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Leadership During A Pandemic

As a leader, is it better to be feared – or loved? It’s a trick question… you want your team to be afraid of how much they love you.


Never has there been a more important time to be a capable leader than during the tumultuous conditions created by a global pandemic.


In today’s blog, we’re discussing what the true meaning of leadership is, and how it’s tested, when times are both tough and uncertain.


So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 18 months or so, you would have experienced exactly what it’s like to try to get work done in a world of Covid-19 restrictions to reduce the risk of infection, and the compromises that have to follow – both from employers, as well as employees.


The balancing act is to maintain some semblance of productivity, while still keeping the health and safety of those who trust you in a work setting at the forefront of your decision-making process.


What We Know:


While the survival rates following Covid-19 infection aren’t as bad as first feared, there still is the issue of wildly varying symptoms. What may be asymptomatic for one person, could put another worker in such a state that they require a ventilator to breathe – or worse.


What is apparent is that this particular, nasty pandemic is horribly contagious. You really want to keep this nasty bug out of the office space, and well away from any members of your team. The only way to do that is to look at the facts, and the health guidelines, and to make informed choices – in short, to be an excellent leader.


If we look at studies from past catastrophes, there are some interesting stats. On average, the stress felt by people through the media can actually be more acute than those who witnessed a tragedy firsthand. Mental health is a fragile thing, and ongoing exposure from doomsday predicting media bombardment can do some pretty wild things to the human mind and psyche.


What The Big Wigs Are Doing:


Using JPMorgan Chase Traders as an example, as soon as they had discovered that a worker in its Manhattan offices had contracted the virus, the company issued a mandate that everyone who had contact with that employee isolate for 2 weeks.


They had found out about the infection 3rd hand through press reports and instead of panicking, strictly adhered to the guidelines set out by the Centre for Disease Control.


Goldman Sachs have a similar policy relying on the expert advice of those tasked with containing and fighting the pandemic. But at the same time, they try to mitigate panic within their working cohort by only disclosing Covid-19 cases to their employees who had direct contact with the sick worker, or who were on the same floor.


There’s a certain nuance to following the CDC’s guidelines to the letter of the law, but at the same time, protecting the privacy of your workers. It’s about caring for health, but at the same time, showing respect for those unfortunate enough to fall ill and protecting them from the misplaced outrage and stigma that often comes with testing positive.


The balance exists to keep employees safe, without raising the alarm for no reason. By selectively sharing information, individual privacy remains intact – as there’s little point sharing information to those who don’t have anything to worry about. By doing these two things, the staff in your care are able to focus and work to the best standard the circumstances allow.


Here’s a bit of a step-by-step checklist to make sure you’re doing the right thing by your team.


Step 1 – A Policy Of Transparancy:


It seems like a no brainer, but just be transparent. As more facts emerge, and guidelines are revised by government bodies, it makes sense to share everything with your team – and how the updated information affects the way they carry out their role.


For example, now we know there is a 99% survival chance for those under the age of 70, and an overall survival rate of around 95% - a much more optimistic outlook than the initial projected figures at the very start of the pandemic. This isn’t an excuse to not treat Covid-19 with the seriousness it demands, but rather educating the company about the possible outcomes following infection.


Once again, it’s all about balance. Robotically sharing the health guidelines with no explanation or chance for discussion does little to alleviate the fears felt by your workers. It’s human nature to focus on what worries us, so take the opportunity to build trust and boost morale by taking the time to address individual employees concerns in an open forum type meeting.


Step 2 – Committing To The Policy:


It goes without saying that once you decide on a policy – you fully embrace it. This means sharing all resources with your team, including any studies done, and the research driving the decision-making process behind the guidelines and your policy.


Though a blanket email is great for employees to refer back to, the initial information has to have a more personal touch – whether it’s a meeting in person, or in most cases, an online Zoom meeting.


The big takeaway is to really take note of workers that are vehemently opposed to the changes to working conditions, or who appear overly upset. Take the time to further explain the reasons behind the new policy in greater detail, while still outlining expectations from the employees and not eroding or diluting adherence to the policy in any way, shape, or form.


Step 3 – Time To De-centralize:


During a pandemic, it’s more than likely that as governments around the world limit the free movement of their citizens, you have to reflect this in the workplace. In essence if a worker doesn’t have to be at work – then they shouldn’t be.


This doesn’t count for essential workers, but for non-essential employees, working from home and communicating primarily via online Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails has to become the new norm – until the pandemic is over.


Having facetime between management and the team helps to keep the team cohesive and strongly connected. The top companies are having upper management take turns to dial in to video meetings several levels down the org chart so they can listen to what their workers have to say.


Step 4 – Communication Is Key:


There is communication, and there is dictatorship. Be extremely careful about the way your management team as well as yourself deliver the information to everyone within the company. It’s all about connecting, and building trust.


The message needs to be delivered without ambiguity, while acknowledging that the situation is both confusing and inconveniencing for everyone. A degree of empathy needs to be shown for those affected by the pandemic – it’s entirely possible that some of your staff are at home recovering, or may have loved ones who have been sick or even passed away.


Never underestimate the power a medical professional has during a pandemic. You aren’t a doctor, so bringing one into the fold to explain things more in-depth will go a long way to alleviate any fears amongst your staff.


Step 5 – Back Yourself:


Doing the right thing isn’t easy. There will be a fair amount of self-doubt, of contemplating whether a course of action was the correct one to take or not. You need to back yourself, to have faith in your ability to yield to the advice of medical professionals and develop a policy based of scientific fact, and not personal opinion.


You’re responsible for your team’s safety at work, but also, to ensure that it’s business as usual with the least number of interruptions possible. There is little point sending everyone home on indefinite leave, only for them to find out the company has folded, and they have no job. Conversely, ignoring health directives leaves you open to litigation for failing to ensure a duty of care for your employees.


Also remember, nothing is set in stone. As new developments arise, be sure reflect those changes as you update your policy surrounding how you operate during a pandemic.


A real leader will share what they’ve learnt with their team not only to benefit them, but also as a dialogue opener for the employees to share their own views surrounding the situation. Let facts dictate, and not feelings – but at the same time, don’t be unfeeling.


It’s important to understand that there is no manual for how to cope with a global pandemic. This current coronavirus outbreak, one that has spread throughout the globe, is one a scale that very few living souls today have ever seen – and something that will more than likely never happen again in our lifetimes.


Honestly is the best policy here, and echoing the advice set out by the government and medical professionals is the correct course of action – so long as it’s done the right way.



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