Making of the Post COVID-19 Leader

Image credit: iStockphoto/tadamichi

Much has been written about the impact of the COVID-19 disruptions on the organizational workforce. But we need to spare a thought for the leaders.

Sure, workers have been at home isolated from each other and spending their time juggling videoconferencing, producing actual work, and family distractions. But what about the team leaders?

Their job is to ensure that workers are engaged, productive, and working towards delivering a project, keeping brand messaging consistent, and collaborating for the best outcomes.

As one CFO for a large Government agency in the state of New South Wales said to me last week: “Being the CFO is intense enough, but so much more of my work has become just keeping the team together.”

Searching for the team spirit

The CFO said her team of 180 had all been working from home for the last five and a half months.

“We pivoted inside of one week when the pandemic struck, and everyone started working from home,” she said. “So, this was about making sure the team, as a whole, was adapting to this alternative way of communicating and using technology.”

“Our joke is that the introverts are having a great time, but the extraverts are suffering,” she added.

So much more of her work, she said, has become looking after people’s mental health at home and making sure they operate effectively.

It involved innovation not typically part of a CFO’s role, in the form of creating weekly challenges for teams in areas such as cooking, quizzes, or birthday parties for staff.

“It is entirely designed around keeping people engaged and connected to their immediate and broader teams,” she said.

“So, we did a lot of work around being one big happy family in response to being so spread out and isolated from each other.”

The disruption, she said, had “broken down the layers we create around ourselves at work.”

“When you are on a video call, and someone is at home, they can’t get rid of the cat meowing or their kids running into the shot asking for something,” she said.

“So, in that respect, it gives everyone an insight into everyone else’s world, and that creates a different feeling in the group which I need to be really sensitive to.”

10 immediate actions for leaders

These anecdotal observations are borne out in recent research from Accenture, which recently surveyed more than 15,000 workers in 10 countries across 15 different industries.

The Accenture study highlights what workers need from their leaders in three primary areas: the physical, mental, and relational.

The consulting group points out that these three areas are always crucial for leadership, but the issues are magnified during crisis times.

“Leaders who rise to the challenge will help their people develop human resilience, the ability to adapt and engage through difficult times,” Accenture’s commentary said.

The survey delivers a list of 10 actions that C-suite leaders can do right now.

They are all worth listing because they combine soft skills with issues around technology adaptation and agility.

  • Gather the troops. Deliver a multidisciplinary C-suite ‘plan and act’ center after gathering feedback from all organization areas.
  • Relieve people from unnecessary work and activities. Focusing resources is critical at a time when people are worried about basic needs and their paycheques.
  • Responsible leadership is an imitable formula. Get educated on how to be a better leader.
  • Hierarchy be damned. Cross-functional, agile teams are the future, and the future is now. You don’t get to outcomes via functional silos.
  • Elevate the most visible leaders based on compassion and caring
  • Tell a story, don’t spew data
  • Rally leaders around consistent communication
  • Recognize that you were always going to need remote workforce capabilities for at least a portion of your workforce. Accelerate human plus machine collaboration and support people as they transition to digital ways of working.
  • Don’t allow the crisis of the Now to stop you moving towards the Next. Reserve two hours per day to get your organization and workforce focused on the future.

5 for resilience

Accenture, of course, isn’t the only organization turning its mind to this issue.

Deloitte has also had something to say, and their essential insight is around the idea of resilience.

Their analysis picks out five fundamental leadership qualities that distinguish chief executive officers as they guide their enterprises through the pandemic.

Here’s the five from Deloitte:

  • Design from the heart…and the head
  • Put the mission first
  • Aim for speed over elegance
  • Own the narrative
  • Embrace the long view

The evolving crisis playbook

Compared to Accenture’s 10 actions, there is significant commonality. And if you could boil all five down to the requisite qualities, they would be accountability, empathy, and a future vision.

These will stand a leader in good stead at any time, but perhaps are even more relevant in a time of crisis.

My CFO friend is probably all intuitively all over this stuff, but I’ll send her some links.

Something to ponder between those Zoom calls as she tries to manage her disparate team and plan the next staff birthday party.

Image credit: iStockphoto/tadamichi