In challenging times like these, brought on the global pandemic, employees look towards the leaders of their organisations to set the foundation for how to deal with current circumstances. The way in which leaders react and treat employees in their teams will make lasting impressions on company culture, employee engagement and retention and the ability to attract and hire new talent.
So, what are the skills and qualities that the most successful leaders demonstrate, especially in uncertain or crisis situations? And what are the traits that the best leaders will embody in order to lead their team and organisation through successfully?
5 skills and traits that effective leaders show
With openness and a willingness to reassess everything that they do, the best leaders operate with open doors during a crisis. Transparency is so important because it builds trust – something that becomes invaluable during challenging times when there is lots of information being circulated at once. Transparent leaders also build up the confidence of the team and eliminate misunderstandings and the spread of false information.
During a situation such as the quick spread and changing nature of COVID-19, circumstances change rapidly. And so, an effective leader should have the skills to firstly listen to all the options on the table, plus the relevant stakeholders, then make quick, decisive decisions that will provide the best possible outcome to everyone involved.
3. Excellent communication skills
The importance of communication in a crisis can’t be overstated. An effective leader should be able to speak to employees at all levels in the company, in an open and relatable way. Importantly, as the pandemic passes, top leaders know how to communicate with their teams in a way that inspires confidence and builds motivation to keep on going through whatever challenges might come next.
The ability to look beyond the crisis in the moment and see what should come next is extremely crucial for leaders now – both in terms of making quick decisions and to see the way forward to successfully navigate through the storm. Having a strong vision for the company and being able to communicate it effectively can help employee engagement remain high and drive the organisation forward.
Empathy is a hard skill to quantify but leaders who have it have been proven to lead through challenging times much more successfully than a leader who doesn’t demonstrate it. Empathy allows leaders to genuinely understand the consequences of their decisions for everyone in the company. It also means that leaders are able to inspire, encourage and strategise in ways that will motivate employees across the board, which in turn, impacts their levels of engagement and productivity.
Becoming an empathetic leader
While many of the above-mentioned traits and skills are important in a time of crisis, empathy stands out as one of the most important. Some of the best leaders in the world are highly empathetic and it shows in their decisions, communication style and way of relating to those they are leading.
Empathy isn’t a quality that comes naturally to everyone but the good news is that it can be developed. According to American psychologist and author Adam Grant, empathy is not a hardwired trait. It is a soft skill that leaders can develop with hard work.
Here are four actions that anyone can take to become an empathetic leader.
1. Focus on two-way communication
Openly and often, empathetic leader share as much information as possible, even to the point where it seems unnecessary or redundant. That communication should be direct, straightforward and crafted with the idea that everyone is human and not just a number in the office. And listening is as important as talking – empathetic leaders hear what people are saying and place a strong emphasis on being available for two-way communication. Grant says: “Ask people what their biggest challenge is. Pay attention to what causes them pain. Show you care.”
2. Maintain a connection
After any initial essential communications, empathetic leaders make the effort to maintain a connection with people at all levels of the company. Check in on employees to ensure that they are aware of resources available to them and see how their situation evolves throughout. Mental health is always an important factor in overall productivity and employee engagement – and it becomes even more impactful during a crisis. Reach out to employees often and sincerely.
3. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes
A key characteristic of someone who is empathetic is the ability to see situations from various viewpoints of different employees throughout the company. Make the effort to go through exercises in which you regularly think about decisions from a strategic leadership standpoint but also from the point of view of employees that the decisions will affect.
4. Seek out training
The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned. Seek out for training that can help with effective communication, managing people with different personalities, or education that focuses on developing other leadership skills. There are even learning institutions for corporate training that develop empathy as a strength course.
The way forward into the future
While many processes in the future workplace are moving towards automation, there are others that are becoming increasingly more human-centric. Leadership is one of those things – employees and other leaders alike expect strong leaders with high self-awareness who make decisions with empathy and kindness. Empathetic leaders will be in high demand in the future, particularly as companies make their way into the new normal and operate in a business recovery world.
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