Embracing the chaos and learning from it

How the pandemic pushed us to rethink what it means to be a leader

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Leadership starts at the top, and it’s never been more important for CEOs to reevaluate their leadership principles. Many strategies for running an organization that used to be effective now no longer apply, and leaders have had to transition to new ways of thinking and adapting to be successful. In order to do that, there are a few key strategies that business leaders should be thinking about like, having the right team in place, understanding the industry and cultural landscape and ultimately trusting your instincts.

Building a reliable team

Even before the start of the pandemic, one thing that’s always been important in growing a successful company is building a reliable team. As leaders, it’s important to learn the business from the ground up to understand the team you need in place in order to grow. This starts with hiring trusted department leads to ensure proper protocols and messages are being communicated effectively and appropriately, while also prioritizing the best interests of employees. Gartner research shows that organizations with high levels of trust have been able to increase their employee engagement by 76% over those with low levels of trust, highlighting the importance of showing confidence in your team at all levels. The pandemic has highlighted the need to be adaptable for both customers and employees. At MakeSpace, for example, we saw the need for additional customer support both because of the strain on our employees and the demand from customers, so we worked to double the size of our customer support team to meet that need. The success of a business can only happen if the whole team feels heard, supported and valued and is incumbent upon the leadership team to set that standard from the top down.

Prioritizing the needs of your employees

Another important part of leading a successful business, especially over the past year, is recognizing and prioritizing the human needs of employees. Oftentimes as leaders we make decisions based on financial and business needs first without taking people into account, and that is a mindset that needs to change. A recent SHRM study proves between 22% and 35% of U.S. employees are experiencing symptoms of depression as they live through the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas before this only 5% of employed workers said their mental health was poor or very poor. Businesses can’t be successful without employees being in the right headspace and taking time for themselves, even as industries struggle. Allowing employees autonomy during the workday and providing resources for things like mental health will not only help them, but it often also leads to increased productivity, which benefits the business. It’s crucial that businesses and leaders continue to adapt their business model and offerings based on the evolving needs of employees. 

Being More Transparent with Your Team 

I also believe it is key to be aware of and do your homework on what is happening in your industry and in the world and adjust your business plan accordingly. We’re at a time where cultural movements and moments are permeating every industry and it is important for companies to show understanding and growth for both their customers and employees. In fact, according to research from the Edelman Trust Barometer, 54% of employees globally believe that CEOs should speak publicly on controversial political and social issues they care about. While it’s easy to first think about how certain decisions will impact partners, it’s essential to start with your team. For example, this past year, I found it particularly important to have a town hall with our entire team around the Black Lives Matter movement. It was an opportunity for me to bring everyone together to directly answer people’s questions. It created an open, honest and inclusive environment. As we continue to face challenging political, global and social events, we must embrace the chaos that we are living through and learn to not only work through it but learn from it too.  The right solution is not always clear right away, but keeping an open mind, seeking information and resources and adjusting processes and behavior goes a long way. I think it’s important for leaders to put themselves in their workers’ and customers’ shoes to truly grasp how they’re feeling and make changes accordingly.  

As tough as the past few months have been and as hard as the next few months will surely be, there’s a real opportunity to have a positive impact on what leadership and the everyday workplace should look like moving forward. As CEOs, we’re losing if this time hasn’t been used for growth, learning and adapting to your organization’s and customer’s needs. Each step I’ve taken as a leader since the pandemic began has been utilizing what I’ve already had in place — my team, my values and my instincts. It’s very possible to get out of this successfully, and people are watching and taking note of how it’s being done. 

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