“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” -C. S. Lewis
How do you continue to lead employees effectively in an upside-down world? How do you coach and encourage others to reach for an extraordinary destiny when our ordinary world is suffering from extreme hardships?
Remember 2019? Our world was humming along with its everyday challenges. Sure, it grappled with economic unrest, climate change, governments, and general turbulence. But these were common, ordinary problems that everyone had managed before. Then in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the world turned upside down. Everywhere, organizations and leadership teams were suddenly faced with enormous challenges on how to respond to an unprecedented and uncertain situation that affected not just the U.S., but the entire world.
Nothing has felt ordinary in 2020. Like a toddler wandering around in a lone wilderness, humanity has had to take a critical look at themselves. With this, leaders in all walks of life and especially businesses and organizations, have had to stop and say, “What now?” After all, with so much chaos, economic hardships, virus-related illnesses, and civil unrest, how in the world could you, as a leader, stay healthy, positive and focused on the task at hand and at the same time, nurture and help your organization and people achieve their best? How do you do it? Is there an answer?
We’re almost at the end of 2020, but extreme hardships in business and personal lives will likely prevail in 2021 from Covid-19’s effects, along with the civil unrest and a rocky economic forecast. But as we move forward, there are lessons from the pandemic that we can use to guide our responses to future crises when we’re leading our organizations and teams. Together, we can still overcome adversity and uncertainty and perform at a high level. We can still work towards achieving an extraordinary destiny no matter what’s happening now or in the future. Remember, as a leader, you cannot control everything that happens to you and this remains true for tomorrow, as well. But all of us can control how we show up and respond.
Leaders set the tone. It’s imperative to keep your perspective and stay positive when everything around you seems to be falling apart. Remind yourself that “this, too, shall pass.” Focus on where you’re going and what’s possible. Ignore the outside noise that can confuse you, depress you, and make you believe the world will remain upside-down forever. Look to the future. Dream the dream.
Organizations that have been able to thrive in these challenging times are those that not only adapt to the rapidly changing times but come out of the crisis stronger than before. They never let go of their vision and the deep belief that the future will be bigger than the past.
Finding Your North Star; Being Purpose Driven
Being purpose driven is much deeper than reciting the company’s mission statement or briefly talking about it in meetings. As a leader, especially in the middle of a crisis, one of the most powerful things that you can do is unite the organization behind a common purpose. I have seen magical things happen when an organization has discovered its North Star. What does your company stand for? What do you want to be known for ten years from now? Remind your teams of these every day, at every meeting.
Provide clear cut examples of the personal and professional benefits of achieving the company’s purpose, and reward team members who exemplify excellence and embody the core purpose of the organization. I have seen incredible breakthroughs take place over the past couple months when leaders focus on being purpose driven instead of just going through the motions to hit numbers.
Vulnerability Equals Strength and Powerful Organizational Shifts
People will relate to you if you share your own vulnerability. A lot of leaders believe they have to have it all figured out and act strong in the face of adversity, without even realizing that this approach does more harm than good. No leader, regardless of experience or how successful they have been in the past, has faced challenges of this magnitude. No one expects you to know everything and not feel the impact of the crisis. Let your teams know that you understand what they are going through.
A few weeks ago, I witnessed a powerful moment in an organization when the leader of the company was vulnerable with his people and shared some personal hardships during the past few months. He shared with employees that he didn’t have all the answers on when they can expect some normalcy and fully return to the office. He further expressed his own difficulty of helping his children through the crisis while devoting everything he had to the job.
He humanized himself as the leader, and this created a massive shift in trust and enthusiasm to get through the challenges ahead together as a team. Don’t be afraid to let your people know that you are still trying to figure everything out. Open up about a personal experience that is relevant to the team and the message that you hope to get across to them. Vulnerability is strength, not weakness, and can contribute to an organizational shift in mindset and tone.
Overdeliver on Employee Care
Always give more than expected. Surpass all expectations and overdeliver when it comes to employee care. Organizations that deeply care about the personal and professional wellbeing of their employees in the middle of a crisis rise to the top. The companies that “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk” shift gears in an instant when unprecedented challenges arise. They cut back on a lot of the initiatives that took place before the chaos erupted, perform massive budget cuts, and instill even more uncertainty and fear for their employees.
I have witnessed how organizations handle a crisis and how they treat their employees. I have seen how this affects everyone in the long term, both positively and negatively. A company can literally make or break itself with how they treat their people in these turbulent times. You may have to make some changes in the organizational structure, deviate from short-term goals, and make some difficult decisions. But don’t change your desire to create an exceptional employee experience and provide resources to help your people cope with these troubling times.
An example of overdelivering on employee care during a chaotic, upside-down world, is the initiative one organization I work with implemented in 2020. They recognized that the mental health of their employees was a major problem, so they started providing weekly meditation and mindfulness training for all employees. They listened to what their people were struggling with and acted quickly to provide emotional support. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but the best leaders listen to the needs of their people and then overdeliver in the best way available to them. Your people are your most important asset. Treat them like it.
Remember, your role as a leader is an extraordinary privilege because so many people count on you even when you don’t realize it. As a leader, especially in difficult and trying times, your gift is that you can potentially change someone’s life forever and give them hope for a bigger future, a bigger, more extraordinary destiny. That’s a privilege.