What a parking garage reminded me about the important responsibilities of being a business leader, especially right now.
It’s hard to believe that we’re almost six months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted just about every aspect of our lives—both personal and professional. Many of the day-to-day things we used to take for granted seem like a distant memory. Coffee on your morning commute. Chatting with co-workers around the proverbial water cooler. Even just gathering around a table to share ideas.
I recently found myself thinking about one of those everyday things I used to take for granted—my daily walk. Walking has always helped me clear my mind and think creatively, as well as get in a little exercise. In the pre-pandemic world, I’d leave my desk at the Syncron North American Headquarters in Atlanta each midday to stretch my legs and enjoy our beautiful grounds. The particular day I’m thinking of was warm but rainy, so I decided to head to the parking garage where I could stay dry while still getting in my steps. Although walking in a large concrete structure probably doesn’t sound that great, it became an eye-opening, and humbling, experience.
A window into my teams’ lives
I passed the electric vehicle charging stations and climbed the ramp up to the second level, where I saw a gray minivan with one of those stick figure family decals on the back window. I was thinking about what (or rather, who) that sticker represented when I spotted another car belonging to one of my team members. This window didn’t have a sticker on it, but I noticed two car seats in the back. That got me thinking about what they meant to my team member. In a word—everything.
As I walked around each level, all the way up to the sixth floor and back down to the first, I paid attention to how many of the vehicles parked there either contained car seats or bore stickers touting school accomplishments, kids’ sports teams, or stick figure family members. And while it wasn’t news to me that our employees have lives outside of work, it reminded me just how important those lives are. Not only are these people valuable team members and colleagues, they’re little league coaches and scout leaders. They’re volunteers, and friends, and neighbors. And most importantly, they are moms, dads, husbands, wives, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
Time for leaders to lead
During these challenging times, we all need to look out for one another. This is especially true for employers and business leaders who are responsible not only for our team members’ productivity, but also for their well-being. And with most of our US-based team working from home, that means having awareness and empathy for each person’s individual needs and situation—which includes their families. As we weather the uncertainty of how COVID-19 will continue to impact our epidemiological, social, and economic health in the months and possibly years to come, we have to do our best to support our employees in ways we might not normally think about. Now is the time for leaders to truly lead and help their team members manage their fears, insecurities, and stress so we can all thrive in this unchartered territory.
If you’re an employer, a manager, or a leader at any level, part of your job is keeping your team members informed, calm, and focused. They also need to be nimble, because adapting to a changing environment is vital to maintaining business continuity. To help our teams continue to succeed, the Syncron leadership team uses the following principles to minimize business disruption and ensure the health and well-being of our employees, so they can take care of their families.
Lead the way
It may be a platitude, but the best leaders really do lead by example. To bring out the best in any team, you should show them how you want them to be. You can’t expect people to stay calm, focused, and professional if you’re stressed, distracted, and in your pajamas. Being in charge means setting the standards and sticking to them as well as enforcing them.
Communicate clearly and regularly
Without the opportunity to interact with our colleagues in person, leaders need to make an extra effort to stay in touch with team members near and far. Virtual communication can be misconstrued, so be sure to check in periodically with no agenda, just like you would at the office. This is especially important if workers are experiencing remote work fatigue—communicating more often than you would normally can help keep everyone energized and focused on business goals.
Inform and empower leaders
Now is not the time to micro-manage. Being able to move quickly in a virtual working environment hinges on alignment with core business goals and values, and the ability to act without endless layers of approval. Set up regular communication channels and distribute decision-making authority so team leaders can do what they need to do to keep projects, teams, and initiatives moving forward.
Balance optimism with reality
Everyone can agree this has been a challenging year, but things will get better. However, being overly cheerful and pretending everything is peachy-keen, Pollyanna-style, doesn’t serve anyone. In fact, it might lead you to overlook opportunities to solve real challenges. Look forward with optimism, but be sure to sprinkle in a healthy dose of reality. Doing so will help you steer the ship through rough waters. And your team will appreciate it.
Practice empathy, always
Every individual’s situation is different, and many people are struggling in ways that others might not know about. It could be their spouse is out of work, or also working from home. Maybe their kids are learning at home. Perhaps they know someone with a health issue, and they’ve been unable to visit. With the current situation amplifying every worry, leaders must make an extra effort to understand what might be going on in each employee’s life and show genuine concern in a way that resonates. Be kind, be thoughtful, and put yourself in their shoes. Then do your best to help them in whatever way you can—even if it’s just lending an ear. We’ll get through this if we look out for one another, and that starts with you.
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