President at GHD Digital.
The pandemic has impacted almost all organizations and the people working in them. At my company, growing a new global business at this time required shifts in leadership behaviors and mindsets never anticipated before the crisis. I am proud to be part of a caring, value-driven global organization where safety, teamwork, respect and integrity guide everything we do. This pandemic has shown just how important these values are for future success.
Some of the tangible outcomes of these shifts include team connection and consistently high retention rates, growth in a slowing economy, rapid innovation to solve client issues and improved client intimacy reflected through our client satisfaction survey. We set big, audacious goals to maximize our growth and transformation results. Along the way, I’ve found there are seven shifts leaders can make to profoundly change how they lead:
1. Earn trust by doing the right thing for your people.
There’s nothing more important than the well-being and safety of your people. Prioritizing physical and mental well-being, realigning your strategy to pandemic times, revitalizing your go-to-market approach and rewarding employees can all help create something extremely important: trust.
Monitoring stress and workloads, proactively dealing with exhaustion and putting yourself in the shoes of others through empathetic conversations also help build trust and create stability in a highly volatile external environment. For us, this helped fuel our growth plans. And, at the end of the financial year, we celebrated our employees’ successes for almost a week, recognizing their amazing contributions during the year.
2. Be transparent about vulnerabilities and fears.
In my experience over the years, I’ve found there’s an expectation that leaders are invincible and that acknowledging vulnerabilities is a perceived weakness. I once had a boss who would compare himself to either Batman or Superman depending on which day of the week I was talking to him.
The fast and indiscriminate spreading of Covid-19 has deeply exposed vulnerabilities and weaknesses in dealing with such a mammoth challenge. It helped me truly embrace my vulnerabilities. I learned that it was much more important to be open and honest about my fears and concerns than to pretend I had all the answers. Being transparent and truthful will allow you to build meaningful, genuine relationships with your leadership team and colleagues across your organization.
3. Redefine your team’s higher purpose.
Your company’s pre-pandemic higher purpose may have needed a radical shift to embrace the challenges of globally dispersed colleagues, friends and family members. It’s important to redefine a new purpose to motivate yourself and motivate your team through a shared purpose. A well-defined, shared purpose can energize a team and inspire them to take extraordinary actions for the collective good of your company and their communities.
4. Foster inclusivity and belonging.
It’s important to have the diversity of thought to address the complex challenges of Covid-19. Diversity has been an area of focus for many organizations, though I believe there’s still room for improvement. In my company, for example, while we have a high level of leadership diversity (including 50% gender parity), focusing on inclusiveness and creating a sense of belonging is also important. Leaders shouldn’t stop at diversity and inclusion. Consider what additional steps you need to take to improve equity, a sense of belonging and value through one-on-one engagement and encouraging people to speak up and challenge the status quo.
5. Accelerate innovation to address difficult challenges.
“Jugaad” is a word in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi that, according to the Oxford Dictionary, refers to using limited resources in innovative ways in order to solve a problem. During a crisis, being able to innovate and quickly change course is vital. This means you might need to develop quick (and sometimes unconventional) ways of solving existing client issues. For instance, my company developed “jugaad” solutions to address immediate client issues; as a global enterprise, we embarked on significant multi-year investments to innovate and transform our businesses to improve client services.
6. Overcommunicate to reduce misinformation and stress.
My team communicated much more than we ever had once the pandemic began, with weekly team meetings, a fortnightly newsletter, town hall meetings, personalized handwritten letters and one-on-one conversations with employees. During difficult times, increasing the flow of information helps you convey that you care for your people and are available to answer any questions. I’ve found this also significantly reduces misinformation and confusion and brings leaders much closer to their employees.
7. Move from competition to collaboration.
When facing a glaring gap in human interaction, it’s helpful to introduce global team structures to enhance collaboration. Digital technologies such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and MURAL enabled virtual collaboration for both employees and clients. My team even collaborated with competitors, strategic partners, startups, academic institutions and industry and professional bodies, which helped increase the overall value in our ecosystems.
It’s an important time for leaders, no matter how experienced they are, to work on their own personal development and growth strategies. Too often, leadership behaviors focused on self-interest and gain have contributed to deep distrust, and I believe this has further increased during the pandemic. Self-awareness and development are critical for the effectiveness of all leaders.
The role of a CEO has evolved in the past year and a half. From my perspective, the title now means:
• “C” for clarity of direction and communication.
• “E” for engagement and empathy.
• “O” for orchestration of optimal outcomes.
The demands of the pandemic have highlighted the need for a new kind of leader. Leaders today need to become purpose-driven; develop trusting relationships and ecosystems; embrace their vulnerabilities; build inclusion and belonging in their team; and accelerate innovation for short-term and long-term benefits. These behavioral shifts will drive growth and enable future-proofing of their organizations.