Skip Navigation LinksHome > News


May 28
Leadership in the Time of ‘Business Unusual’

leadership.jpgIn March, lockdown instantly shifted us all into ‘business unusual’.

Overnight, we moved from office-based work to work from home, leaving little time for anyone to find their feet and putting us all under extraordinary pressure. For those without a home office, Level 5 Lockdown even prevented purchasing a suitable desk and chair. 

Aside from the worry about how COVID-19 could impact our health (and that of our families), we’ve had to adjust to new ways of working and meeting new demands around clients, logistics and delivery. All while trying to deal with parenting, managing our home environments and worrying about how lockdown could affect our job security and careers. This pandemic has been, perhaps, the biggest disruptor in our lives, to date.

Nearly 60 days in, some have innovated and thrived, while others are still struggling to adapt to our new reality.

During lockdown, I’ve been following (among others) the Business Results Group’s free webinars for insight into leadership practice in our ‘new’ world. This has got me thinking about how leaders have had to change behaviour in our now virtual world. I believe that some of the challenges facing leaders today include:

How do we effectively manage and motivate people remotely when we’re not able to physically ‘see’ them daily? How to we help our employees return to site in Level 3 (and beyond) and manage ‘survivors’ guilt – where they are employed and compensated, while others aren’t? How do we reconnect our company vision to adapt and thrive in this ‘new normal’, where many things will not be as they were before? And, how do we get everyone to buy into this new vision so that we can move forward instead of trying to cling to our old ways of doing things?

Nearly a decade ago, when I wrote an article on how consciousness positively influences business success, I referenced research by Bob Anderson from the Leadership Circle which still resonates clearly today (and could help to answer some of these questions). In a study about the correlation between consciousness and corporate success, Anderson found that high-performance companies are most often led by leaders with a ‘Creative’ orientation (and related behaviours), while companies dominated by ‘Reactive’ leaders performed more poorly. He believes that as reactive behaviour grows, creative behaviour diminishes – along with performance.

This thinking is supported by Liz Wiseman’s work on ‘Multipliers’ – people whose behaviour multiplies or facilitates effectiveness.  The traits of a Multiplier include that they are ‘Talent Magnets’, attracting and optimising talent. These people are also ‘Liberators’ who unlock and require everyone’s best thinking, ‘Challengers’ who extend challenges to the people that they identify as talented geniuses, ‘Debate Makers’ who see that important decisions are debated robustly before implementation and ‘Investors’ who instil accountability.

  So, how does all of this help leaders to motivate their teams to perform optimally while working remotely, while still maintaining a semblance of balance in their lives?

1.      Focus on Outcome:
Start by letting your employees work out how to work effectively themselves.

Resist the temptation to focus on making work tactical by setting strict processes, rules and procedures. It might make you feel that work is being done but being micro-managed can be very demotivating for your employees. Instead, set clear goals, some boundaries and offer guidelines – and then allow your team to exercise their creativity and work flexibly to get the job done. You can check in with them, but don’t check up. Remember that, as long as you get the outcome you expect, they should be allowed creative freedom around how the outcome is achieved.

2.      Identify Stress Triggers:
The first step towards identifying what positively motivates your team is to help them identify their unique stress triggers. There are a lot of potential culprits right now - COVID-19, the resulting economic fallout, increased (or decreased) workload and home environments that are not conducive to productivity. Sometimes, just acknowledging that we’re living in difficult times and talking through stressors is helpful.

3.      Up Your Online Meeting Game:
Personally, I’m mourning the loss of small ‘water cooler moments’, where I could interact with my team on a more personal level, allowing me to gauge mood and who might need more attention. Working – and meeting – virtually means that these opportunities are more limited and have to be created, rather than occurring spontaneously.

Daily check-in video calls can help you to pick up changes in behaviour or mood that can signal larger issues – and identify high risk employees who may need more intervention.

 Remember that it’s also easy to slip into ‘tactical’ mode in daily check-ins, focusing on tasks only. While this might work face-to-face, it can further isolate and demotivate employees who are struggling with remote work.

Foster connection by creating a space at the start and end of every check-in where people can share how they are feeling today and what they’re doing to look after themselves.

Don’t expect a detailed answer – some employees may prefer to rate how they’re feeling out of 10. The important thing is to create the space and set boundaries so that the check-in remains positive. If you do pick up negative responses, cycle back to the affected employee after the meeting to discuss how they’re feeling and offer additional help, if needed.

4.      Be Human:
The truth is that, even if we’re superstars, we’re feeling stretched and stressed right now.

These are unusual times, over which we have little control and, in the case of Lockdown, are actively being controlled.

Now, more than ever, leaders need to be available and need to be human.

Focus on how you communicate with your team. Be transparent and share as much information – particularly around company and job stability – as you can.

Encourage them to take breaks and observe weekends. Set up events to help them blow off steam – like exercise challenges, virtual Friday drinks or games evenings.

Either make your calendar transparent or to set up times for ‘drop ins’ (the new ‘open door’) when you’re online and available to chat, outside of set meeting times.

Understand their personal circumstances and give leeway, where needed.

5.      Communicate:
Communicate, communicate and then, communicate some more.

In an ongoing crisis, clear communication is more important (and more difficult) than in times of calm. As leaders, our communication needs to address the core questions of what, how and why. If we don’t get this right, we end up confusing people even more. So much communication addresses ’what’ needs to happen and even ‘how’ it needs to do so. But, too often, ‘why’ isn’t effectively communicated. This is a problem because ‘why’ gives the audience deeper understanding and allows them to align with the ‘how’ and ‘what. In times of crisis, our teams need insight into our thinking and wisdom.

We’re living in uncharted territory at the moment and are all suffering the consequences, to varying degrees, of this pandemic and it’s resulting economic fallout.

But, as neuroscientist and author Abhijt Naskar says: ‘The world is going through a period of crisis, but whether we look at it as a crisis or as an opportunity to reshape our thinking depends on us.’

Business Results Group -


There are no comments for this post.