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Effective Leadership during a Pandemic

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The Covid-19 outbreak has been a catalyst in changing the way organizations operate, forcing business leaders to make extremely significant and tough decisions in a short time frame. For a long time, preparing for the “future of work” in the era of digitalization and remote working have been the topic of discussion amongst leaders, but the pandemic has accelerated this need in just a matter of weeks, with a significant portion of the workforce now being made to work from home.

Photo by Kristjan Kotar on Unsplash

  1. Be flexible amidst uncertainty

As leaders, the ability to adapt to rapid changes is now more critical than ever. We now know how much change organizations can face in such little time, and leaders need to be ready for changes of similar magnitude moving forward. Flexible leadership also goes beyond decision-making at the organizational level. As more and more people are returning to work and adjusting to the new normal, leaders in the workplace need to maintain flexibility in approaching how work gets done.

This includes giving employees the flexibility to work from home or in the office (work-from-home models may not be to everyone’s preference), as well as allowing them the freedom to work on tasks at times of the day that work best for them. Not only does this typically result in greater productivity and job satisfaction, but when leaders take the time to discuss with employees work arrangements that work best for them, it also shows that they care.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

2. Be present (even on a personal level)

Another change accompanying the recent shift to work-from-home arrangements is the lack of physical proximity between colleagues, as well as with their leaders. This may lead employees to feel somewhat distant from their supervisors in terms of leadership support and guidance. And as mentioned, given that flexible work arrangements are likely here to stay (even if just for the time being), this is definitely a gap that leaders in the workplace need to fill.

As a leader, being present isn’t about constantly giving orders or micromanaging employees, but about openly communicating and sometimes just being available to them. A good practice is to have regular check-ins with teams to touch-base and to identify where support is needed and how it can be given. This gives teams working remotely a sense of connection with leaders that would otherwise be lost. Of course, this isn’t strictly limited to work-related matters either. As a leader, building relationships with employees is just as important as being results-driven. Simple gestures such as dropping a line to employees to see how they’re doing doesn’t cost much but speaks volumes about how much a leader cares on a personal level.

3. Be empathetic

It is also highly imperative for leaders to be empathetic to their workers. As the pandemic shifts and changes the way we work, employees might have a tough time in navigating this transition. For example, employees who are parents might need to navigate the demands of caring for their children who are not in school due to the pandemic, together with a full time job.

A possible way to lead with empathy could be by supporting employees’ emotional health. This could be done through a myriad of ways such as by encouraging employees to speak to you as a leader through an “open door policy” or even just by acknowledging an employees’ struggles through a non-judgemental approach. This would in turn, allow a two-way communication between a leader and subordinate which guides in finding effective solutions when faced with a problem. Empathetic leaders are also said to be easier to trust, and this positive dynamic is crucial to positive organizational outcomes.

4. Transparency

Communicating with transparency means providing honest and accurate descriptions of reality — being as clear as humanly possible about what you know, what you anticipate, and what it means for people. The pandemic has caused some organizations especially in the tourism industry to make very difficult decisions such as pay cuts, redundancy and worse, the closing down of organizations completely. Hence, it falls on the leaders to ensure that they are transparent about the ongoings of the company, and its respective future direction.

Uncertainty about an organization’s next steps or future direction might only cause confusion and untrue rumors to circulate, all of which could further decrease employee morale. Nevertheless, communicating or leading with transparency should also have a message or a tune of hope, as it would serve as an anchor and reinforcement for employees to navigate through difficult times.

by Wai Meng Yap & Christopher Tan, HELP University.

About the authors

Wai Meng is a lecturer and management psychologist whose areas of interest lie in work,
management and organisational psychology. He is a certified test user of psychometric
evaluations and psychological testing by the British Psychological Society and holds a Prince 2 certificate in project management. Wai Meng is pursuing his PhD in Applied Psychology in the University of Nottingham.

Christopher’s background is in management and organisational psychology. He has previously worked in management consultancy, with a focus on organisational leadership, team development, and culture and change. He is also interested in human factors psychology and ergonomics.

About Empowering Lives

Sharing ideas on psychology, mental health and well-being from the Department of Psychology, HELP University, Malaysia.

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