Photo by Andrew Martin

Clearly COVID-19 has changed the world. And the world now demands new leadership skills.

Since May, I’ve been interviewing current and former clients, whom are global executives in both for-profit and non-profit enterprises. They have shared emergent leadership skills, underscored and amplified by COVID-19.

  • Presence and Connection
  • Managing Positively through Change
  • Empathy, Inclusion and Collaboration
  • Purpose – identifying and igniting team members’ values and contribution

Historically, leadership training has provided an abundance of content, but with limited interactive experience. During these unprecedented times it’s important to provide relevant skills, safe practice, authentic assimilation and integration. Transformation is essential, not just information.

These essential leadership skills also create a supportive “emergent” environment, one that allows vulnerability, voice, visibility and value. These primary human needs, if satisfied, increase velocity and create victory for both the individual and the organization.

Presence and Connection

Given the lack of physical presence and connection right now, it is important for leaders to provide this emotionally and online. These skills also help people move from fear and confusion to centeredness and clarity, along with helping to embody more self-awareness, creativity, and innovation. If we are only relying on old ways of thinking, it’s unlikely we are going to create anything new. True innovation comes from presence and connection. When we are openly engaged then something new can truly emerge.

Gill Taylor, GM Worldwide Consumer Channel Marketing for Microsoft reminded me of the importance of authentically checking in on folks. “How are you doing, really?”Not just the cursory pre-Zoom cordialities or online happy hours, but sincere connection. A personal phone call could be a welcome change up from a group Zoom-a-thon, hand-written note or even taking a socially distant walk together.

Managing Positively through Change

Having a learning orientation to life is one of the main attributes of resilience. How to include what is going on in the world and use it for our growth and learning and that of the company’s. Through strategic reflection, we realize that some of our biggest challenges have galvanized our strengths and been the crucible for amazing transformation.

Chris Benninger, CEO Guide Dogs for the Blind, and her leadership team have re-oriented their thinking from what they “no longer can’t do, to what they can do!” This helps people stay positive and upcycle the crisis into new offerings.

Michelle Johns, Senior Manager, Talent Management at Equinix emphasized the need for appreciation and celebration. With non-stop meetings and loads of ambiguous loss going on it’s important to actively appreciate each other verbally, via email, and online. Also essential to take time for celebrations – however you are able to enjoy them. “These positive tiny habits truly make a difference in morale and culture”. Scientifically and neurologically appreciation also increase our ability to make positive changes and perform our jobs well.

Hubert Joly, Executive Chairman and former CEO of Best Buy, shares from an Harvard Business Review article: “Good news helps workers’ mental health, which is likely compromised right now. As an example, Best Buy has transformed its process to post company news in the elevators of its headquarters, previously called The Lift to a digital posting now called The Uplift.”

Empathy, Inclusion and Collaboration

Actively listening, honoring and including people’s feelings and needs are of paramount importance now. Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. The enormous amount of change personally and professionally is not something that leaders can skip over. Self-compassion and compassion for others is fundamental for holistically moving through this time, and honoring the diversity of everyone’s unique physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.

Marie Davidheiser, Group Director at one of the world’s most admired tech companies emphasized the importance of compassion and empathy at this time. “Our humanity is what will keep us afloat through this pandemic and solving the gigantic social inequities.”

Purpose: identifying and igniting your team members’ values and contribution

It is not enough for the company’s values and purpose to be emblazoned on your lobby wall. Who sees that now anyway? And you don’t have to digitally decorate your website. Also, any strategic planning, which you did last year, most likely won’t hold water or weight with your employees or customers now.

Chris Benninger, Guide Dogs for the Blind, re-iterated to me in a conversation last month the importance of values and purpose right now, which is enabling her senior leadership team to successfully manage through this crisis.

From the HBR article Lead Your Team Into a Post-Pandemic World May 2020: “Companies must consider the full breadth of their employees’ needs as people. Safety is essential, of course, but it’s also important to address higher-level needs such as the want for truth, stability, authentic connections, self-esteem, growth, and meaning in the context of the crisis.”

Values and purpose are what is guiding the most successful companies now and into the future. It is not so much a “tell process,” but an invitation. Allowing employees to identify their unique qualities, values and purpose ignites their own contribution and how that aligns and contributes to the company. When this occurs a quantum organizational leap takes place.

With presence, connection, a learning orientation to life, empathy, inclusion, collaboration and purpose – perhaps we have everything before us to profoundly and whole-heartedly emerge together – better.