Why the post Covid-19 world will need your leadership skills
I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a blog to help students write in a more compelling way about their leadership skills. “Leadership” as a required core skill is almost ubiquitous in adverts for graduate schemes and jobs and as a result, here in the Careers Service, we see it quoted in most students’ CVs, cover letters and applications.
Fast forward to Spring 2020 and the Covid-19 world. It’s got me reflecting on what these leadership attributes might now need to be prevalent in business, organisations and government ….and consequently, how should you be talking about your leadership approach when you come to apply for new opportunities.
During the 2008 financial crisis I had a number of major banks and financial institutions as clients for my executive coaching practice. Working with many hundreds of middle and senior managers it struck me that the “middle layer’s” experience was perhaps the most interesting; not only were they leaders in their own right, they were also on the receiving end of good/bad leadership from their own bosses!
I’ve been wondering what you could take from this perspective when you are setting out your leadership skills in CVs and cover letters post Covid-19.
Be available and visible Your team needs to know that they aren’t the only ones “at the front line” coping with the massive upheavals of uncertainty. It all feels very messy in the circumstances of a brand new crisis and being accessible as a leader gives you two huge opportunities: to model the behaviours that you need your team to exhibit, and actively to listen to the real issues they are facing on the ground (that you might not otherwise know about before it’s too late). In practical terms this means not cancelling regular team meetings and one-to-ones – virtual or face to face – and developing other new two way communication channels specific to sub-teams with particular concerns or responsibilities. MBWA (Management By Wandering Around) may have been a consultancy mantra way back in the 1980s, but it still has merit, even if you are wandering around on Microsoft Teams!
- What examples of “putting yourself out there” can you describe? What was the impact? What did you usefully learn as a result?
Keep on repeating the core message or vision What is the absolute central message that you need your team to take on board? In times of crisis and upheaval people become overloaded with data and demands on their headspace so be crystal clear with that one directive. In Spring 2020 we are being instructed to “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – it’s everywhere in government messaging and there’s a good reason for that. When the chips are down we like simple, unambiguous direction from our leaders because frankly that’s often all we can cope with. Ben Hunt-Davis's journey to Olympic gold in the men's Rowing Eight at Sydney 2000 utilised this approach: “Will it make the boat go faster?” was the one question they asked when deciding on training tactics. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t!
- How have you used a simple message to keep your team focussed on what’s mission-critical?
Be empathetic This means being authentic too…when something big – and negative – faces your team, you literally are all in it together. Be open with genuinely worried team members about the challenges faced. Being honest when you don’t know all the answers builds trust far more effectively than feeling you have to be seen as a super hero or need to blag your way through an answer. Talking about your life outside of the team and organisation can be a great way to build a reputation as a genuine -human- leader who “gets” what it’s like for everyone else. Obviously this shouldn’t mean over-sharing – this is where it’s great to have a coach or mentor to open up to – but being appropriately open about frustrations or concerns can be an effective way to enhance relationships and encourage people to step up.
- How could you demonstrate occasions when you have put yourself in other people’s shoes? When have you been “authentic” in the way you have lead projects when problems have arisen? What has that taught you about your leadership style?
Despite how you might be feeling right now about your hunt for a great grad scheme or your perfect job, there’s going to come a time…hopefully sooner rather than later…when you will have the opportunity to showcase your potential as a future leader. It’s unlikely that Covid-19 will be the only global crisis you will face during your 40-50 year career. Have you got what it takes?