What is an RC Factor? It’s a resistance to change. COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the world but also changed the DNA of our workplace ecosystem in many ways.
Our leaders must change as well to lead effectively in this new era. If this pandemic experience has taught us anything, it’s that leadership matters. For many organizations facing decidedly uncertain futures, it may matter now more than ever as the country tries to emerge from forced hibernation and rebuild a broken economy.
Throughout this pandemic (and continuing now with recent events in Minneapolis), we’ve witnessed certain leadership traits and approaches that are questionable, with many having made the difference between life and death. Organizations will require leaders with higher levels of Character & Behavior traits if order is to be restored and a stressed and struggling workforce is to be revived. So, what kind of traits should we be looking for?
- In my view, the first is Candor. You don’t hear this term very often in discussions of leadership, but I feel it’s a critical component. Candor means honesty and truthfulness without ambiguity. While honesty has always been an important leadership trait, another level of truthfulness is required, which is tell it like it is. I’ve found that one of the best antidotes for a workplace climate of anxiety and cynicism is candor. People respond so much better to the known rather than the unknown, even if the news isn’t great. For my part, I’m so disappointed with leaders (especially in the political sector) that can’t open their mouths without misleading half-truths or irresponsible optimism, which only creates more stress and anxiety. The next day they’re back in the spotlight rationalizing or denying what they said the day before, consistently blaming anything else that will shift the focus from their dysfunctional leadership.
- Consistent fact-based, reliable communication. During this pandemic, there hasn’t been much that we could count on consistently for several weeks, really from anyone. In fact, the data and the information changes daily, again only creating more stress and anxiety.
- Empathy. Leaders often wear many hats and certainly as workers return to the workplace, leaders will become counselor in chief in many ways. This pandemic has touched so many in such profound ways that many workers will be essentially working while grieving. Leaders at all levels must have a natural sense about when a particular team member may need to be referred for counseling, take a break from a meeting, or just need some heartfelt words of encouragement. Leaders will need to tap into a keen level of awareness and sensitivity as they consider changes to long standing policies and procedures (especially in HR) to better fit their organization’s new normal. Tone deaf, insensitive responses or decisions can have tragic consequences with an organization’s understandably fragile psyche during this time.
- Adaptability. Weeks before the country began to shut down, most leaders couldn’t have imagined such a drastic widespread action. Faced with unprecedented uncertainty, leaders will need to avoid the temptation to stick with a decision. In an attempt to appear decisive, they must instead be willing to regularly review new data, information and feedback and change course if necessary. While businesses may resume operations based on a logical, clearly thought through plan, they’ll need to be mentally poised to pivot in real time irrespective of a formal policy or pre-COVID procedure. Any delay in the need to change course can have significant consequences for the viability of the business and the health of the workforce.
- Humility. Leaders are often expected to know it all and make perfect decisions, and the obvious truth is that they’re just as human and fallible as anyone else. In these uncharted waters, one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is pretending they know more than they do, or making decisions relying only upon their instinct or previous experience. Whatever knowledge is required, leaders will need to be willing to rely on the expertise of others to make the best decisions for the broader organization. As a result, humility will be a huge asset. It takes a strong leader to respond to a difficult question with I don’t know, but I’ll find out, or step aside from the podium and allow an expert to field most of the questions.
Truth be told, as the pandemic continues to unfold, all of the above will be just what’s required in huge doses.