Leaders: Help your team thrive when the going gets rough

Like people, organizations experience ups and downs that stress what might otherwise be a healthy team environment in which everyone can thrive. Right now, in the middle of an economic recession driven by a global pandemic, the challenges create an extreme amount of volatility, uncertainty and complexity that may push everyone to the breaking point.

In turbulent times, the most effective leaders take the time to care for themselves, and their teams. Their commitment to wellbeing when the going gets rough is often what allows everyone to weather the storm. Here, then, are five concrete strategies leaders can use to help their teams thrive in a difficult time like this one.

1. Show You Care

John C. Maxwell said it best when he wrote: ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ During an especially challenging time such as this, the leaders that bring a deep sense of empathy and compassion for their employees always rise to the top.

This might include, for example, dedicating time for ‘check-ins’ at the start of team meetings, as well as scheduling time for personal check-ins with individual team members at other times.

By paying attention to how employees may be feeling and thinking, or what each employee’s unique experience might be, leaders show they care.

2. Be Flexible With Your Team

When you commit to learning how challenging situations may be affecting each employee’s abilities to work productively and effectively, you are better equipped to consider what may be needed.

Some employees, for example, may be struggling with extra personal or family health issues and may need to adjust their schedules and, potentially, their workload. When you are willing to make appropriate adjustments—whether to expectations, hours, deadlines and more—your openness and flexibility will enable you to meet each person where they are. 

In the process, you will be well-positioned to support a wide range of needs across the entire team. One of the organizational leaders I coach did this quite powerfully in the early days of the pandemic when he encouraged his staff to ‘take care of yourself and just do your best.’

3. Communicate, Communicate and Communicate

In challenging times such as these, team members look to leaders to set an appropriate tone and provide as much information as possible about the way forward, and what it means for employees.

Leaders need to be able to answer employee questions clearly, consistently, and frequently—even if the answer at first is ‘I don’t know, but I’ll do my best to find out.’ Otherwise, employees are left to fill the vacuum and it is human nature to imagine the worst.

The leaders who communicate early, and often, with their employees, create the space for dialogue and openness that employees truly need. When employees know their leaders are committed to keeping them informed, they can stop wondering, worrying, and speculating about what might be coming. Instead, they can direct their energy more productively. 

4. Connect to Purpose

In addition to providing regular and ongoing opportunities for information updates and dialogue about the current situation, leaders have a critical role to play in helping everyone stay connected to purpose.

By reminding everyone of their overall purpose throughout especially challenging periods, as well as shining a spotlight on current priorities, leaders help the entire organization stay focussed.

Then, if changes need to be made, even large ones, employees can be engaged in the process instead of feeling blindsided. The more context and clarity leaders can provide about current challenges and what they may mean for the company, the easier it will be for employees to understand what it might mean for them. 

5. Strengthen Connections

Every organization is, at the core, defined by its people, and the ways in which they relate to each other. And, when people can build strong, vibrant relationships within their own teams as well as across departments, everyone thrives, including the organization.

However, those bonds can fray quickly during volatile times if leaders do not make connections a priority. This requires a leadership investment of time and effort in fostering and sustaining strong, healthy lines of communication for all. It may also require an investment in technology tools and supports, especially when teams are distributed geographically and/or working virtually.

By investing time in maintaining their own connections with senior leaders and team members at all levels, as well as in facilitating meaningful and productive ways for employees and teams to stay connected to each other, leaders can ensure relationships remain strong, regardless of the circumstance.

In challenging times, leaders play a pivotal role in helping their teams weather the storm. Do it well and your team can thrive.

When your leadership strategies include these five: show you care; stay flexible; communicate early and often; connect everyone to purpose and strengthen connections; you will be providing the essential leadership care your team needs now.

If these strategies are not already in your toolkit, which one will you try first to give your team the support it needs when it matters most?

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at mlane@vibrantleaders.ca.


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