Lots of people are feeling the impact of outside distractions and pressures on their ability to get their jobs done and meet professional and business goals. Between cynical political and social news, fear and worry of the unknown, and a myriad of other distractions, it feels more difficult than ever before to show success. While we are all struggling under the weight of the same social/economic/political issues, we’re also looking for better, stronger leaders to help us and the organizations we work for navigate through these turbulent waters. If there was ever a time to do some internal reflection and find ways to improve your abilities as a leader, it’s now.
The realities of a distracted workforce have been well-documented recently. According to a survey by Udemy, 70 percent of workers admit they feel distracted when they’re on the job, and about 1 in 5 admit to feeling “almost always distracted.” The problem appears even greater when we look at results from surveyed Millennials and Gen Zers, who admit to feeling distracted 75 percent of the time.
So how can leaders step up to lead effectively and turn their teams’ attention back to the challenges of meeting corporate goals? Here are some of the actions the best leaders take during times of crisis—and ideas for aspiring managers and leaders as they look to strengthen their leadership muscle to prepare for a world of unknowns.
Leadership tip #1: Find your anchor
In the midst of a storm, it’s the anchor that keeps the ship grounded. Organizational leaders should not only know their company values by heart—they should anchor with those values by living them out on a daily basis. When a storm comes your way, such as a reduction in workforce or an unforeseen crisis, it’s important that all employees understand the company values, and feel empowered to live them out.
During challenging times, it becomes especially important for leaders to stay laser-focused on the vision of the company and move forward on team and company values. Sometimes, this means taking a stand for what’s right or wrong—but more often, it means providing direction and guidance so employees know which direction to go.
Leadership tip #2: Don’t go into hiding
In times of crisis, whether internal or external, the best leaders make themselves highly visible. When employees are uneasy, nervous, or upset, they want to see and hear from their leader. Leaders should remain highly visible and attempt to add some perspective to what’s going on inside or outside of the organization. Visibility and simply showing up go a long way toward building trust and fostering relationships across your team.
Leadership tip #3: Communicate openly and honestly
According to Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers Research, strong leadership and frequent communication are always important, “but they are crucial during difficult times in order to even maintain employee engagement at current levels, let alone drive it higher.” Aon Hewitt found that in highly engaged organizations, leaders are perceived as 1.7 times more effective than their counterparts at low engagement organizations because they know how to set the direction forward.
Even if they don’t have all the answers, leaders should communicate openly and do their best to bridge the gap between what’s happening at the top and how it will impact the future for their team members.
Leadership tip #4: Diversify your team
The best leaders set their teams up for success over time by hiring and mentoring employees with diverse backgrounds. In my experience, a diverse workforce doesn’t just survive in times of turbulence—often the team prospers and comes out stronger in the end. In fact, decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60 percent better results, according to research from Cloverpop.
Leadership tip #5: Create a “can-do” environment
Even in the toughest of times, the best leaders work to counteract cynical news and fear of the unknown just by focusing on what can be done at work. When employees have a clear picture of their goals at work and feel supported by their team, they will often stay more focused. Each leader possesses a unique opportunity to create a state of calm for his or her team.
The worst thing leaders can do is to act like nothing is happening, or keep their head down until the storm passes. It’s better to address the crisis and continue communicating clearly about the work that needs to get done (while of course offering support along the way).
Leadership tip #6: Customize care
The world’s best leaders know how to care for the individuals on their team. It’s rarely one-size fits all. Managers and leaders should know their team well, including their hopes, dreams and future plans. This enables the leader to address hard situations one-by-one and jump in with relevant advice and coaching.
Leaderhip tip #7: Be an active listener
The best way to keep a pulse on your team, or on an organization as a whole, is through active listening. Fully concentrate, understand, respond and react to what the other person said. When leaders deploy this technique, a few powerful things can happen. First, employees feel heard, which makes them feel cared for and important.
Second, leaders have real, authentic opportunities to hear potential road blocks or areas for improvement across their team. Lastly, active listening promotes trust building, which improves the manager-employee relationship and often increases the influence of the leader.
Leadership tip #8: Have a long-term vision—and a short-term plan.
During times of crisis, the team needs to both understand what is happening in real time, how it impacts the future of the organization, and more specifically, their individual role. The best leaders can effectively communicate both at the same time. By understanding how their manager or leader plans to weather the storm, employees feel more at ease and certain about the future.
How to move from mediocre to influential leader
In a perfect scenario, human resources and a leadership team at an organization will team up with managers and leaders to build skills, like the ones I discussed above. GE for example, sends top talent to leadership centers where the leadership team is hands-on with future leaders. Their approach is an unbeatable combination of getting both leaders and human resources involved in the future of the company, by getting them to invest in the future of its personnel. But at the end of the day, the success of a leader depends mostly on his or her willingness to learn and grow.
Leadership growth requires a combination of formal training, whether in a classroom, self-paced or through reading or special projects. These opportunities for learning help to mold a brand-new manager into an influential leader, or polish an existing leader’s skillset. Once leaders begin to understand how to communicate effectively and understand what makes a good leader, it becomes necessary to apply these learnings—or risk becoming stagnant. This is where a coach can help immensely.
Everyone needs a coach
Coaching accelerates leadership development by moving learning to action. When it comes to applying new skills and learnings, a coach can jump in to offer suggestions and feedback that mold the leader into an even better leader. For example, a coach might work with 360-degree feedback—which incorporates direct feedback from the leader’s boss, his or her direct reports plus coworkers and other people in the organization—to help the leader improve their skills.
This type of feedback is often a strong “gut-check” for leaders because the variety of individuals providing input and feedback tends to be honest, with the intention of helping the leader improve in the long-term. Coaches do more than help a leader grow and develop—they offer actions and next steps following feedback so he knows what to do next.
Beyond feedback, coaches truly dig deeper to get to the bottom of what fulfills a leader, a critical but often overlooked component of successful leadership. When leaders understand what drives them, they become more effective. Coaches can play the important role of uncovering what fulfills a leader and then making suggestions to follow a path toward satisfaction.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a leader is an extravert or an introvert, or has a certain personality type, or if they are following every leadership best practice perfectly. What matters is their willingness to work on evolving their leadership skills for the long haul. National Boss’ Day is a good day to make your commitment to becoming a better leader. Next year on the same day, measure your success by the strength and resilience of your team.