Like most everybody, the past few months have felt like they have simultaneously flown by and lasted an eternity. Needless to say, as we enter into the second half of the year the first has not turned out as expected. The world we live in has changed drastically within a short period, and the pace has been exhausting for individuals and businesses alike. For leaders, it may have felt like we are just constantly moving from one mini-crisis to the next without respite, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there will be no quick return to normal.

The current state of affairs is pushing leaders to change their routines, developing and flexing new leadership muscles to adapt to the constantly changing situations. In this prolonged period of uncertainty, being adaptable, and wearing different hats for different ways to lead will be required. Those who use this time to reflect, learn, and adapt will be best positioned to emerge stronger than those who are simply placing bandaids on problems in anticipation of reverting to old routines and habits.

As our world continues to change, the call has been made for greater corporate citizenship and success will no longer be defined purely by numbers and growth. Instead, the hope is to have customers who are grateful that the business provides valuable solutions to a problem, employees who feel secure and inspired to learn, grow, and help the business achieve its purpose, shareholders who value enduring success over short-lived profits, and communities that admire the contributions of the business to their welfare.

To reap the benefits of this success, leaders must be able to remain calm and determined. Below are some of the ways you can remain proactive as a leader:

Keep communication direct and concise

These are stressful times we are currently living through, and “mental noise” reduces the ability to process the information on average by 80% in high-stress situations. Your employees at this time will naturally have difficulty hearing, understanding, and recalling information, with data showing that people are only able to retain three main ideas and attention spans can shrink to 12 minutes or even less. Therefore, it may not be the best idea to hold hour-long Zoom meetings or send long and tedious updates via email to disseminate information. In all likelihood, these won’t break through the mental noise as well as a concise virtual town hall meeting or a regularly sent short bulletin. Within these bulletins, it is also important to remember that each person processes information differently, and utilizing visual aids such as highlighting important changes from a prior communication or adding graphics, analogies, and personal anecdotes can improve processing by over 50%.

You should also be as direct as possible when it comes to providing your employees with information, and not avoid addressing the elephant in the room. For example, it is quite apparent that the current coronavirus pandemic has had and will continue to have lasting effects on the United States economy. To not discuss the potential ramifications this will have on your business with those employed at your company would be an avoidant move. There is a temptation for managers to remain silent when they don’t have all the answers, but honest and open communication is paramount in building trust between you and your employees. Rarely do you have all the answers, but ignoring the elephant of the issues only ensures that it will do more damage in the end. When things are changing, good leaders acknowledge and discuss them.

Be open and curious to explore new options

Companies that successfully transition during sudden and dramatic changes have leaders that remain flexible and open to exploring all new options. Ideally, you should not be in denial of the new world you are entering into, but curious about how you can best move forward and use the changes to better your company. This may mean initially placing a focus on learning and discussion rather than jumping into making decisions that would be short-term solutions. You can do so by setting up executive programs, task teams, and scenario rehearsals, all with an eye toward evaluating the new environment. Also, it is important to ensure that ideas for change and experimentation come from all levels of the company and move upwards, rather than from those at the top alone. This allows you to make changes beyond those that are simply cosmetic.

While these steps are taking place, as a leader you should also put into question your own beliefs and assumptions about your response to change, with an emphasis on “us” rather than “them.” The most adept leaders know themselves well and are conscious of their state of mind and the factors influencing their behavior. In keeping a finger on the pulse of your attitude and mindset, you enable yourself to maintain a learning mindset through the many changes that occur. This means trusting and empowering those within your company to promote change from within; actively listening and connecting with not only those directly above and beneath you, but all members of your business and creating inclusive experiences so people feel valuable; showing vulnerability by admitting you don’t have all the answers; and proving you are acting on behalf of the greater good by asking yourself questions such as “what makes us distinctive for our customers, employees, and society?”

Lead first, manage second

In times of adversity, effective leaders stand out for their empathy, transparency, and humility. While it is possible to be both an effective leader and a good manager, during uncertain times the former takes precedent. Managers are about business. Leaders are about people. They hone in on each individual and provide the support and encouragement needed to do their best work. They guide their staff through steps and stages, working together with them to create a more efficient and effective workplace. Whereas a manager might be task-oriented, assigning duties, and providing their employees with the tools needed to complete tasks, leaders are goal-oriented and let employees accomplish their goals through their means to achieve the desired result.

The tumultuous period we are currently living in is far from over, and talented leaders are taking stock of what they’ve learned during the acute phase of the change and assessing how it can help them steer their companies through each stage of recovery. Those who increase trust throughout their company through open and honest communication, remain open and flexible to new ideas from all members of your organization and take on the mantle of a strong leader to rally those beneath you will be better prepared for unexpected turns in the road ahead.

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