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3 Strategies for Leading Effectively Amid COVID-19

3 Strategies for Leading Effectively Amid COVID-19

Story Highlights

  • Leaders must build trust and show compassion
  • Managers are at the front line of this crisis
  • Focus on protecting your employees' wellbeing and leading with purpose

The coronavirus is turning out to be a critical leadership stress test. It has challenged virtually every contingency plan and risk mitigation strategy that leaders have ever envisioned.

Even now, as they prioritize speed and agility over elegance in this time of severe disruption, they need strategies that drive action and inspire followers.

Gallup's research shows that followers have four fundamental needs -- trust, stability, compassion and hope. So, it's alarming that a Gallup Poll found just about half of U.S. employees believe their "employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to the coronavirus" outbreak. And nearly one in four felt the leaders in their organizations are successfully managing emerging challenges.

When the whole world has changed, employees need steady leadership most -- but that's also when it's most difficult to lead. The following specific recommendations, based on Gallup research, will help.

1. Employees Need Trust and Compassion: Be Present, Even When You're Distant

Gallup research shows that 43% of U.S. employees were working remotely even before the crisis, and many more have joined their ranks. Demonstrating care and compassion may require leaders to communicate authentically via video addresses. A great example is the emotional, genuine and grounded video Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson recently made for his employees.

It goes to show you don't have to be in the building to be visible and show a strong leadership presence. Carefully craft your leadership narrative to share your optimism and hope. Workers, customers, suppliers and partners need to know what you are doing to face challenges, especially as social distancing increases, to face their own.

However, your managers are at the front line. Each department might have a different role to play in response to this crisis. Managers and employees in operational roles will likely face a more onerous burden on their time, energy and health.

These managers need to see your face. And you need to know about their day-to-day work in unprecedented times. Don't skip your regular coaching conversations and help remove barriers that get in the way of their success. Managers are your prime conduits of culture and information and the catalysts of employee performance. And they need your compassion and help more than ever.

2. Employees Need Stability: Prioritize Wellbeing Amid Disruption

Businesses have acted with laudable swiftness to keep their employees physically safe, but people's financial, social, community and career wellbeing are all in some danger -- indeed, 52% of Americans say that it's either likely or somewhat likely that COVID-19 will cause major financial struggles for their household, and Gallup Panel data finds that 72% are very or somewhat worried that they or a family member will be exposed to the coronavirus. As you strategize methods to prevent infection, remember that emotional exhaustion is debilitating and affects performance, too.

You don't have to be in the building to be visible and show a strong leadership presence. Carefully craft your leadership narrative to share your optimism and hope.

3. Employees Need Hope: Anchor to Your "True North"

On March 15, the fashion and perfume retailer LVMH instructed three of their factories to stop producing their iconic perfume brands like Christian Dior and Givenchy and start making hand sanitizer, which will be delivered free of charge to French health agencies and the largest hospital system in Europe. And LVMH is not alone. Leaders at many organizations are using their resources to help drive the response to this pandemic.

Those companies are defeating the disease with their own unique purpose. By doing what only they can do, they're saving the lives of their fellow citizens. What was a job a month ago is a calling today.

Like the leaders of those companies, find your calling to show your hope for the future and inspire it in your employees. Keep your team and your company anchored toward what truly endures -- your purpose and your values. Your organization doesn't have to create the materials to combat disease, your support, care and an empathetic response to customers and workers can be more than enough.

Someday, leaders will have time to identify what they wish they'd known or done or had before the world changed. Today is not that day. But keep notes. Pay attention to the outcomes of your decisions, and learn how other leaders are dealing with uncertainty, unforeseen circumstances, even failure.

There is no playbook for a pandemic. But the global business community's incredibly agile, humanistic, unified response is a near-miracle. There are valuable lessons to learn that should not go to waste -- but that's for tomorrow. Today is for protecting your employees' wellbeing, focusing on your managers and leading with purpose. Gallup science will help you every step of the way.

Learn more about leading through disruption and stay up to date on all Gallup's COVID-19-related research:


Vibhas Ratanjee is Senior Practice Expert -- Organizational and Leadership Development at Gallup.

Vipula Gandhi is a Managing Partner at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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