Workers wearing coronavirus masks sitting on wifi symbols

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The sudden shift in how we live has left business leaders under more pressure than ever to provide effective guidance and support 

Since the arrival of coronavirus, everyday life has undergone rapid and unprecedented change.  The meaning of "the new normal" has to be figured out soon.

The precautions that are being taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have affected the way people behave personally, as well as professionally. 

Many people have shifted to remote working – and some are struggling to focus while sharing their new workspaces with children, partners and pets.  

Business leaders need to be mindful of how they interact with their employees during this turbulent period, particularly when they are unable to meet in person. 

However, there are ways leaders can respond to the crisis which could help to efficiently increase company productivity and boost team morale. 

1. Lead proactively 

Crisis leaders need to be proactive in planning and organising resources, including consideration for how work may have to evolve and change during this uncertain period. 

This means proactively creating new routines both for work and home. The sooner this happens, the sooner teams will adapt and be effective. 

During these times, resilience and patience are the key ingredients in understanding. Leaders need to celebrate short-term wins and spreading positivity is key. When leaders cannot satisfy the needs of their team members, they need to explain why this is the case. 

2. Stay calm 

Everyone is understandably nervous and anxious, and they are looking to their leaders for the answers.

This won’t always be possible – but leaders do need to stay calm and show confidence, which will, in turn, influence the moods of their team members.

Emotions have a spillover effect, and this represents an opportune time to be an example to your employees. New work-life structures will also make leaders feel calmer and ready for the challenges ahead.  

3. Be specific  

During uncertain times, workers look to leaders and managers more than ever for communication – and the messaging should not be vague or generic. 

All messages – particularly negative ones – need to be simple and specific. Negative messages have to be direct and not delivered using a traditional sandwich approach wherein messages are framed as ‘positive-negative-positive’. Otherwise employees could start rumours which are bad for morale, as well as productivity, and can have a long-term impact.

4. Stay connected

Being a leader is a challenge and a responsibility. During turbulent times, leaders need to be even more connected to their teams.  While social distancing (along with washing hands!) is extremely important, you can still stay connected with your team and be social.

It’s high time to practice virtual empathy with your team members. Everyone achieves more together and it’s more important than ever to feel that sense of togetherness – even virtually. Business leaders need this as much as their workers – they need to be able to rely on others and believe they are not alone in this.

5. Remember active listening 

Some individuals and companies are more used to remote working than others. For business leaders who are used to working in an office, the current situation is more complex and there will be socio-psychological challenges. 

Staying at home and trying to get work done with children in the house is new territory for some working parents and will require more active listening and patience. 

Communications research has shown us that pausing for 10 seconds can avoid up to 80 per cent of communication breakdowns. 
    
Remember, your leadership style will be tested rigorously during these times but it will be a learning experience. As we know, change is a constant and the sooner we adapt, the sooner we will recover ourselves and be able to move forward. We are all in this together.

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Sankalp Chaturvedi

About Sankalp Chaturvedi

Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership
Sankalp Chaturvedi is an Associate Professor (Organisational Behavior & Leadership) at Imperial College Business School. Currently, Sankalp is also leading the Gandhi Centre within the School. He holds a PhD from the NUS Business School, National University of Singapore. Prior to his PhD, he completed a Masters in Human Resource Development and Management from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (India) and a Bachelors in Engineering from RAU, Udaipur (India).

The central focus of Sankalp’s research is in the areas of leadership, mindfulness, interpersonal trust and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). Broadly, he is interested in the role of both psychological factors (motivational orientations ) and situational factors (e.g., leadership, trust). His articles have been published in many journals, including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, Strategic Management Journal, Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Management, Journal of Vocational Behavior and Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice.