The COVID-19 pandemic is an acid test for leadership skills, separating the gold practices that are necessary for retaining and advancing employees during difficult times, from those that tarnish and rust. With unemployment rates higher than any other point in US history and virtual work environments fraught with challenges and uncertainty, companies that lean into softer leadership skills are able to build employee loyalty, engagement and understanding that move their organizations forward, even when the news isn’t positive.
Given the heightened level of emotional stress all employees are experiencing, companies need to equip leaders with the soft skills they need to help themselves so they can help others.
We interviewed reacHIRE Program Managers and Aurora Guides working with employees at Fortune 500 companies in pharma, finance and tech to understand how leadership skills have shifted and what skills are most critical for our new work reality.
reacHIRE Program Managers and Aurora Guides are professionals with specific expertise in aligning talent with business needs and helping companies more quickly gain insight into the top areas where employees need the most growth and development. Here are their top three soft skills for hard times:
1. Agility on the Fly
Resilience was the skill du jour as the pandemic set in, but there’s a difference between staying strong when facing adversity and knowing when and how to pivot to new ways of thinking. Skills like flexibility and agility contribute to resilience, but also support an openness to new ways of executing a project or pursuing a completely new strategy. In a recent HBR article about creating “agility on the fly,” authors Darrell K. Rigby, Sarah Elk and Steve Berez share how a small group of people within an organization “spotted an urgent need, dropped lower-priority activities, broke typical bureaucratic procedures, and transformed from everyday workers to real-life corporate MacGyvers, surprising themselves and their bosses in the process.”
- When, where and how are you identifying the MacGyvers at your company?
- In what ways are you empowering and encouraging their agility and flexibility?
2. Radical and Empathetic Communication
Communication skills top every list of desired and taught skills, but more than knowing how to deliver a clear message, today’s leaders need to consider how messages are received by employees who are all juggling home and life in literally the same space.
The concept of “radical communication”, coined by EDENS CEO Jodie McLean, suggests that leaders employ transparent and constant communication at all times, with empathy at its core. According to McLean, employees during Covid are “scared for their families’ health, for themselves, for their jobs, for the business and for our communities.” By recognizing that her employees wanted to feel that their families were safe before they could adjust to the changes in how they worked, McLean was able to communicate with empathy and build stronger relationships with employees during the pandemic.
Teaching radical communications skills to leaders requires asking that they focus on where the receiver is in their lives and careers at the time news and information is delivered. Ensuring basic needs are addressed and remain at the forefront of the communications, especially in uncertain times, allows a leader to communicate transparently and with empathy.
- Are you committed to radical communication at your company?
- Do you have mentors, coaches and experts in place to teach the skills that foster empathy and transparency so employees feel heard and less alone?
3. Navigating Risk
According to PRI’s The World, an analysis of 194 countries found that women-led nations did “systematically and significantly better” than their male counterparts in responding to the virus.The authors of the report attributed this difference to the disparate ways in which men and women leaders view and approach risk.
When coaching leaders on how to navigate risk, It is important to remember that many factors, including gender, contribute to how people view, metabolize and navigate risk. What may feel extremely uncomfortable to one person, may not phase another. Creating a culture where employees don’t fear risk but instead speak freely about their individual concerns, situations, failures and learning experiences, is critical for advancement.
For CEO Jodie McLean, navigating risk means building safety nets and being prepared. She says, “I’m not afraid to take risks as long as I can quantify the downside. In bad times, I’ve found that I am often positioned exceedingly well.”
- How are you helping your leaders become more comfortable with risk and uncertainty?
- Do you have structures in place that help employees build community and support one another when making career and business decisions?
We’d love to hear from you! What soft skills are getting a hard look at your company and how are leaders responding to the new challenges that face us all?