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Be the leader your employees need now

In this uniquely challenging climate, everyone is worried about what the future holds in both their business and personal lives, writes Amy Leschke-Kahle for MIT Sloan Management Review.

As the disruptive implications of COVID-19 continue to unfold, and question marks hang over the ultimate survival of some organisations, it’s more important than ever for leaders to communicate effectively.

Employees – especially frontline workers who face the highest risks every day – need regular contact with both their organisational and senior leaders on a personal, human level. They need to feel connected, supported, listened to and as reassured as is possible.

“It’s critical for business and HR leaders to double down now on the few things that can help employees stay informed and updated, feel like they’re being seen and heard, and keep focused and on track,” says Leschke-Kahle, vice president of performance acceleration at the Marcus Buckingham Group,

She underlines three important strategies to help you give your teams the best support possible:

1) Be knowledgeable and authentic, and communicate regularly. As a leader you need to keep yourself well informed and update your employees at least once a day, especially about how the business is faring during the crisis. If you don’t, staff will fill in the gaps by creating their own stories.

Timely delivery of a few honest words is better than an over-produced speech. This applies to team managers as well as top executives. Immediate leaders can bring a sense of reality and humanity to the situation, while being careful to be supportive of the organisational leadership; this is not the time for destabilising dissent.

Daily briefings, with additional one-to-one chats, will be valuable investments while we face uncertainty.

2) Give employees your attention. Employees need to know that they are important to your organisation and to their teams. You want them to care about the future of the business, so let them know you care about them. Make it clear that they are being seen and heard – call them, send texts or talk on video link – and they will reward you with higher trust levels, more resilience and better performance.

3) Stress priorities and show compassion. The health of your business is important, but it isn’t your employees’ very top priority during this crisis. They will naturally be distracted and worried about themselves and their loved ones.

Make it clear what work needs to be completed urgently and ensure they have the resources to complete it. Let them know they have your support when they need to attend to things that aren’t work-related.

Leschke-Kahle quotes a global HR chief who concluded an email to employees saying: “I am so proud of you all. I count on you to take care of our clients and yourselves. Take a deep breath and do something fun at home while comforting your loved ones.”

This, she says, sums up the generous spirit leaders should adopt as they carry their employees and their organisations through these unprecedented times.