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Leadership in the Time of Covid-19: 7 Ways to Lead Through a Pandemic

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COVID-19; a word that is now embedded in our vernacular, and one that's churned up the world of work.

If it wasn’t enough that leaders had to change to become more relevant to the workforce of the 21st century, now they’re needing to re-adjust their style for leading amid a pandemic. If you are a leader, manager or supervisor, you will need to navigate the lines between commercial awareness, emotional intelligence and adaptive thinking.

One thing is certain; employees look to their leaders to provide direction and confidence that there is a path forward that they can contribute to.

As we move through an unprecedented work environment, we ask a leadership coach and a workplace mental health specialist what leaders should focus on in the mire of coronavirus.


Executive Coach, Suzzanne Laidlaw says, “Being agile is a big one. Some Managers are so rigid with their plans and sticking to the path that they’re on, that they have remained parked. Whereas leaders now have to be super agile, have blue-sky thinking, and adjust quickly as the goal posts move.”

And, those posts keep shifting.

Laidlaw explains that progressive leaders are evaluating their whole -of-business framework, and determining how the changes in their market could potentially affect business, production or service to customers, and respond to the sudden disruption in order to survive.

Business leaders and owners have to get more creative as to how they deliver their service. We have seen restaurants, cafes and even the local pub pivot (yet another word entrenched in our every day) into takeaway and home delivery. From never providing the service, within weeks, they've adjusted their model, updated their online channels and communicated to their customers. Some are even thriving through the upheaval.


As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

According to Dr Natalie Flatt, psychologist and founder of Connect Psych Services, as a leader, if you are burnt-out, then you're useless to the team. "It's important for managers at this time to recognise their limits and levels of self-compassion, and make their health, both physical and mental, a priority."

"They're not robots,” she adds. “They're allowed to be anxious and worried about this world of uncertainty. Managers need to take a pragmatic and rational approach to their own self-care because if they can get a grip on that, then it will flow onto their teams."


Clear communication from a leader is always important, but in this environment, it's vital.

Laidlaw explains, "We are going through unprecedented times, everything is uncertain. If a leader can communicate honestly, openly and often, so that the team feel supported, it can connect with the heart. This creates strong bonds because you have gone through this crisis together."

Since transitioning his team to working at home, Anthony Blair, who heads up Titan's Engineering and Resources division has implemented several measures to keep the team united.

“Every morning, we have a half-hour catch-up using Microsoft Teams,” says Blair. “The team meeting is kicked off with a physical activity that individuals take in turns to drive. Not only is it an active start but also adds a bit of humour.”

The meeting continues with a daily update, review of the previous day’s tasks and achievements, and what the focus is for that day.

“We also discuss any issues the team may be experiencing and check in on how everyone is feeling with things,” said Blair.


“Accountability is a huge part of what motivates us in our role,” says Laidlaw. “Pandemic aside, Managers should be holding people accountable for what they are employed to do.”

"Giving your team clarity and accountability doesn't cost anything, but what it does do is give people an understanding of what is expected," she explains. "Having more communication around accountability gives employees a sense of achievement by being part of a team that is contributing to the company's success through a challenging time."


While connectivity is essential for mobilising the team, it also serves as a platform to assess how employees are coping.

“You would want to stay connected with the team every day even if it isn’t project or task specific,” said Dr Flatt. “It’s a good habit to check in with your people to see how they’re feeling, and a video call is a good way to do this because you can get visual cues on their cognitive, emotional and physical state.”

Dr Flatt continues, “Look for signals where someone is easily flustered or agitated, or their motivation has slipped, or their grooming has started to decline – and no, it’s not okay to be in your pyjamas all day. If these signs are persistent day in, day out, then that could be a raise for concern and a good idea to have a one-on-one with the individual, letting them know help is available.”


Both Laidlaw and Dr Flatt agree that recognising effort is consequential to building resilience within teams, and now is not the time to rest on past laurels.

“There’s an opportunity to recognise your people, those silent achievers doing amazing things behind the scenes to keep the organisation and team together,” says Laidlaw.

Laidlaw continues, “You can reward and recognise an individual with their peers, in articles, with clients, or information posted on the company's social networks. It’s a perfect opportunity to say: ‘Mary has been amazing. She’s moved her whole office to her home, and home-schooling three kids while mentoring someone who’s doing our data entry. How agile is she.’”

Recognition is also a way of valuing the team effort. Dr Flatt said, “Some companies are getting lunch delivered to the individuals’ home for a weekly virtual group lunch. While it gets the team together, it’s a great token for saying we know how hard you’re working right now, and let’s celebrate this week together.”


While being agile and adapting to the current environment is essential, Laidlaw says planning for the future must continue.

"The best leaders are those who are adjusting as the environment changes, but they are also planning long-term, and looking at the crisis as an opportunity," she said. "They're asking themselves how much can I grow through this and be stronger, and what are the possibilities."

“It’s these types of leaders that are behind companies that come through downturns stronger because they’ve been working on a better model of themselves ready for the other side,” says Laidlaw.

Whether it be evaluating systems and processes, redefining organisational roles and identifying skills gaps or adopting new technology, we all have something to learn from this once-in-a-generation experience. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

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