Leadership Defined In A Pandemic


The question is, how is leadership defined in a pandemic? With influence! That is how leadership is defined during a pandemic. At least that’s what you are supposed to say. But in an upside-down world featuring a global pandemic, is that still true? I believe the answer is YES! and ‘more better’ YES! (I know it’s not proper grammar).

A leader recently said this in a Skype meeting,

“You’re not just working remotely. You are working remotely during a worldwide pandemic. You’re dealing with anxiety that you’ve never felt before and, to top it off, many of you are now responsible for homeschooling your children. Cut yourself some slack. I know I will.”

  • What was she saying? I GET YOU; I get what you’re going through and I acknowledge it and finally, I am on your side!
  • What was she doing? GIVING US PERMISSION TO BE HUMAN. She was letting us know that it’s okay to take care of ourselves and our kids and not feel guilty in doing so.

And, an amazing thing happened during that meeting of 40 or so employees – people began to open up about their struggles of working remotely. They felt heard, but just as importantly, they didn’t feel alone.

Influence in Leadership during a Pandemic

Influence in leadership is needed now, more than ever. But influence for the bottom line’s sake or for productivity’s sake cannot be the driving factors behind this influence. People should be. People should always be. This is ‘more better’ influence.More better’ influence is simply, using your platform to blow your employees away with empathy and action. It’s using your platform as a leader to affect or change how someone or something develops, behaves, or thinks (the Cambridge def of Influence) – for their own good! If we don’t care about our employees first as unique, individual human beings with real needs and emotions, then we’ve lost our influence. So, how do we lead people with ‘more better’ influence, in and through this pandemic?

Leadership Defined by Expressing Empathy

An important factor during this time is for leaders to meet employees where they are: Emotionally, Physically, and Mentally. Some of your employees are really struggling with this pandemic. Whether it’s juggling working from home and homeschooling kids, or fear and panic about getting COVID-19, the struggle is real. Maybe they’ve lost a loved one or had an older relative quarantined in a nursing home. Or maybe they’re struggling to put food on the table because their children are now eating two extra meals at home a day (with just one child, that’s 10 extra meals a day). Their struggles are real.

How Leadership Can Meet Employees Where they Are

  1. Don’t assume you know how they are feeling. Ask them. Some of your employees are struggling, but others are not. We do a disservice to our employees by lumping everyone into one pot.
  2. Offer professional counseling sessions. You may not be able to offer this but, if you can, do it!
  3. Create employee listening posts where they can talk about their struggles. Whether or not leadership is a part of these or you just create a time that allows employees to just vent, these can be very valuable. If you participate, listen, really listen, and take notes of what you are hearing. Are there things you can assist with? Are they even asking for assistance or just needing to vent? Listen.
  4. Give out grocery gift cards. According to the Brookings Institute, “two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, are food insecure.” If you have employees struggling to provide essentials for their families, a grocery gift card can go a long way to helping your employees and building faith and loyalty in the company.
  5. Organize a social-distancing canned good drive for your employees. What a great way to build community among your employees! Poll your employees on what food items would be helpful instead of just guessing (I’ve seen 5-year old canned yams in a rust-covered can make it into a canned food drive- yuck!). And it doesn’t just have to be canned goods. Be creative.
  6. Extend grace to your employees when it comes to completing tasks and assignments. This is pretty self-explanatory but suffice it to say that at times like these, grace wins!
  7. If you’re working remotely, assemble a diverse team to discuss what getting back to ‘normal’ would look like. Talk about the possible date(s) and protocol. Let your employees be part of the process.
  8. Poll your employees to find out what would make them feel safe in returning back to a face-to-face workplace. Maybe you need to purchase masks and gloves or plexiglass partitions. Maybe it’s rearranging the office for social distancing or staggering shifts. Ask your employees for their input.
  9. Recruit volunteer employees to be part of wellness check-ins. This is a great way to find out how your co-workers are coping. Also, use this time to communicate about the mental-health resources your company offers. These employee lead check-ins are really beneficial for large companies with a lot of employees making it difficult for one person to contact every employee.
  10. Online meetings are great but suck the life out of your employees. Meetings may be necessary (and a great way to check-in with your team) but poorly run meetings, especially via Zoom, Teams, Skype, etc. can be a waste of time and drain the life out of your employees. There are days when I have as many as six online meetings. This can be draining! Ask yourself, can what we’re meeting about be handled via email or on Teams? Are these meetings helping or hindering my employees from doing their jobs?

Finally, cut yourself some slack. You’re trying to manage a company or a team of employees and trying to come up with ways to keep everyone on the payroll and the business afloat. Plus, you, the leader, are also dealing with a global pandemic and possibly homeschooling your kids. This makes it even more difficult to decide how leadership is defined during a pandemic. So, breathe. Take time for yourself. Take time for your family. Not only will you benefit from this, so will your employees!

Hey, so give me some feedback. Let me know your thoughts on how you believe leadership is defined during a pandemic.

What is something that has helped you or your employees during this time?

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