David Pich CMgr FIML, Chief Executive IML ANZ
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Ironically, this saying is a modern iteration of an observation from ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’: ‘for modern diseases, extreme methods of cure are most suitable’. And here we are in 2020, deep into a thoroughly modern crisis that is caused by a thoroughly modern disease. We must – quite rightly – leave the medical response in terms of methods of cure and prevention to the experts (and I pause to give a shout-out those at the frontline of COVID-19 who deserve all honours and awards for their efforts).
Other than fully following the instructions of the medical experts, as managers and leaders, what should our own approach be? What should managers and leaders do in the new normal that is COVID-19? Be the experts at leading well.
I say to all managers and leaders; this is your time. It’s your time to lead. It’s your time to apply the skills that you’ve learnt – those totally misnamed ‘soft skills’ that aren’t actually soft at all but are extremely ‘hard’. These are the skills that you’ve been honing, working on, reading about, watching YouTube clips about and practising. In your time as a manager and leader you haven’t always got things right, but you’ve done your best and you’ve bounced back each time. Now is your time to bring all of these skills together. It’s your time to SHINE as a manager and a leader.
Here’s how you can make your leadership skills SHINE;
Show vulnerability. This is an extraordinary, once in a generation (at least!) situation that is impacting everyone, personally and professionally. As leaders we’re not expected to be superheroes. We have lives and families too and we’re in the same boat right now as our staff. It’s important to share our own stresses and worries as this helps to normalise the stresses and worries that our staff are currently experiencing.
Hold regular communications sessions. Regular communication across multiple channels is absolutely crucial, especially when staff are working from home or aren’t always in the normal office environment. It’s up to the leaders to set up these communication lines and to walk the talk by ensuring that you are always on the calls, replying to messages and sending emails. Don’t go missing – ensure that you are very visible. At IML ANZ we have set up an All Staff Hump Day Huddle on Zoom. My leadership team has a WhatsApp Group and all teams have set up eChat Sessions and Microsoft Team groups.
Include your team in decision-making (aka, delegate). The sheer number of decisions that leaders need to make right now is incredibly daunting. The very best thing a leader can do is to share the decision-making load. Involve others in the decisions that need to be made, seek opinion and advice, call out for different views so that you can weigh up the pros and cons of things you are considering. At IML we decided to move staff to a working from home model very early in the COVID-19 outbreak. This decision was a leadership team decision that came about after much discussion and consultation. As the leader you need to facilitate the decision-making process, you don’t need to make all the decisions yourself.
Notice things. This is absolutely key during times like this. It’s critical that as a leader you establish ways for you to know what is happening in your business and amongst your staff. Mental health is likely to be significantly impacted and you need to be checking in and making suggestions to assist staff who are impacted. You’re not expected to be a counsellor or a psychologist. That is best left to the professionals. But you need to have your finger on the pulse of your team so that you can point people who need assistance or advice to the correct resources. One way to do this is to contact people regularly and to ask direct questions, such as; Are you OK? Are you feeling lonely or isolated? Are you struggling with anything right now?
Empower your people to make their own decisions about their own situation. One size doesn’t fit all and the current pandemic will impact different people in your team in different ways. A key role as a leader is to recognise this and to allow people to make the right decision for themselves and their families. What makes you comfortable as a leader might make others feel very stressed. It’s time to apply all the emotional intelligence you can muster.
As a leader, as this crisis unfolds this is your time to SHINE. I’ve included below the first all staff email that I sent to my team this week. Feel free to read, comment below or steal the content. See if you spot the SHINE elements in the email. It’s obviously not perfect, but it might be a good start for leading your team or business through the next few weeks and months.
This is an unprecedented time for managers and leaders. It’s undoubtedly a time of crisis and of considerable confusion. But it’s also an opportunity for managers and leaders to show how absolutely critical sound leadership is. It’s your time to shine and to lead well.
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Subject: CEO Update 1. Please read
Good morning team
I hope you all had a good weekend. I’m not completely sure what ‘good’ means anymore, but at a very base level – I hope you’re all well and feeling healthy.
