What Does Responsible Leadership Look Like During These Turbulent Times?
Over the last few months, the world has changed significantly and our societies and businesses are learning to cope with ‘the new normal’ – whatever that might be – for the foreseeable future. While our governments struggle to implement safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring economies and livelihoods are kept afloat, a certain duty of care has defaulted to the business community and many of us are looking to our senior management for direction and reassurance.
It is important to understand that the needs of customers, employees and society are overlapping and complex during times of crisis. Both individual leaders and organisations as a whole should show flexibility and understanding of the cultural, geographical and situational needs that will arise and change rapidly over the coming weeks. Businesses across the world are adapting to the increasing and ever-changing needs of their workforce (remote or technical business support as well as additional emotional and physical wellbeing interventions) and within these parameters, responsible leadership is a keenly sought-after skill. There are a few traits that define responsible leadership, both for individuals and companies themselves, highlighted below:
Open Channels of Communication
Communicating plans to safeguard the overall wellbeing of staff is important at this time. Responsible leaders should send regular and clear messages to staff informing them of additional protocols in place to protect them, as well as new or updated policies to adapt daily working life to social distancing or temporary isolation.
It is just as vital to address any concerns that the workforce may have about their employment and financial security. The long-term impact of the virus on the global economy remains to be seen. Most certainly, your employees will be consuming news report of business closures and global economic downturn. Keeping an open dialogue regarding the state of the business is key to maintaining a responsible leadership style. Difficult conversations should not be ignored – it is important that senior leaders do not seem out of touch with the concerns of the workforce at this point and should update regularly on the health of the business, sharing strategies to boost clientele or diversify where appropriate.
Responsible leaders should be mindful of the overload of information that their employees will be exposed to. This is the first global crisis to take place in the age of social media and information (both reliable and unreliable) is being shared on an unprecedented scale. Over-communication or sharing unreliable ‘fake-news’ may increase anxiety and decrease trust in your leadership style.
Honesty & Authenticity
In a similar vein, responsible leadership should be synonymous with honest leadership. There is no denying the difficulties ahead for many businesses and communities. Responsible leaders should communicate honestly with their workforce – in their own voice. Approachability is key and while it is important to align messaging from a legal or PR perspective, your employees will be looking to hear from you personally, so make sure that you are crafting a message that comes from you and not your PR team.
External communications require the same level of integrity at times like this. Any potential point of infection on company premises must be conveyed quickly and with as much factual detail as possible (while keeping relevant identities and medical information confidential). Responsible leadership looks beyond short-term reputational damage of association with COVID-19 and prioritises the need to communicate vital information to staff and the public.
While physical and emotional wellbeing will be at the forefront of employees’ minds for the next couple of weeks, their financial wellbeing and job security will also be a concern as global markets take the strain of prolonged social distancing. Responsible leaders should steer their teams with transparency and realistic optimism – ensuring that they do not over-promise full employment or performance bonuses that cannot be guaranteed at this point. Setting manageable goals that the whole team can work towards together will help to build trust in the organisation and solidify a collective and positive morale to drive the company back into more profitable territory.
Taking into consideration the specific needs of individual employees in times of crisis is vital to responsible and positive leadership. While company policy might still require the majority of staff to come into the office (based on country-specific circumstances), it is important to remember that this may not be appropriate for all employees. Adaptable policies should cater to working parents and at-risk employees and ensure flexibility for their specific needs.
Businesses across the world are in the unique position of being able to act fast to protect their employees. While governments look to balance the practicalities of social distancing and quarantine measures, companies can move more quickly by encouraging their employees to work from home or reduce physical time spent with clients. By keeping abreast of developments in local markets they can implement more nuanced safety measures (such as flex or shift working hours) to provide additional safeguards for employees that do need to remain at work.
Corporate social responsibility is also playing an increasing role in the crisis – tech leaders in both Asia and the US have moved quickly to fill a gap left by governments caught up in red tape, with key figures such as Jack Ma and Bill Gates distributing testing kits and medical provisions. While not all companies can respond on this widespread scale, it is important to consider how your business is contributing to the solution – ensuring a balance between staying profitable and supporting the local community. Altered business hours to allow vulnerable groups to shop, or no-contact deliveries for example can help to ease anxiety for those who still need to access provisions.
Responsible and positive leadership in times of turbulence can define a business; both clients and employees will remember the actions and impact that their leaders have had during volatile circumstances such as these. Trust is a valuable commodity during turbulence and uncertainly, and reputations will be built and lost on the reactions to crisis that we see at this time. At Community Business we believe in harnessing the power of business to drive social change, a concept that is incredibly relevant to the challenges we face today. Balancing employee wellbeing, true inclusion and profitability to benefit your workforce and the wider community are vital if we are to see a swift recovery from this global pandemic.
About the Author: Emily Moss, Head of Marketing & Communications, Community Business