The best leaders didn’t need to ‘adapt’ when COVID hit. Here’s why.

This article was originally published by CEO World Magazine

By Charlotte Rush

September 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an endless publication of articles, webinars and discussions about how to lead through a crisis. There is no doubt that organisational strategy was shaken up as business models were shifted and revenue targets were downgraded. There is also no doubt that teams everywhere had to find new ways to work and collaborate as remote working became the norm rather than the exception. But what did not change, and what should not have needed to change, was how leaders led and supported their people.

Here are just three ways in which great leaders continued to thrive throughout the pandemic and what you can learn from them:

Coach, don’t manage. 

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that the past is not an accurate predictor of the future. This means that the default role that managers play in giving advice based on their years of experience is inherently flawed. The best leaders of today have learnt to tame the advice monster and see their role not as a manager but as a coach.

To do well as a coach, your first step is to recognise coaching ‘moments’. Coaching moments arise when employees are facing a challenge and have the ability and desire to solve the challenge but are lacking clarity on a way forward. Next time you face one, tame your advice monster and instead ask an open-ended question such as –  “What result are you trying to achieve?”, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?” or “What have you tried so far?”.

See your staff as people.

As teams shifted to remote working at the start of COVID, many of us were given access to our team members’ homes thanks to the rise in virtual meetings. For many, it was a rare occasion to literally see into the home lives of our teams.

For those leaders who had previously invested in connecting with their team members on a personal level – knowing their interests, who they live with and the most important people in their lives – this transition was markedly smooth. Instead of seeing pictures of their team members’ children on their desks, they were seeing their children in the background of meetings as they balanced homeschooling.

Indeed, research by Ashley Hardin highlights that sharing personal details at work results in more positive interactions, an increase in responsiveness and a reduction in social undermining in teams. As we move towards hybrid workplaces, leaders will do well to hold onto the new rituals we have formed around connecting with staff on a personal level.

Act, rather than not acting.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the staggering impacts on business were only just beginning to present themselves, the best leaders were ready to act. Instead of adopting an approach of “wait and see”, these leaders knew that to act is less risky than to NOT act.

This is true in the case of a global pandemic or in the face of disruptive innovation. As Scott Anthony, Senior Partner at Innosight, highlights “When you go and place a bet, … the most that you can lose is the bet itself. The worst thing that happens is the money that you invested ends up returning zero. And that’s not great, but if you think about the big innovation flops — you can think about things like Google Glass, or you could think about Microsoft Zune… — those aren’t good things, but those aren’t the things that destroy companies. The downside when you invest in innovation is zero; the upside is uncapped.”

So, what is the best way to “act”? By adopting an experimental approach. The best leaders have seen the opportunity that COVID has presented and are continuously trying new things and learning along the way. By breaking new ideas into small and iterative steps, businesses can gather data, learn and change along the way.

By engaging in more coaching moments, connecting with your staff as people and adopting an experimental approach, the leaders of today will be far better placed to deal with whatever the world next decides to throw our way.