First, I want to apologise to the entire team. I was a little quiet last week. I did speak to each of the GMs many times, but I quite literally didn’t have time to write this All-Staff email. On a personal note, Eileen and I are having our house renovated. The entire back of the house has been removed (including the whole kitchen). On Monday last week, the builders accidently cut through the sewer line in the back garden. As a result we’ve been without a kitchen, washing machine and toilet all week. It hasn’t been pretty!
On top of that, many of you will know that I’m the President of my kids’ school Parents & Citizens Association. The P&C employs 25 staff, all on casual contracts. If (when!) the school closes these 25 staff will likely lose their income. I spent much of last week trying to find a solution to this very sticky issue. The announcement yesterday that schools in NSW, VIC and ACT will close from tomorrow makes it more likely that Queensland will follow suit sometime soon. My own kids (Pearl and Olive) are no longer in school from today – this is a personal decision that Eileen and I have made based on our own reading of the situation and the experience of other countries. For example, Germany closed all schools two weeks ago.
That phrase ‘personal decision’ is really key, and other than to say ‘hello’ to you all, it’s the reason for this email. I want to say this …
These are uniquely difficult and different times for everyone at IML. Everyone is impacted by the current situation, but of course different IML staff members are impacted in different ways. Some people have kids, others don’t. Some have medical issues, whilst others don’t. Some staff live alone, others live with family or in shared accommodation. On top of all of this, we all have our own personal concerns, anxieties and responses to the COVID-19 situation. My personal response might be very different to yours. And my decisions and actions based on that response will also be both personal and different.
So, and here’s the point (sorry it took me so long to get to it!), every IML staff member must make a personal decision about what they will do. This includes – but isn’t limited to; childcare arrangements, living with family members, locations etc. All I ask is that you let your manager or GM know what you’re doing. Communication is key in all of this. But, fundamentally, you are empowered to make decisions based on your own personal views and circumstances.
It’s always good to give examples, so here’s a couple to illustrate what I’m talking about.
Example 1. You have kids and you decide to keep them home from school / childcare where normally you would drop them off and then head to work or work from home. IML totally understands this and supports your decision. Family and health comes first. Please let your manager know that you’ll be less available due to the change in circumstances at home.
Example 2. You live alone and you think it would be better if you went to live with your parents during this time. IML totally understands this and supports your decision. Family and health comes first, Please let your manager know where you’ll be and what the change in location might mean to your working from home situation. IML will then assist with any technology issues you might encounter.
As I’ve said, communication is key and I’ve asked all GM’s to ensure that all teams are talking across various channels (email, Zoom, WhatsApp etc). I also want to ensure that no one at IML is any more stressed than they need to be at this time. If anything at all is concerning you, please do get in touch with your GM, with HR or with me personally. My eDoor (yep that’s a thing these days!) is always open.
To emphasise my point again, you must do what’s right for you, your health and your family at the moment. Of course, it’s important to keep the IML business running, albeit in a very different format. We’re all empowered to ‘do our best’ in what are very unusual and difficult circumstances.
As an example, today I’m planning to pop to KMART first thing to buy some games and puzzles for the kids. Then I’m spending an hour reading with Olive. Then I’m writing a couple of IML articles (Yes, it’s happening, Whitney!). Then I’m doing some (very) simple maths with Pearl for an hour. She’s 9 and I’ve realised that Year 3 Maths is way beyond my capability.
This is how my days are going to look for a few weeks – I and the leadership team fully support however your days will look.
Finally, I do want to say this; if you’re feeling unwell, please let your GM know (as well as following medical procedures). We need to keep an eye on each other and look out for each other, even from afar.
Sam will be setting up an All Staff Huddle later this week. It’ll be great to chat to everyone and see / hear how everyone is doing.
Have a great day 😊
Please don’t hesitate to contact me or the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand if there is anything we can do to assist you or your teams through these tough times.