If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that leadership in today's world requires a wide range of soft skills.
Employees don't want to work for inauthentic founders, executives, or managers. Team members don't feel empowered when working with people who don't have a reasonable level of emotional intelligence. Partners, vendors, and clients don't want to be associated with companies that aren't transparent about the way they do business--and the masses don't want to support companies whose actions don't align with their mission statements.
Being an effective leader today, and especially while navigating our "new normal," is about honesty, plain and simple. It means being honest in your day-to-day interactions, honest in the way you do business, and honest about the status of the organization. As many leaders learned back in March (including myself), these are not easy times to navigate--but being open and transparent with your team is crucial to long-term success.
Personally, I believe the coronavirus crisis will change the way people think about leadership forever.
Here's what I think being an effective leader in our new normal will look like, moving forward.
1. Leaders must be proactive in their efforts, and deeply care about how the people around them are doing.
When you work in an office, you can generally assess when somebody is having a bad day or if they're upset about something.
Digitally, this becomes much harder. Both at the leadership level as well as the managerial level, we have to be more thoughtful about how we check in on people. This means proactively asking questions like, "How are you doing these days?" and actually taking the time to listen.
Instead of hopping on a Zoom call and immediately diving into work-related items, take a moment to show you care.
2. Leaders need to share how they're feeling, as well.
Transparency in any organization is important.
But when everyone is working remotely, as difficult as it can be to get a read on how your employees and team members are feeling, it can be even more difficult for them to get a read on how you're doing--since they don't get to see you walking around the office.
I'm not advocating for oversharing, but especially with your executive team, I do believe it's important to be open and honest about your own feelings as well. I remember back in March, prior to letting people from our company go, I cried while talking to our leadership team. I was really upset, and felt horrible about the decision in front of us. And the other leaders within the company went down that emotional journey with me.
Being an effective leader doesn't mean being emotionless.
It means having the capacity for the whole range of emotions, and still being able to make sound, logical decisions for the business.
3. Leaders must create a safe environment where people feel a sense of belonging.
One of the questions we ask in our employee surveys is whether they feel that their manager cares about them.
Personally, I believe everyone finds fulfillment in their work only if they believe the people around them care about them as human beings, first. As a leader, it's then your job to create an environment where people feel this sense of belonging, and know that the hours they spend working toward the company's mission mean more than just earning a paycheck.
4. Leaders have to solidify their mission--and live it out in the world.
Now more than ever, the mission of a company matters. Customers care about it. Employees care about it. Investors care about it. Everyone wants to know that where they are putting their time, energy, money, and support is behind an organization they believe is impacting the world in some sort of positive way.
Second, and as more and more social impact campaigns shift the world, how your company's mission fits into these larger narratives of humanity can dramatically change the way people see your brand.
Your mission, and how it ties into current events, is extremely important.
5. Leaders must be willing to adapt.
In a world of uncertainty, adaptability is key. It has always been true that leaders must constantly be thinking 10 steps ahead. But during a global crisis like Covid-19, flexibility and being able to make quick, informed decisions is crucial to keeping the business moving forward.
This means making it a regular priority to sit down and run through hypotheticals. "What would happen to the business if X happened? What would we do if we lost Y? How would we think about the future if we couldn't do Z?"
It's far better to have answers to these types of questions before, rather than during, a difficult time.
6. Leaders have to remain optimistic about the future, without sugarcoating the present.
Building a company inherently requires some level of optimism. It's very difficult to build something that doesn't exist yet if you're a pessimist.
Once a company is off and running, though, the optimism can't stop. Your team needs it. Your co-captains and fellow leaders need it. Everyone around you needs to feel as though they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, just like you can.
That said, you also have to guard optimism from delusion. Being optimistic can't mean lying to or deceiving those around you--or especially yourself. Instead, it means being brutally honest, while at the same time acknowledging both the good and the bad, the lessons learned, and the growth to come.
7. Leaders must overcommunicate.
Right now, especially, every leader should be overcommunicating with their teams.
On the one hand, this means making sure people are receiving the information they need, when they need it. While working remotely, this might require you to do more frequent check-ins with employees or to set reminders to send status updates to key decision makers every day on Slack.
On the flipside, though, effective communication also means leaving room for others to speak up. For example, I held an all-hands recently and ended the meeting by asking, "Does anyone have any questions?" I let that question hang in the air for 20 or 30 seconds. And it took a while, but eventually someone spoke up and asked a great question. Digitally, creating space for this type of serendipity is crucial--and asks leaders to pause and not be so quick to just end the Zoom meeting and move on to the next thing.