Resiliency has become somewhat of a buzzword in the shadow of COVID-19, and with good reason; Merriam-Webster defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” But when so much is unclear about this pandemic, how can we know if our actions are adequately rising up to the seismic changes happening all around us? Are we really resilient, or are we numbly going through the motions as we try to grasp what’s going on?
Writer and entrepreneur Gever Tulley added a human element to resilience when he said, “Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” This more opportunistic view reminds us that resilience is learned through experience. So, although leaders, including learning and development (L&D) leaders, are expected to know how to deal with any situation that confronts them, in reality, it’s impossible to know exactly how to navigate something like a global pandemic. The past is the only hint at how to handle the future.
Resilience impacts your mindset and ability to recover from a setback, whether it’s personal or professional. A study by BetterUp found that people with low resilience are four times more likely to experience burnout, which can erode productivity, accelerate disengagement and increase turnover. The research also found that people who believe in their ability to control a situation (who have an “internal locus of control”) are six times more likely to be resilient. Clearly, this characteristic is critical to keep a business and its workforce moving forward.
Yet, it’s critical for leaders to model resiliency so that employees internalize it and adapt contemporaneously — and in uncertain times like the ones we live in, it must be done with empathy, care and purpose. In this second article in a two-part series on resiliency in a pandemic, we’ll look at resilient leaders and the nuanced line they must walk in driving business forward, while being receptive to their people’s needs — all in a virtual work environment.
Resilient leaders take control of their situations with these key principles, which L&D can help support:
Lean Into Soft Skills
In today’s uncertain world, it’s critical that leaders are trusted and credible. One of the most straightforward approaches to developing and demonstrating those traits is by leaning into soft skills like communication and empathy. A lack of soft skills can instill fear and distrust, causing employees to disengage and feel unmotivated. L&D leaders can help by offering leaders access to soft skills training.
Professionalism and soft skills are not mutually exclusive — it’s possible for leaders to bring a hint of professionalism to emotionally supportive, collaborative and even humorous interactions. If there are leaders in a company who aren’t naturally empathetic, there’s good news — like any hard skill, soft skills can be learned. Adjusting mindset, being self-aware and enlisting a company’s “influencers” to help encourage empathy, open communication and accountability will ensure that leaders are seen as trustworthy and credible and inspire employees to exhibit those traits throughout the entire organization. This process will empower people to absorb change and collaborate, helping the business and its employees become more resilient.
Communicate Early and Often
Rumor mills can be insidious, and they are even more dangerous in times of crisis. Suspicion and mistrust can erode leader credibility, as employees don’t know what they can believe. Communicating early and often — whether regarding process changes, budget adjustments, goal resets or general organizational updates — will allow leaders to own the narrative and maintain their position as confident decision-makers and leaders.
As an L&D leader, you can encourage transparency and consistency in messaging and invite employees to come to you with questions and concerns. This approach builds trustworthiness and credibility and supports ongoing development.
Recognize Your Gaps, and Fill Them Resourcefully
Many leaders are now faced with an unexpected blow to their resources whether in talent, supplies and/or budget. But resilient leaders don’t let this situation bring business to a halt. Identifying high performers who can stretch their capabilities to make up for cuts is an agile, resilient way to keep performance high and accelerate development.
For instance, if you have a web designer with a knack for copywriting, now is the time to assign him or her to an initiative that requires quick, clever writing. As an L&D leader, you can provide resources and courses to help employees explore and develop their talents so they can support different functions.
Assessing and delegating talent in this way will also force leaders to take a realistic view of the business and pinpoint its shortcomings so that when conditions normalize, there is a plan to improve them and further strengthen your organization’s resiliency. L&D can play a key role in helping fill business gaps and develop employees so that resiliency and long-term development continue to be cornerstones for years to come.
Maintain and Emphasize Rituals
In a time of constant change and anxiety, maintaining any semblance of normalcy has become even more important. Experts stress the positive impact that keeping a routine plays on mental well-being and productivity, which applies to your professional life as well as your personal life. In fact, a Harvard Business School study found that organizational rituals helped decrease employees’ anxiety, thereby improving productivity.
One of the most important actions leaders can take is to maintain rituals as much as possible. As an L&D leader, reiterate the importance of attending all-company meetings and participating in team-building activities and development trainings, even if many of them are now virtual. Ensure that the entire leadership team, as well as managers throughout the organization, are also emphasizing the importance of participating in these established company routines.
Additionally, encourage employees to have frequent informal meetings to make up for the hallway conversations that can spark new ideas and collaboration. Maintaining a sense of routine and providing interactive virtual training sessions will help employees feel less isolated and more engaged with one another while building a resilient workforce.
Know Your North Star
In the short term, quickly adapting to change and taking decisive actions will help your business stay afloat and weather the storms of this pandemic. However, resilient leaders can focus on the short term, while keeping an eye on the long term. This perspective manifests as making quick decisions that keep the company’s long-term success, mission and vision in mind. Losing sight of these “north stars” — the pillars on which an organization is built — will cause employees to lose confidence in leaders’ direction and capabilities.
Many decisions now are reactionary, but at some point, we expect the economy to stabilize, and employees will expect their company and leadership team to return to normal (or as close to normal as possible). Leaders should think about the decisions they make today and how they will affect the business and employees two weeks from now, as well as two months, two quarters and two years down the road. Are leaders building trustworthiness and credibility or jeopardizing them?
L&D programs are an effective, efficient means to help leaders hone soft skills such as trustworthiness, communication and collaboration. Ensure that leaders are acting for the short term with the long term in mind, and they’ll build a resilient organization that people are proud to work for.
You have what it takes to help create and support resilient leaders, but are your business systems and L&D programs equally resilient? Find out in the first part of this article series, “Building Business Resiliency in the Face of a Pandemic.”