How To Be An Exceptional Leader In The Face of Challenges

by Sep 22, 2020

You may not be seeing your team members every day. 

They still need you – now more than ever. 

Leadership and communication are pivotal in a crisis and in times of change. What do you need to be a great leader even in the midst of overwhelmingly challenging circumstances?

1. Exceptional Leaders Focus on Empathy.

Everyone is struggling right now. 

Everyone needs support, but they may need it in different ways. 

Regardless of how they need you to show up for them, one constant remains. It’s never a bad idea to lead with empathy. 

An empathetic leader:

– Has developed the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective and feelings.

 – Learns to consider words and actions through the lens of how they will impact the person with whom they’re interacting. 

– Isn’t necessarily nice. Oftentimes empathetic choices can bring happiness or peace but the goal with empathy isn’t to be a pushover. It’s to make emotionally intelligent choices that take into consideration their impact on others, not to do away with the impact altogether.

2. Exceptional Leaders Develop Stamina. 

Being a leader is exhausting. Not only do you have your own work to do, you also have to balance the needs, emotions and development of everyone on your teams. So, how do you keep leading without burning out? 

Working smarter and working smarter are not synonymous. In fact, people who work 90-minute stretches at a time are more focused and productive than those who try to work for hours without breaking or refreshing. Taking a minute for yourself can make you stronger and more productive if it’s part of a disciplined routine. 

From a practical standpoint, don’t let your work and home life bleed into each other. If you’re trying to handle both at the same time, you’ll feel that you’re doing neither very well. 

Does that mean there can never be any overlap? No. It’s okay to grab a load of laundry and toss it in the machine when you’re taking a water break. It’s okay to take a walk around the block while you’re doing a more casual check in call with an employee. 

However, doing too much combining of work and personal time will deplete you and split your focus. Trying to fold clothes while listening in to a conference call will be a distraction and you won’t feel like you’ve handled either one well. 

Working parents who are reading this right now are probably feeling tremendously conflicted. After all, with school openings and closures, it’s impossible not to have a split focus. (Read more about the support working parents need in this current environment.) 

If you’re the employee in this situation: 

If you’re an employee working under unusual or strained circumstances, you have a responsibility to communicate your needs to your employer and to try to find yourself the best solutions. That may mean an adjusted work schedule so you can handle some calls during the day but do the bulk of your project management after bedtime.

Don’t expect your manager to be a mind reader. Instead, find the best approach to discuss your needs. Come equipped with ideas and potential solutions.  

If you’re the manager in this situation: 

If you’re the manager working to support employees in the midst of crisis or unusual circumstances, you have multiple responsibilities. 

– The first is to listen with empathy to your employees’ needs. You may not be able to grant them all, but they need to see you reacting with emotional intelligence to the problems that are affecting them. 

– The second is to look for solutions. You may have one scenario in your mind, but after feedback from team members, you may need to find a middle ground between what you want and what’s important to them. 

 – The third is to take care of yourself. When you try to work our solutions that fit for everyone, you can end up taking on too much yourself, exhausting your emotional reservoirs of strength or using all your time on listening/connecting with employees, then having no time for yourself. You need to build stamina and an internal bank of strength that will allow you to care for others without it being at the expense of your own well-being. 

3. Exceptional Leaders Develop Exceptional Communication Skills. 

Your communication should keep space with the changes your employees are experiencing. If multiple changes are happening at once, expect to communicate even more directly and frequently.

Why is all this communication and connection important?  

You want employees to feel that the situation is transparent, that they understand what’s happening even though they may not like or agree with it all.

If you’re telling employees what’s happening, you have the opportunity to frame your message and tie it in to cultural touchpoints, instead of letting things happen without comment, then letting the employees create their own narrative to fill in the gaps. 

Communication should be both ways. Create talking points, FAQs, video messages – whatever you need to get the message out. 

Then, make sure you’re following up. 

Get feedback from your team members so you know what’s impacting them. A change that makes perfect sense to a room full of executives might be an implementation nightmare for front-line staff. 

Opportunities to gather information include:

  • Round table discussions (virtual in this case) 

  • Surveys

  • One on one conversations

Developing leaders within your organization requires that you give them the chance to speak up. These opportunities to discuss, offer ideas and communicate with emotional intelligence give them the opportunity to grow, and you want to see who’s ready to step up, speak candidly and work to improve the situation for others. 

4. Exceptional Leaders Dedicate Time to Coaching. 

When you’re dealing with unprecedented situations, you need extra support. Take time to connect with a coach and work through new situations and emotions. 

The entire process of leading during these times is wearing. Your coach can help you see the blind spots that may be affecting your ability to connect with team members, or to structure your communications to ensure you’re connecting with and supporting your team members where ever they are.

And, leadership development coaches also support your growth and development when it comes to building communication skills and focusing on leading with empathy and emotional intelligence.

When you’re committing resources to your own coaching/leadership development, think about ways you can make similar opportunities available to your team members. Consider bringing a coach or leadership development facilitator to your team virtually, so they can hear the same message across the board.

This approach strengthens the cultural touch points you’re trying to reinforce in other conversations. 

Individual leadership development can also help your employees stay connected and engaged, picking up some of the slack for you where you can’t dedicate yourself fully to coaching for each team member. 

Facilitated leadership round tables can also work to grow your team’s capacity for leadership and connection. Consider bringing an outside expert into your virtual conversations so you can engage instead of manage the conversations. 

These discussions can help you see patterns in a timely manner so you can address them, or serve as a reinforcement of cultural touch points for a team that’s physically disconnected.

And, the conversations don’t have to stop. Coaching, workshops, group discussions and connections should all continue to be used to develop your team’s potential, even once you return to the office.

Need more guidance on supporting your team and maintaining a strong culture when remote? Download our executive brief, Building Leaders: The Out-Of-Office Edition, and start planning additional ways to enhance your leadership and grow the leaders around you. 

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