We are truly living in unprecedented times. Approximately 73,000 businesses have closed across the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Others have filed for bankruptcy, including big names such as JC Penney, Hertz, and J. Crew. Furthermore, 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of shutting their doors for good. All this has happened (and still happening) even as over 48 million people have filed for unemployment. These are just statistics in the U.S. and doesn’t include the global economic impact Cover-19 has had on businesses around the world.
Considering that workplace stress has always been high – as much as 80% according to research – leadership and staff are likely under even more pressure now. Yet, there is a stronger need in organizations for leaders to be on the ball due to the added strain on resources brought on by the pandemic.
After all, a breakdown in leadership often results in team members losing direction as well. Your most productive and reliable employees may suddenly start making mistakes and delivering less and lower quality results, all of which can sink your business even faster.
With the COVID-19 crisis worsening in the USA and being controlled in other countries, how can leaders step up to the plate and deal with extra pressure? Here are the leadership skills you will need to help you through the storm.
Focusing on your purpose
Finding solutions in critical times can become more difficult if all you are thinking about is the pressure you are under. One way to keep a clear head is to focus on your why. What’s your purpose in your role? More importantly, why do you do what you do? Reminding yourself of what drives you and the goals and objectives you are reaching for can give you added incentive to keep moving forward and open your eyes to possible solutions that you may not have seen by thinking about the pressure. A purpose-driven mindset also breeds positive thinking, which is also highly important to combat negative thoughts that may arise in a stressful situation.
Avoid being reactive
It can be most difficult to remain calm while the pressure builds to a boiling point. But knee jerk reactions can quickly make any situation infinitely worse. Regardless of how dire the situation seems; it is best to delay action until you have a better understanding of what is happening. This will allow you to formulate a plan of action that is more suitable than acting in the heat of the moment.
Of course, this is easier said than done. When revenues suddenly fall off by 50% or more, board members, partners, investors, and other stakeholders may want answers all at once. Many leaders in such a situation will feel as if swift action is the best way forward. However, this rarely results in an improvement. Becoming less reactive and remaining calm and focused is an intentional process which involves:
- Active listening
- Talking to others
- Gathering the facts
Balance facts with emotional intelligence
Getting the facts of the matter is essential for effective planning and producing a timely response. This means examining the data, looking for examples from the past, and doing research on the best possible options available to you. However, knowledge of the facts alone is not enough. Team members will likely be affected by any decision you will make, so how your plan of action is communicated has to take that fact into account. This is where emotional intelligence comes in.
Emotional intelligence is largely about being aware of how your actions and verbal communication affects those around you while remaining cognitive of your own feelings in the process of responding to situations that might include conflict. More and more leaders are recognizing the benefits of emotional intelligence, especially in a time when workplaces are becoming more and more stressful. Writing in an article on Inc.com, Brent Gleeson, a speaker, author, and Navy SEAL veteran, pointed out that communication issues is one of the main factors leading to retention issues in the workplace. In addition, he listed the following five main attributes of leaders who show emotional intelligence:
- Relationship management
- Effective communication
With that said, practicing emotional intelligence in high-pressure situations will breed understanding for all parties involved and help reduce conflict that could worsen the situation.
Drawing on your support system
Leading from the front is necessary to get through high-pressure situations, but it does not mean going it alone. Great leaders tend to have strong support systems who help to strategize, provide needed advice, and present alternate perspectives you may not be able to see due to being so close to the situation. This is the reason why presidents tend to have a team of advisors, close friends, and family members around them.
President Abraham Lincoln, for example, had two secretaries, while President John F. Kennedy often turned to his brother for support. There are numerous other examples, but the bottom line is that tapping into your support system is highly important when facing highly stressful periods. If you are not used to seeking advice or unsure of the persons you want in your corner for a particular problem, there are a few questions you can ask yourself.
- Are they open-minded?
- Can they fathom the depth of the situation?
- Is he or she often supportive of your vision?
- Can they provide unbiased and objective analysis and critique?
- Do they have confidence in their own views?
Ability to visualize possible outcomes
Pressure at work can cloud your vision. That’s why it is so important to take a step back and analyze the facts of the matter. But it is also good to have the power of vision. Visionary leaders are not only able to see the long-term goal of their initial plans, they also hone the ability to see possible outcomes when new and unexpected problems arise. Thrash out all the possible short term and long term effects, look at the budget available to you, review all the tools and resources at your disposal, and seek out new initiatives that could work for your situation. By meeting with stakeholders and discussing the different variables, it will be possible to decode the outcomes and decide which approach to take to achieve the one that is best for your situation.
Whether you are a CEO, department manager or team supervisor, providing decisive direction, quick thinking, and confident decision making is required of you now more than ever. Handling pressure well is not only helpful in keeping the business afloat but also to boost staff morale.