Leading and Succeeding In Uncertain Times

“How do we maintain a new routine, stay effective, and stay connected?”

This was the question posed by Patrick Malone, Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University, at the start of GovLoop’s online training, “How to Lead and Work Through Uncertainty.”

The training focused on the leadership strategies, philosophies and paradigms unique to our current shift toward telework, and the ways in which those in leadership positions could provide some sense of normalcy and security to those under them during these uncertain times.

Malone kicked things off by citing a survey that found about 83% of the American workforce reported being stressed at their jobs — and this was before the current pandemic. With all the change, fear, and uncertainty of the past month and a half, the stress and anxiety people feel at work can only have increased.

As humans, we may naturally bend toward a desire for stability, constancy and safety, but these things have been in short supply of late. As Malone noted, one of the issues is that with this particular crisis, there is not a set date when we can expect it to be over, or that we can expect to return to our offices.

As a leader, then, it’s especially important that you are aware of and attentive to the needs of your employees and the ways in which they are being affected by the current changes we are all experiencing.

During this time, said Malone, “the right thing to do is communicate.” But what should that communication look like?

To start off with, you need to figure out the right cadence. Your employees may be eager for updates and reassurance, so figure out a regular schedule for providing those things. As Malone noted, daily check-ins may be necessary at first, but scaling back to a twice-weekly schedule might be smart as people settle into the situation and we all gain experience with remote work.

During these check-ins, Malone notes, it’s important to remember that having fun is important right now—virtual interactions and social media can’t replace human interaction, but making them more light-hearted and engaging can help.

Given the need for human connection, as a leader, you can make a difference in the lives of your employees by taking time to go around and check in virtually with everyone on your team to talk about something other than mission.

Make 60% of personal check-ins about the team member and how they’re doing, says Malone. It’s easy to get caught up in making sure that mission-related information is being conveyed properly, but it’s important to remember that the people tasked with achieving that mission need to be taken care of too.

Leaders also need to understand the new reality: People are at home taking care of kids, helping relatives, and so on. This can make it easy to overload people without realizing it. Since telework can lead people to worry that their bosses will think they’re being unproductive, people might have a hard time saying no to new work, even if they’re already juggling an overwhelming number of personal and professional responsibilities.

As a boss, said Malone, “Ask people, ‘what do you need from me?’ People don’t always need bosses to have the answers, they just want to know that they’re being heard.”

Of course, “Bosses need to know that they’re needed too.” As a leader, you are in a position to provide guidance to people on your team, but that doesn’t mean that you might not also be scared or feeling overwhelmed.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Malone said. “Take time to connect, reach out to people [and] care for yourself.”

That’s advice we can all use.

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