will be possible?’, and
- ‘How will we?’ not ‘How did we?’
Step 2: Start with the Future
We say ‘begin with the end in mind’, but then we always begin with ‘where are we now’.
For your business to come out of the blocks ahead of competitors, you need to do what you say. Begin with the end in mind. Start with the future. You need to put your blinkers back and encourage your team to do the same by asking ‘How would we like our business to look?’ ‘What if …..?’ This future is inspiring and challenging and gets people looking up and outwards rather than behind and inwards.
The ‘now’ is useful as the second step. It enables you to plan how you will achieve this new future, in the classic mapping of the route from A to B. Because B is a big prize, it is likely the route will challenge you to design a step-change.
The step-change may well require a significant change for some of your people too. Do they have the necessary skills? Are they engaged, motivated and prepared to go the extra mile to help create this new future?
Step 3: Show Empathy through Acknowledgement
The impact of COVID is different for everyone, and their personality traits will also contribute to the way they are feeling and coping.
As a leader, you need to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. You don’t need to agree, but you do need to acknowledge them because this acknowledgement is what enables the person to feel understood. People must feel understood before they have the capacity to take on board your suggestions. One of two phrases, said sincerely, is all that is required. These phrases are ‘That sounds really difficult/frustrating.’ or ‘I can see/hear this has been tough.’
The challenge is to implement these three steps well. Rate yourself in terms of your authority and empathy, so that you’re confident in your ability to lead in these unprecedented times that require us all to step up and lead your business out of COVID-19 successfully.