On the 15th March the Prime Minister announced the National Cabinet response to COVID-19. Suddenly we had no template and everything we thought we knew doesn’t apply, and quite abruptly we’re wading into some very murky and unchartered waters.

During times of uncertainty, everyone in an organisation takes their cues from the leadership team. Often, challenging times can reveal the true character of a business and its leaders – for better or worse.

So, what does good leadership look like in such an unprecedented crisis?

In our latest Disruption Circle video conference, we invited someone who knows just how to answer this question. Klaus Duetoft is Vice President People International at eBay Inc and has geographic responsibility for AP, major Asian countries along with some other international markets. In addition, he is a member of the eBay Inc Global People Leadership team. He, along with a group of prominent HR leaders discussed the key qualities and behaviours leaders should be channelling to guide their organisation through COVID-19 and the inevitable instability of the post-Corona future.

To Klaus, it seems that the old adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ is very much at the crux of a leader’s successful navigation through the disruption that comes with COVID-19. The most important fact remains that your team will remember the way you responded during this period, so make your behaviour deliberate and measured, and then learn how to future-proof. 

Leading through a crisis, with no guidebook

COVID-19 is probably the most disruptive event to touch most of the current workforce’s lifetime. Harder still, HR leaders don’t have an instruction manual on this one. Suddenly face-to-face interaction has been replaced with screens, and the off the record, casual chats you might have had with teams to check in on their wellbeing, their families, their hobbies has disappeared. Many of the tools usually at our disposal to temperature check the workplace environment are not available to us at the moment.

Without the interaction we’re so used to, a lot of organisations are struggling with the ‘right’ way to assure teams, things to say, or actions to take to bring teams together, but from a distance.

From our discussion with Klaus and other HR leaders, it’s clear that there’s a common thread to what organisations are looking for from their leaders right now. Overwhelmingly, the leadership quality, all our participants agreed was important right now, is a sense of calm. Panic breeds panic and feeling disconnected from your co-workers and leaders only adds to the fear that the pandemic is handing out in spades. Calm, clear and regular communication from leadership seems to be what teams are craving. Doing this well can be the deciding factor in whether your team remain happy, and able work effectively during this period of what seems like endless lockdown.

So, you’re calm, and your communicating your sense of calm with your team – what now? These key behaviours seem to the agreed recipe for success to surviving this period:

  • Pragmatism. Some of the existing processes and procedures you rely on for your business to run don’t make sense in this environment, and that’s okay.
  • Courage. Having the courage to ask the tough questions. Why are we thinking about this? Will it solve the problem we are addressing?
  • Resilience. To manage the business and its people in an ever-changing environment.
  • Agility. Need to be able to anticipate and respond to problems as and when they arise.
  • Thoughtful analysis. Calmly analyse the information you have before making any decisions.
  • Consistent behaviours. People will remember the way you behave during this disruption period more than any other.

Ultimately, when your team is in a time of distress, these behaviours will help course-correct by keeping a keen focus on what really matters.

The ‘new normal’ – what will leadership look like after COVID?

In recent weeks, as a small light is beginning to appear at the end of the lockdown tunnel, discussion has begun to turn to what will ‘normal’ look like after this period of disruption. The longer we spend in this holding pattern of lockdown, it’s clear that the changes experienced by organisations will not simply snap back to pre-Corona habits the moment lockdown is lifted.

When discussing this prospect, Klaus discussed the necessities of leading their organisation back to work:

  • Create a playbook for leaders – what to do when moving from lockdown to ‘normal’. Don’t assume every leader in the business is on the same page about operational changes. Spell out the changes in detail and provide guidance for the way forward
  • Build and share the decision-making tree – how can we assist managers in making the decisions they need to make in their local business and share the reasoning behind broader organisational changes

Once a new normality and stability has been established, the next most important discussion to have with your leadership team is about learning from the experience and planning for future disruption.

So, how can you future-proof the organisation?

  • Review the policies that worked and pinpoint the ones that didn’t
  • Identify the limitations of the operating environment and plan for ways to either supplement the shortfalls, or remove obstacles in future
  • Don’t lose sight of your stakeholders. They are on the journey with you, they can play a part in the future growth of the organisation

Once you have waded through the uncertainty of the initial shock of remote work, teams will also need guidance on how to operate in a changed post-pandemic workforce. While the initial disruption was unprecedented, we should not underestimate the challenges that will also come for teams in our new norm.

If you’re looking for support in facilitating these changes and conversations with your leadership team through this next post-COVID phase, Choice Career Services have the resources and expertise to help.

From professional development to outplacement advice, Choice has over 20+ years’ experience managing planned and spontaneous workplace disruptions. Click here to talk to Choice.