It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned businesses around the globe on their heads. As of last fall, more than 97,966 businesses had permanently closed their doors during the pandemic, and that number continues to grow, contributing to unemployment. Business leaders have been forced to navigate everything from layoffs to complicated health and safety guidelines while expediting digital transformation initiatives to remain afloat.
While the future is beginning to look brighter as vaccines roll out and society starts to reopen, many uncertainties remain.
When facing a volatile business landscape, leaders can easily get distracted and stray from their goals, which can have an adverse effect on their organizations. Here are some leadership mistakes commonly seen during tumultuous times, and some tips on how to avoid them.
1. Avoiding tough decisions
Leaders often need to deliver bad news or make tough decisions such as staffing or financial cuts— this comes with the job, especially during the pandemic. For most, it can be the most painful part of their role, and I’ve seen many situations where these decisions are put off or not managed appropriately. This can lead to situations that end up being even worse than they need to be.
[ How are you staffing your efforts? Read also: Digital transformation teams in 2021: 9 key roles. ]
So, how can you avoid this? It’s usually best to just rip off the Band-Aid and address issues before it’s too late. This is especially important during challenging times when decisions can easily be delayed or overshadowed by larger, more visible business problems.
When you are delivering bad news, lead with honesty and empathy. People will be more understanding if you are sincere and truthful, and it will help make the process easier for everyone. It can also be helpful to follow up with a plan or with the next steps to help resolve or improve the situation. Having some sort of action plan can help boost morale and motivation.
2. Compromising on hiring decisions
When hiring new employees, urgency, timing, salary, and other factors are important parts of the equation. When companies are in a pinch — perhaps they need to fill a position quickly or are struggling to find the right candidate — it can be tempting to settle on someone who may not be the best fit for the job in the long run. This might be a quick fix, but it can lead to problems down the line.
Be sure to put the time and effort into hiring once and hiring smart. This might be difficult in a tumultuous business environment and you may feel a strong sense of urgency to fill a specific position. But try to stay focused on finding the candidate who is truly the best fit for the job.
Also, prioritize the experience and skills that are critical to success for the position, and don’t deviate from them – even if you are tempted to compromise on certain requirements.
Finally, consider how each candidate will enhance your company culture. Will they bring a diverse perspective or a unique set of prior experiences to their team? These are also important factors to consider.
3. Not trusting your team to do their job
It can sometimes be difficult for business leaders to take a step back and trust employees with certain projects. To an extent, this is understandable — you care about what’s going on and want to stay involved. But this can lead to micromanaging, which no one wants. Remote and hybrid work environments further complicate matters as you can’t simply drop by and see how things are going.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, start by hiring the right people (see above). When you trust your team, you will feel confident that they will do their jobs well. There will naturally be times when your help and input are needed, but the key is knowing when to take a step back to enable your teams to do their best work, especially in a remote environment.
Show your confidence in your employees by entrusting them with some big decisions and tasks early on. If this goes well, they will feel empowered to step up going forward. This, in turn, will give you the peace of mind of knowing that things are being handled appropriately, even if you’re not physically present to witness it.
With more workers communicating and collaborating remotely than ever before, it’s important to familiarize yourself with best practices around virtual interactions. Some leaders forget common courtesy in a virtual setting and use chat to hover over their employees. Set some basic principles for your team, such as not sending chats after hours, or setting a “busy” or “out of office” message in your chat profile when you can’t respond right away. These habits will discourage you and others from micromanaging.
We've got this
There has never been a more difficult time to lead a company, and there is no magic bullet to keeping a business afloat through a pandemic. But much of it comes down to perseverance, grit, and smart decision-making, which means trying your best to avoid common mistakes.
While the future of your business may remain uncertain, you can be confident that by handling tough situations appropriately, hiring the right people, and trusting them to do their jobs, you’ll put yourself and your business on the best possible path to success.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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