Monday, August 17, 2020

4 Ways to Lead Better Through a Pandemic

These are certainly difficult times for employees, but it is also a very trying time for bosses.

After all, no MBA or management training programs are likely to have "how to be a boss during a pandemic."

Bosses are learning as they go -- and sometimes they've risen to the occasion and led a team through these troubled waters -- and sometimes they've not been as successful.

Recently, management gurus Hayagreeva Rao and Robert Sutton wrote for McKinsey & Co. about how to lead through difficult times. Some of their advice:

1. Don't ruminate. Whether it's layoffs or other cost-cutting measures, don't try and blame anyone else or dwell on what might have been done before the crisis hit. "Lousy leaders engage in useless rumination about what might have been and who is to blame, and invent excuses for delaying gut-wrenching but vital actions," they write. But good leaders try to move the team forward. For example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's attitude throughout the pandemic has been "a dogged and optimistic focus on what his company can do and how his people can keep learning."

2. Be compassionate. "Skilled leaders demonstrate they care by expressing compassion for the harm and emotional distress inflicted by the crisis at hand and the actions they and their organization take in response," they write. Leaders need to understand that people are in different stages of the grieving process because of the pandemic, and support for them will make it easier for employees to focus on the greater good instead of just themselves.

3. Offer predictions. Research shows that "threats to well-being do less harm if reliable signals enable people to know when they are safe from the threat verses when it is imminent, fear is warranted, and it is time to take action to minimize risk," they write. For example, Stanford University mitigated some of the stress for employees by announcing that the university would pay all full-time employees their current rate through August.

4. Offer simple explanations. Leaders should rely on simple headlines and repetition, "because the anxiety provoked by crises can make it hard for people to process complex information," they say. 

5. Offer some control. When Airbnb's leaders needed to layoff workers, they did so in one-on-one meetings, offering as much compassion and control as possible. Workers were given a week to say goodbye to colleagues and received four months of career-services assistance.


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