How have leadership roles changed in the C19 environment? What behaviors should a good leader embrace in our post-pandemic world? Leadership expert and coach Will Stonier gives us the inside scoop.
As a coach and facilitator, the past year has been a rollercoaster. Usually, my work is carried out face-to-face in a meeting room—widely regarded as the best way to deliver training or coaching. So in March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was scared—not just for the health of my family and myself, but for my business. I thought surely it wouldn’t work to deliver this service virtually.
However, thankfully, my company and many others adapted. Here are my own findings—and insights from a lot of the businesses that I work with—on how to thrive, both personally and professionally, in the C19 environment.
Don’t focus on the work, focus on the people
Before the pandemic, we already had a problem: too many emails, too much electronic chat. What happens if we only communicate like this? We see the task and the work; we don’t see the person doing it.
I ran a session at a top-tier investment bank where part of the training featured a “fireside chat” with a Managing Director with 25 years’ experience. I asked him, “What have you changed in your communication during Covid-19?” He replied, “Some of you won’t want to hear this… But I communicate 50% more.”
I was curious as to what he was doing differently. He expanded, “Now, when I have a one-on-one with any member of my team, I always start the call with, ‘How are you?’ and ‘How’s your family?’.”
Make no mistake, this guy was VERY business oriented, so I was really impressed that he had the emotional intelligence to do this. The takeaway: ask your colleague how they’re doing. Genuinely listen and show interest.
This sounds like a bit of a cliché, but I’ve trained hundreds, if not thousands, of new graduates starting out in companies over the years, and I can see that it’s more important now than ever. It’s also subtly different in the C19 environment. Be proactive!
This doesn’t mean doing more work, though. In a recent session, this tip was provided to me by a lawyer. She said, “If you want to be successful, you’ve got to drive the business. If you’re in a meeting with your boss and a client, volunteer to send the information and schedule the next meeting. Your boss could do it, but they’re really busy too. This way, you reduce their workload and you become the go-to person for that client.”
I’ve also seen that the businesses that have dealt with the pandemic best, are those that have been proactive and taken action. They’ve put themselves out there and changed their ways of working, rather than just “waiting for this to blow over” as many of us were doing in early 2020. The takeaway: are any of your friends or colleagues slammed? Could you do something to help? When in doubt, take action! Don’t wait or put things off.
In a coaching session I did recently, I heard, “I joined the organization six months ago, so it’s been tough building relationships. I guess it’ll happen when we all return to the office. I don’t think it’s possible to build relationships at the moment.”
This is not true. Is it harder? Perhaps. But you can still do it. It’s like dating: you have to get out of your comfort zone to make it work. I train a lot of people on “rapport building.” One of the reasons people don’t like doing this is the perceived discomfort of the opening question or two. I often hear, “Ugh, I hate small talk. Who wants to talk about the weather?” You must get past this. If you really hate talking about the weather, though, you can use smarter questions like these.
The key here is to harness your inner Steve Jobs. Be curious. Simon Sinek compares building relationships to brushing your teeth: short, frequent chats, perhaps pre- or post-meeting. “What are you up to this weekend?” Those three- or four-minute interactions that we think are meaningless small talk often create tremendous value. We learn about each other. Do they have a family? Are they active, outdoorsy types or are they more into films or computers?
The takeaway: get out of your comfort zone and ask your colleagues one or two open-ended questions. It doesn’t have to be hours of deep conversation. Just a couple of pieces of information will help you to understand your colleagues better and make a tremendous difference.
Will Stonier is a coach, facilitator and Director of Stonier Development. He trains and coaches professionals of every level all over the world and is qualified at a master’s level in professional development. Previously, he worked as a Talent Development professional in three top-tier investment banks. Away from work, he loves all things Italian, as well as podcasts, reading, surfing, cycling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.