Across the globe, business leaders are beginning to consider what a “return” to the office means. While we all crave a return to normalcy, the workplace will never be the same. Leaders are being called upon to carefully navigate the way forward, making crucial decisions in unchartered territories.
Given that, now is the perfect time to ask: How has my leadership changed for the better because of the pandemic?
We find there are two leadership traits that have been “dialed up” through this crisis that we hope leaders will continue to embrace going forward.
1. Empathy: Empathy is the ability to see the world as others see it, sense their emotions, and take their perspective, without judgement. While it has long been a core leadership capability, we all got a crash course on it over the last two months. And we’ve seen some remarkable examples of leadership empathy in action: Organizations recalculating capacity assuming employees with small children at home will be at about 50% productivity. Leaders who routinely cancelled 1:1s are now having them daily to stay current on each person’s context and well-being. Teams are opening virtual meetings with a personal check-in before diving into the work conversation.
Individual employees in these progressive organizations feel seen, heard and understood. They feel safe to be vulnerable. Therefore, they are more likely to let their managers know what they need and what they can realistically produce. This in turn helps leaders meet those needs, manage expectations, and keep the work moving forward.
While this is the right thing to do for employees, it’s also led to another surprising benefit which we call the empathy advantage. Because leaders have become more oriented to seek perspectives and understand the needs of others, they are making better decisions more quickly than before.
This same advantage applies to any decision from a new product feature to a company policy. Add empathy-building questions into your decision processes and the whole system will flourish.
2. Authenticity: Remember this 2017 viral video of a BBC contributor being interrupted by his kids? We’re all that guy now, and we’re better for it. Perhaps your team has seen your unfolded laundry, your cat walking across the keyboard, a member of your household rummaging through the fridge, and of course you—maybe without makeup or with a new beard. These windows into leaders’ “whole life” have broken down barriers between leaders and their teams. The Zoom box has become a bit of an equalizer, and as a result, teams and leaders are developing more trust, warmth, and rapport than ever before. It’s also paradoxically way more efficient.
The less we feel compelled to put on a persona and interpret the personas of others, the more quickly we can get to the heart of any issue and apply the best thinking of the group to solve problems.
Going forward, maintain this new level of authenticity. Bring your messy problems to your team. Share what you’re struggling with. Ask for help. Show up as your full self. When you do that, your team will too—and together, you’ll consistently generate innovative, creative solutions to intractable challenges.
The road back to the office will inevitably include course corrections, potholes and wrong turns. Hold on to the gifts of authenticity and empathy and you and your team will be better positioned to navigate it.