Leaders for Today

An English proverb says, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” It’s the idea that the right leaders will emerge or step up during times of crisis.

For many years we have shared data substantiating the fact that a person’s direct supervisor at work has a greater impact on that person than anyone else. So, it’s not just CEO’s or top management, but rather leaders at all levels that must step-up to engage and support their team members during this time of need.

A March 23rd Gallup article reinforced this point. “The supervisor or manager is the key conduit…” the article stated. “Only the direct manager can know each employee’s situation, keep them informed, and adjust expectations, coaching and accountability to inspire high performance.”

The question then becomes, how might we lead and inspire employees during this pandemic that’s creating anxiety and uncertainty everywhere?

The article provided some straightforward guidelines. “Global citizens look to leadership to provide a path — and to provide confidence that there is a way forward that they can contribute to. In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement. On the latter, if leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient.”

The piece went on to share meta-analytics, which have found four universal needs that followers have of their leaders:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

“These needs are especially urgent during crises,” the article said. “People look for these traits in their leaders as a signal that their life will be OK and that they can be part of the solution.”

Surveys Say We Can Do Better
Among the most important actionable organizational practices to address these four needs, Gallup listed the following along with the results of their most recent tracking:

  • Identify a clear plan of action: When asked if their company leadership had a clear plan of action, 39% of U.S. employees strongly agreed that their employer had done so.
  • Make sure people are prepared to do their jobs: When asked if they felt well-prepared to do their job, 54% strongly agreed.
  • Orchestrate a plan for supervisors to keep people informed: When asked if their immediate supervisor was keeping them informed, 48% strongly agreed.
  • Make sure employees know that the organization cares about their well-being. Gallup has found five elements of well-being that each organization can act on: career, social, financial, community and physical. When asked if their organization cared about their overall well-being, 45% strongly agreed.

This data might be useful to us all as we navigate our way forward during the COVID-19 crisis. It also shows there is room for improvement.

3 Managerial Best Practices
Along those lines, here are three key managerial best practices that might help leaders improve the effectiveness of their efforts to engage and support team members:

Communication is critically important. A recent Harvard Business Review article states, “Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager… consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement.”

However, Gallup research also indicated that “mere transactions between managers and employees are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.”

Effective performance management is also important, but it must go beyond the “annual review.” Given the significant and rapid changes we are all experiencing in day-to-day protocols, many people do not clearly understand their goals or what is expected of them. They may feel conflicted about their duties and disconnected from the bigger picture.

Consequently, managers must more frequently discuss and possibly redefine mission, priorities, achievement and expectations.

Focus on strengths. Given the above-referenced changes in protocols, some reassigning of responsibilities might be in order, especially for those who are struggling to maintain productivity while working remotely. If so, managers should make reassignment decisions based on strengths rather than short comings, as Gallup researchers have discovered that building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach.

Their current study supports this perspective, as a vast majority (67%) of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged, compared with just 31% of the employees who indicate strongly that their manager focuses on their weaknesses.

Read the full Gallup article.

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