The past twelve months have thrown everything we know about business and leadership into disarray. Here at Blend, we’ve adjusted to a new way of distance communication, weathered an economic downturn, and seen our downtown office become a bit of a ghost town — all while juggling a mixture of emotions: uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, fear, unpreparedness.
Being a leader as all of these complexities swirl around us can make it hard to maximize our strengths, especially if you’ve had to face some of the harder consequences of the pandemic, such as layoffs, reallocation, or hours reductions. None of this is easy — especially on your team’s morale — but part of being a leader is finding the balance in this kind of chaos.
And while we know the results of any business will vary from each other, we’ve collected some thoughts from the past twelve months to help support your organization into the future.
Strong team leaders show their emotions when they’re needed. They don’t just care, but they show they care by acting in a way that communicates understanding and honesty. Showing this level of caring — and leading by example — can provide a solid foundation for success, especially as our day-to-day continues to move from the office to the Zoom screen.
- Demonstrate Empathy — Your team is likely stressed, anxious, and unsure of what the future holds. For those who would consider themselves extroverts, they may even be lonely. Take this into consideration when working and communicating, and don’t ignore or gloss over the fact that both remote work and external factors can weigh on our minds. Talk to your team, encourage conversation, and create an atmosphere of inclusion.
- Be Honest and Transparent — It’s rare that anything good comes from hiding the truth. Being honest and transparent in your day-to-day both establishes trust and allows for clearer and better-defined expectations. It gives everyone a clear picture of the situation at hand — and, gives everyone permission to focus on how to proceed.
- Understand What’s Needed for Success — Restructuring and planning doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When we take a step back and allow our organizations to evolve, we begin to see how crucial each person and role can be. Take a step back and look at the big picture view of your team. Prioritize roles and responsibilities, and define why each is important in achieving end results. As you communicate these responsibilities, you’ll motivate your team to see what’s working — and where the collective goals of the organization can move forward, even in a time of confusion and fear.
Understand the dynamics of your team
Of course, in order to really understand what’s needed for success, it’s important to see how people themselves work together. We each are unique in how we handle stress, accept change, and adapt to new situations, so understanding team dynamics is a key part of moving forward.
- Learn Your Team’s Interests and Strengths — Too often organizations focus on quick-turnaround initiatives or immediate needs, rather than on the interests and strengths within their own teams. By understanding your team’s emotional and occupational strengths, you can help leverage those strengths toward a better functioning environment. You build on ownership, and a sense of pride, and you support innovation. Take a look at your team. What do they enjoy? What do they think they’re good at? Do they have skills that aren’t being used in their current position?
- Empower Your Team Through Delegation — Delegation does not mean “give your team more work.” Instead, it means reassigning work — often, work that will help provide authority, trust, and empowerment. Delegating important tasks to the rest of the team builds trust and confidence, cultivating a sense of shared responsibility and inclusivity. Delegate responsibility, and be available to answer questions and provide support.
- Set (and Define) Realistic Expectations — This is especially important when delegating responsibility and empowering your teams. Keep your team focused on collective goals, what impact they have on those goals, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Most importantly, take time to really think about what’s realistic. Set attainable timelines, and measure success in a way that is both achievable and communicable.
- Communicate Effectively — Effective communication (when done right) keeps everyone on the same page, preventing frustration, confusion, and lack of clarity. Clearly outline the expectations, provide background and context so your team understands why things need to be done, and make sure everyone knows who and what is responsible for each step in the process.
Expand and Rely On Your Bubble
Day by day, our work depends on three key interacting pieces — our tools, the people who use those tools, and the partnerships we use to fill in the gaps. It’s a kind of organizational bubble, in a way — the crucial elements we need to survive even when things aren’t going as planned.
- Evaluate and Utilize Existing Tools — Our organizations are buttressed by our tools and software — and chances are you’re paying for them. How can you use them to support your organization's goals? How can you share and expand knowledge around these tools to help spread tasks and delegate? Keep an open mind — resist the urge to fall into the “this is how we’ve always done it” trap.
- Your People Are Your Biggest Asset — Leading a team in a time of crisis can require a lean approach, which makes cross-functional collaboration absolutely critical. Individual department goals and tasks can get in the way of true collaboration, which means it’s important to make sure your people understand organizational goals beyond their own. When teams are aligned towards accomplishing a common goal there is an elevated level of resourcefulness and ingenuity — everyone understands the desired outcomes, and are collectively motivated to pitch in.
- Capitalize on Outside Partnerships — Working with outside partners is a great way to fill gaps in your current capabilities, especially if you find yourself with a sudden need for specific expertise. This way, your team is allowed to focus their efforts on the best uses of their time. It’s an even bigger bonus if those partners are someone you can trust like they’re a part of your own team. Take the time to understand and evaluate what your trusted partners have to offer and how they could potentially help you and your team pick up the slack.
Maximizing Through a Growth Mindset
We learn early in our lives about the power of a growth mindset — that without the belief that we can grow, we simply cannot grow to our highest potential. While it’s difficult to stick to that growth mindset when we feel like we’re at our lowest, the adage reminds us that “our lowest” is the exact point in which we have the opportunity to grow the most.
Think about what you’ve learned over this past year. About what you've taken away from this past crisis to make you and your team more successful. While day-by-day we might get caught up in the moment, it’s important to take time to realize what we’ve accomplished — and changed — for the better.
And, it’s important to keep changing. Complexities will always swirl around us, even when we’ve moved past the pandemic. Take advantage of those moments of improvisation, those learning lessons, those hard decisions. Keep learning and growing, and lift your organization along the way.
The past year’s been hard. But we continue to learn. Here’s to a healthier, better adapted, and innovative next twelve months — and beyond.