From there, I wrongly believed, the leader could share the strategy with their leadership team, command the team to execute the strategy, then meet with the team to see how well they were meeting the goals that the strategy was sure to deliver.
It turns out that this strategy-driven command and control model of leadership is outmoded — particularly during this pandemic. After all, now, nothing seems predictable — therefore the idea of one person getting all the facts and conceiving of a brilliant strategy is not feasible.
In a climate fraught with uncertainty, leadership is about making people feel better and empowering them to develop strategies for their specific areas of responsibility, see what works and what doesn’t and adjust until they achieve the desired aims of the company.
Here are four principles to help make your people feel better and perform more effectively.
1. Make remote workers feel less isolated.
Humans are social creatures — keeping them couped up in their homes is a good way to stop the spread of Covid-19. But it makes those workers feel lonely.
It’s up to leaders to do things that make them feel less so. According to the Wall Street Journal, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sees that despite its initial success, working from home creates an emotional void.
As McChrystal told the Journal, “Many of the things we do in the workplace are nonverbal. We’ve got to remember that we’re all separated, and many people feel very, very alone.”
To make workers feel less isolated, leaders should assign tasks to workers, encourage them to propose a solution to how they will execute those tasks and to seek feedback from colleagues and mentors whom they respect.
Leaders must also make time for brief one-on-one, employee-initiated videoconferences which enable workers to feel less isolated.
2. Communicate your values and empower local leaders to make the right decisions.
With people working from home, the tired command and control model of leadership is even more crippling than usual. Why hire smart people if you manage them as if they were merely an extra pair of hands?
It is far more effective to for leaders to articulate their values and empower workers who are closest to your company’s markets to make decisions and take actions that align with those values.
The pandemic reminds McChrystal of Afghanistan where conditions were so different in different parts of the country that he could not give his people the right orders for each location. As he said, “If you get on the ground and find that the order that we gave you is wrong, execute the order we should have given you.”
3. Don’t push your ideas on others — listen to them and learn.
The pandemic also requires leaders to recognize their limits. This means admitting what they don’t know and listening to their people and learning from them as they seek new ways to tackle the new challenges they face.
In so doing, leaders should be looking for people who demonstrate the potential to take on higher levels of responsibility. Rather than taking on my of the work on their own shoulders, business leaders should be delegated more to these high potential people in order to develop the next generation of leadership.
4. Lead by example.
Since leaders too often tell people to behave in one way and then do the opposite, it needs to be said that successful leaders model the behavior they want in their employees.
Bill Gates expects corporate leaders to do this when it comes to a Covid-19 vaccine. He told the Journal that his father’s civic activism inspired his philanthropy.
Gates said that he does not expect the government to provide strong leadership on the vaccine — once it becomes available. Once the healthcare community deems a vaccine to be safe and effective, he urges business leaders to get the vaccine for themselves and their employees.
Such leadership by example is always very powerful — and during a time when political leadership is woefully inadequate — business leaders must fill in the gap during this pandemic.
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