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The business leader: a guiding light

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More than ever, organizations need strong leadership to guide their teams through the storm caused by COVID-19.

Seasoned managers aren’t supposed to let tough situations throw them off. After all, experience has taught them to deal with everything from predictable hiccups to unforeseen emergencies. But the current crisis has taken stress levels to new heights and the added pressure is having an unprecedented impact on all aspects of business management, including finance, technology and human resources.

Leaders have to act fast to protect their employees and the company. This involves making hard decisions and constantly adjusting (and readjusting) to ever-changing circumstances. In the current context, effective leaders need to have a comprehensive management toolkit at their disposal, as well as the wisdom to know which tools to use and when.

What management style works best in uncertain times?

When a crisis occurs, it can be hard to know what management approach to take. Should you assume full control and reduce staff members’ decision-making authority? Or is this an opportunity to promote self-reliance and initiative?

It depends. The best approach is to adapt your management style to each team member’s personal needs and professional maturity. Some people require clear directives while others will rise to the occasion if you give them a certain amount of freedom.

Either way, in a climate of urgency, it’s important for managers to have a clear vision of the situation and objectives to engage employees. You’ll need to put all your technical skills and interpersonal savvy to inspire confidence.

Focus on your targets

Since this is no time to add to employee stress or confusion, managers should keep their eye on the finish line and base all their decisions on their primary objective.

Short-, medium- and long-term considerations should be taken into account. The longer the crisis lasts, the harder it will be for employees to stay on task and remain productive. In anticipation of waning motivation, managers should think of ways to boost employee engagement.

Keeping busy can help people feel like they’re still in control, which is useful for managing anxiety. That’s why managers should clearly define each person’s role and assign them tasks that they can realistically achieve in the current circumstances.

Delegate and empower

When pressure runs high—like during a crisis—pessimism can set in. To prevent that from happening, delegate certain responsibilities to team members. When individuals are actively involved in finding solutions and establishing priority actions, they’re more likely to feel optimistic. Give employees the opportunity to take initiative and step up their responsibilities, as long as they’re ready for it.

Take time for a heart-to-heart

As a leader, you benefit from working closely with your team members. Help them understand what things they can control, what factors they can influence, and what issues are entirely out of their hands. Laying it all out and setting priorities can do a lot to ease anxiety.

In this way, you will focus employees’ energy on useful and value-added actions. This is what’s known as situational leadership. It involves knowing how to be most effective in a given situation.

Ultimately, these carefully measured interactions can help you establish trust with team members while maintaining enough distance to have a big-picture appreciation of the issues that they can’t see from their vantage point.

Enlist the team’s help to find solutions

A good leader encourages others to voice their opinions and observations, without allowing any finger pointing or blame games. Instead, try to harness each team member’s personal strengths and see how they can contribute to shared objectives.

In addition to being good communicators, strong leaders need to be great listeners. By hearing what each person has to say and being open-minded, you’ll be better able to act as the glue that holds the team together and help each individual find a sense of purpose and accomplishment, despite the crisis.

Remember to be lenient with yourself and your employees. As the person setting the example for the team, feel free to let them see that no one is perfect. Your team is counting on you to analyze the situation, make decisions—including tough choices—and adjust plans and priorities as needed. You’re allowed to make mistakes. But you need to be open to feedback and ready to make quick changes to keep everyone moving in the right direction.

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