What Do Employees Need From Leaders Today
What Employees Need from Their Leaders Today
2020 has given us a front row seat to history in the making and the “how to” manual on leadership is being re-written as we go. The global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide racial tension and violent civil unrest mixed-in are being felt in all industries and by all people. Applying a Biblical phrase, new and veteran leaders are undergoing a baptism by fire in leadership development right now.
Today, employees are eager to see their leaders demonstrate true qualities of leadership more than any other time before. Leadership studies have shown that the best leaders are those armed with core competency, skills and traits that can be universally practiced, applied in all industries, and at all levels of leadership within an organization.
The widely respected Gallup Organization has studied major national crises over the last century, including the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II, the assassination of President John Kennedy, 9/11, and the 2008 recession to determine what (if any) common and effective leadership lessons come from challenging times. They found that what people sought most from their leaders at these trying times are trust, empathy, steadiness, and hope.
This is the very foundation of leadership and it must flow in both directions. Today we are living in a world where people can’t trust that they will wake up healthy tomorrow, it’s critical that they be able to trust other things: their families, friends, colleagues, and work leaders. This sense of trust can help people focus and move forward when they are bombarded with frightening information and distracted by a world that suddenly feels uncertain. Good leaders demonstrate trust by showing trust in employees and by ensuring employees’ trust in them is not a mistake.
The need for human-to-human connection and empathy right now is paramount. This doesn’t mean a typically more formal leader needs to become a touchy-feely ball of emotion. Humanity can be shown in many ways, from simply reaching out and asking how people are to offering sincere encouragement and practical acts of help and assistance. The simple act of listening is another incredibly important way to show empathy, compassion and even leadership. Leaders themselves may feel overwhelmed by business, economic and personal decisions but, must make a deliberate effort to demonstrate empathy while the pandemic continues and beyond.
Simply checking in and asking people how they are can be a powerful way to connect, express empathy and compassion with others.
Steadiness is defined as “stable in position or equilibrium.” We think of a lighthouse as steady in position, standing up to the harshest conditions, and we depend upon thermometers to be as accurate on the hottest July afternoon as the coldest December night. With our world in a state of instability right now, people are thirsty for steadiness in any part of their lives, including in their professional lives. When you as a leader show steadiness in a challenging work environment, you set the example that people need now. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t changes, we all realize change is unavoidable. It does mean that you are doing your best to adapt to circumstances, even attempting to stay ahead of change, in this climate of rapid and unpredictable changes.
Let’s be honest: you may not always feel hopeful. As a leader, however, your leadership can provide hope to people who may feel paralyzed by the fear of uncertainty and wondering if their lives will ever feel normal again. Communicating hopefulness will be particularly challenging if you have to downsize your team, but in those circumstances, demonstrating authenticity, vulnerability, and emotion shows that you care not only about your corporate duty, but also about the individuals on the team who have sacrificed to make it possible. There may even be days when you feel you must “fake it” to offer hope to others. Keep in mind, anything you do to help your team members remain positive and hopeful makes the day and the future less threatening.
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Like many things in life, leadership is easier when everything is going smoothly. True leaders emerge when challenges arise. Know what your team is going through during this time of COVID-19 and the current civil unrest in our major cities. Dedicate time to your team to show that you empathize and care about them as individuals and you will help your team come through the crisis stronger than before.