Leadership In 2021

By Julie Cass

Leading a team can be a challenge under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic, well that’s completely uncharted territory. Many leaders are grasping at straws for ideas on maintaining loyalty, calming nerves, reducing fears, and still being productive. They’re being asked to flex muscles they did not even know they had.

But Like Any difficult situation, a strong leader will look at the unique opportunities this time provides and choose to build a stronger and more united team. Yes, it is possible and here are some tips on how you can do just this.

Servant leadership

Never has there been a time to make your people a priority. Servant leadership refers to a concept where leaders put their team’s needs first. They strive for a workplace where the leaders serve the employees and not the other way round. Sharing power allows everyone to thrive and grow. Tap into what your people need, tap into their feelings and emotions; be flexible with schedules, so that those trying to work fulltime while also home-schooling children can have the support they need.

One workplace study found that employees are 18% more likely to be engaged and productive when provided with a flexible schedule. Understand that your team is the heart and soul of your organization so they will ultimately succeed when they are satisfied both personally and professionally. As a servant leader, you must encourage your team to communicate and regularly collaborate with you and take a holistic approach to support them.

Humility and the ability to be humble in the face of uncertainty are essential to servant leadership. A leader who can admit when they are not sure, yet willing to find the answer or ask for the team’s opinions, will gain the most trust and respect from their team. Use this as an opportunity and follow through on what you say you will do to make your employees’ matter, get them involved with creating solutions because this is new territory for everyone. This, in turn, will empower them and make them feel valued and lets them know that their opinions and contributions are important to you and the organization.

Communication

When people are fearful, the absolute worst thing you can do is add to this fear by not communicating and regularly updating your team on important information. Allowing employees to assume or be left entirely in the dark, creates a hostile work environment under normal circumstances. But especially now, in 2021, when the ground is unsteady and so much is unknown, ensuring your team has all the information they need to perform their duties effectively is key to success. When people act from a place of fear, mistakes happen, productivity falls, and trust disappears.

Fear stops people from taking risks and being creative. It can keep an organization from growing and adapting when it needs to. In his book “The Fear-free Organization: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform Your Business Culture” Professor Paul Brown explains, “Fear is never healthy in an organization. It doesn’t encourage positive action; instead, it destroys motivation and productivity, and undermines your confidence and morale.” People need to feel valued and trusted, and they get this through effective communication. Communication ONLY works when it’s a two-way street. Allowing everyone to share their ideas and opinions creates an inclusive environment where communications and ideas flow both ways.

Luckily, due to the benefit of technology, we have an easy opportunity to keep employee engagement going even if we’re physically apart. For example, when conducting a Zoom meeting, make sure everyone’s cameras are on so people can see each other and feel part of the team. And don’t forget to always set and share the meeting agenda at least 24 hours before so everyone knows what to expect, and they can prepare what they need.

One on one pow wows are a great way to check-in with everyone regularly. Set aside some time each week to video call each team member if you can and give them the space to bring up any feedback or concerns they may have. You can then address everyone’s needs individually while building a foundation for a trusted and respectful relationship.

Another simple strategy is to incorporate employee surveys to give opportunities for regular feedback. It’s a good idea to give everyone the option to submit their survey or feedback anonymously at first. This may allow some people to feel they can be honest safely, without the fear of repercussions.

Lastly, one of the most important basic human need we have is the feeling of belonging. Successful companies have a strong sense of community in their organization. In many ways this becomes a huge sense of stability for employees. With the changing times the simple bonding moments such as a conversation by the water cooler, or a walk to grab a coffee, or eating together in the lunchroom have all been eliminated. Therefore, as a leader you need to increase communication more then before to allow for the feeling of community and belonging to still be at the heart of the organization.

Invest in wellbeing

Wellbeing has been thrown into the spotlight this past year, and while it was always necessary in the workplace, it is now essential. Advocating for wellbeing may seem daunting, but it will provide an excellent opportunity for you to strengthen the relationship with your team and encourage a sense of community. A study by the Health Enhancement Research Organization found that a healthy employee is 25% more likely to have higher job performance. Someone who looks after themselves will also take less sick days and contribute to the positive team environment. Positivity breeds positivity, so the greater the number of happier employees you have, the more everyone will enjoy their job and look forward to coming to work.

If this is entirely new to you, then start small and build it into your workplace culture. Something as easy as a whole office doing a water intake challenge can be a fun and simple place to start. You can do a virtual couch to 5K challenge to get everyone moving their bodies. Hire a workplace wellness coach to customize a wellness plan and teach employees how to manage mental and physical health.

It’s also imperative that you lead by example and practice what you preach. Join in on the challenges, talk with your team and share ideas on how the organization can support employees mental and physical health. One of the best things you can do for your team is motivate, teach and inspire them to make selfcare a priority. Healthy teams make for a happy organization and healthy profits.

Fun opportunities

When we laugh, play and have fun, it reduces stress and anxiety, and it can create shared experiences between people and strengthen relationships. If you think fun doesn’t belong in the workplace then think again. Fun is something we need more of, and it’s easier to encourage than you think. Schedule a daily online quiz or joke, start a book or movie club, set a group challenge. Find out what people are interested in and get some ideas. It doesn’t need to be time consuming or complicated, but it does need to be a priority. The key is to keep it light and simple.

Vision & goals

A simple way to bring people together is to share the organization’s vision and goals. This is an excellent opportunity, for you as a leader and as an organization, to create shared meaning for your employees. When you add context and understanding to people’s roles, they can feel valued and appreciated.

The other side of this is to allow your employees to share their own vision. Create a space for them to really get in touch with what they want and how they want to grow. A fantastic team-building exercise is to run a vision or goal-setting session. Allow your team to have their say as a group and create team goals that they all believe in and work towards together.

And don’t forget to focus on multiple aspects of an employee’s life. As humans, many facets make up our lives, so remember to take a holistic approach. A complete vision includes health, wealth, relationships, inner peace AND career. A person’s job is only one piece of the human experience. Try getting everyone to complete a happiness chart. This exercise gives an employee the chance to analyze key aspects of their life such as finances, health, family, friends etc. and allow them to rank each section in terms of importance as well as calculate how much time they currently spend vs how much time they want to spend on each. They can then create goals around these aspects to support their vision.

Leadership leap

The pandemic has brought an opportunity to increase the human aspect into the workplace. One with compassion, care and a chance to create a safe place to feel heard, valued and understood. Now is the perfect time to seriously look at the essential things, such as our basic human needs and what you are willing to invest in them. Any employee who can have a safe place to express themselves is going to flourish in that environment. Expression is a deep human desire, but people become more robotic to get the job done when companies are busy with the day to day under normal circumstances.

If you want to stand out as a leader, and organization, then it is time to innovate and adapt. When everyone is scared, you can be the calming leader they can trust. You can provide the anchor that so many people need right now. Ultimately, this gives you a chance to be ahead of the curve and create an innovative company with humanity at its heart.

Don’t ignore a beautiful blessing that can evolve out of this chaos.

Julie Cass is the CEO of the Positive Change Group.

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