5 Lessons Leaders Say They Are Taking Away From 2020
I received a holiday card this year that summed up 2020 perfectly. It read:
“Well, that was weird.”
For businesses, 2020 has indeed been like nothing we’d experienced before. We saw pandemic-related closures, a halt to travel and in-person gatherings, endless Zoom meetings, not to mention heart-wrenching civil unrest and a distracting election that went on and on.
Yet many business people I’ve spoken with say they will remember 2020 as a year that helped them grow as leaders. They were forced to find new ways of working together, tactics they will carry forward in their toolkit.
What follows are a few lessons leaders are taking away from this year of mayhem, madness, and growth:
1. Trust People To Do Their Work Wherever They Are
Despite long-held negative views about letting people work away from the office—the “I won’t know what my people are up to” syndrome—the majority of managers I’ve spoken with say they have not seen a drop off in productivity from team members who are now working at home. In addition, many companies are set to make this remote trend permanent as they’ve discovered there are benefits, including an average savings of $11,000 a year for each employee who works out of the office at least half the time.
2. Listen More To Our Rogues
Organizational agility is essential to survive any crisis, and that can mean giving voice to those of your people who tend to swim upstream while everyone else floats down. One CEO told me that during good times, he counts heavily on his rule-followers. These folks ensure processes are followed and things are done properly. But, he confided, during this crisis most of his faithful rule-followers became paralyzed. They had no idea how to operate in a world where the precious rules didn’t work anymore. He described them as acting like ‘puppies on the porch,’ afraid to venture out and try something new. So he started to call around the country to his most creative, if not roguish, of managers and asked their opinions on new and innovative ways to operate. He said, “I had little idea then how many completely mad, certifiable ideas we were going to need to survive what was to come.” His business not only survived but thrived because he took those wacky concepts from his rogues and shared them with the entire company. He also paired up each rule-follower manager with a rule-breaker, and the rogues taught the puppies how to get off the porch to innovate and experiment.
3. Dig Below The ‘Fine’
As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That became doubly true during the pandemic. As one head of sales told me, “Every morning my first message to each person on my team is, ‘How are you feeling today?’ Because today is probably different than yesterday.” Leaders have found check-ins with their people need to be a lot more frequent than they have been in the past and should not be rushed. Team members should have time to tell their stories if they want to share. We found out in 2020 that it’s up to a leader to dig below the “fine.”
4. Treat Anxiety as A Real Business Issue
One head of HR told me that if the global pandemic of 2020 had one beneficial result, it was the realization to managers at all levels that anxiety is a real issue that needs attention. “Our leaders are home with family, feeling the additional pressures and the need to stay connected with their teams. They experienced it; a realization that mental well-being is a real concern,” she said. However, she also noted there remains a lingering stigma on mental health that leaders are seeing they need to remove. Employee assistance program (EAP) utilization has not increased, even in the midst of this pandemic. That’s a real concern. This year, the best managers are beginning to understand what their employees are facing: whether work overload, issues with work-life balance, stress, burnout, anxiety, or reduced energy levels. If 2020 has left us with one big lesson on wellness, it should be that our people really do face mental health issues and we, as leaders, should let our team members know they don’t have to face them alone.
5. Be Grateful For Every Step Forward
Of the actions that can boost motivation during tough times, leaders told me they found the most important thing they could do to motivate their teams was help them make daily progress in their work. Even a small win can make all the difference in how people feel and perform. As such, leaders have more influence over the engagement, happiness, and creative output of employees than they realize—and expressing regular gratitude for incremental progress is key. One CEO told me, “I think sometimes leaders get confused. If a leader waits until the end of a big event to be grateful to their people, I (as an employee) may never get there. I may not have the confidence. I may not have the encouragement that this is a journey worth completing.” In other words, creating frequent and measurable milestones for our people can work wonders in creating an environment of gratitude around incremental progress—and that can lead to big results down the road.
Adrian Gostick is an acclaimed author and speaker on Leadership, Anxiety in the Workplace and Employee Engagement. How do today’s best leaders accelerate business results? By engaging their employees to execute on strategy, vision, and values. In his challenging, information-packed talks, #1 best-selling leadership author Adrian Gostick provides real solutions on managing change, organizational culture, driving innovation, and leading high-performance teams. Adrian Gostick is a global workplace expert and thought leader in the fields of corporate culture, leadership, and engagement. He is founder of the training and consulting company The Culture Works, and author of the #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-sellers All In, The Carrot Principle and The Best Team Wins.
Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]