Guidelines for leaders in pandemic times

How do we create the kinds of environments that enable individuals to thrive despite pandemic conditions? Merlinda Abrahams, the director of Chameleon Skills, shares some guidelines for leaders. 

Guidelines for leaders in pandemic times

What an incredibly challenging few years this has been; for individuals, for organisations. The global pandemic has forced us to come face-to-face with our humanity. It has forced society to consider and reconsider the way we see each other and organise ourselves. It has shown us who we are, and what truly matters.

Over the last year, we have also had the opportunity to examine quite intimately what it means to ‘work from home’ – what isolation means and the impact it has on organisations. For those who were privileged enough to continue to work through this time, the situation proved itself to be a trying one, requiring leaders to step up in ways they never thought they would need to.

The role of the leader has come into distinct focus, and the need for managers and Boards to create enabling environments where staff continue to develop, and grow, has been placed squarely at the feet of the leader. So, how do we create these kinds of environments that enable individuals to thrive despite pandemic conditions?

Over the last year, Chameleon Skills has had the privilege of working with both forprofit and non-profit organisations in South Africa, and on the African continent in Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia and Liberia. Many of the leaders we worked with were grappling with this very question. As we worked with them, the following became clear guidelines for leaders in pandemic times. 

First, as leaders, be prepared to understand change, and be open to what that will bring to your ‘way of working’ as an organisation. Change, especially forced change, is often coupled with resistance. This is not the time to put all your effort into resisting change.

Rather, lead from the front and model what it means to embrace change. Understand that, just like you, your people are feeling vulnerable. What can you do with that information? Remember the golden rule – treat others how you would like to be treated – what do you need at this time? It is probably what they need too; reassurance, communication, guidance, admitting that you’re all scared and inviting them to problem-solve with you!

Communication – did I mention communication? At this time, almost more than at any other time, communication is vital! Involve your people in the thinking and planning. Ask them how they would do it.

Make it OK for people to say, “I don’t know” and work at finding the solutions together. Once you’ve created the necessary psychological safety, remind them of your shared vision and values and what you continue to work towards as an organisation. Then, set clear expectations for all roles in the organisation with consistent standards to be met. Help them recognise how integral they are to organisational success. If they do not see that you see it, and acknowledge and appreciate it, they may feel forgotten and ‘slip’ through the ‘commitment cracks’.

Here leaders need to hold themselves to the same values and behaviours and again, lead from the front. With the amount of virtual working that is needed currently, use each interaction to provide the necessary connection that people need to engage, re-engage or stay engaged.

Finally, understand the importance of a learning culture in your organisation. It is important to encourage an openness where people feel that they can trust the organisation, and where there is a positive approach to solving problems and challenges.

Mistakes need to be acknowledged as part of a learning process rather than being covered up from fear of reprisals. To do this trust must be offered and earned, so again, leadership is key here.

Leaders -- for your people to thrive in pandemic times, to continue to grow, you need to engage them, involve them and keep them close.



This article was first published in Inyathelo's 2020/2021 Annual Report.