The word “inspiration” as it applies to leadership has been a point of emphasis in organizations for many years. In fact, almost all our clients highlight inspirational leadership in their leadership competency models, although they may use different language to describe it. Whatever the particular descriptors they use, they are talking about leaders’ ability to motivate, uplift, and engender passion and purpose among their team, to create a sense of “followership.” Long before COVID-19 emerged, leaders needed to excel at bringing people together in service of a greater goal. As we figure out how to thrive in the new business environment, this particular ability has never been more important. Consider the extraordinary challenges business professionals are facing:
• Anxiety, uncertainty, ambiguity, frustration, and anger generated by a global pandemic that has rocked economies, as well as by the inequities and injustices that continue to confront modern society — particularly racial disparities.
• Stress and increasing demands on time and attention — for most people, remote work has increased workloads and, depending on their circumstances, added significant stressors at home (child care, help with schooling, isolation, etc.).
The bottom line is that your team members are in need of a boost, an injection of positive energy. They need to be uplifted, to feel supported and psychologically safe, to know they are being led with confidence and clarity, and to experience the powerful feeling that “we are all in this together.”
It is this need for support and solidarity that makes inspirational leadership so critical right now — and the vast majority of leaders today must create these moments, experiences, and outcomes virtually, which is an even greater challenge. I have had the privilege of not only coaching dozens of executives to achieve this objective but have even more frequently witnessed these leaders inspire their teams with immense creativity and ingenuity. Here, I’ll share the best of these ideas with you.
1. Exemplify calm, confidence, and a caring attitude. Do not underestimate the power of your emotional and mental disposition. If you are in an authentic state of calm, your team will sense this on a subconscious level. Similarly, they will pick up on your full presence and your sincere interest and care for them. Simply showing up with a composed demeanor can prove reassuring to your team, who will look to you for guidance amid uncertainty and ambiguity.
2. Empathize with your team. Showing understanding is one of the most important things you can do for your team right now. Create an environment of psychological safety so team members feel comfortable approaching you with the struggles they’re experiencing. Be willing to pause, listen, and learn what’s happening in their lives. To create a sense of psychological safety, try these empathy builders:
· Be curious about your team members’ life circumstances.
· Check in on how your team members are feeling and their levels of stress.
· Ask about prioritization needs.
3. Catch your team doing things right. Celebrating your team and individual successes is more important than ever, as such acknowledgment creates positive feelings and energy. To boost morale and enthusiasm, provide positive feedback at every opportunity.
4. Model self-care behaviors and give your team explicit permission for self-care practices. Few behaviors communicate a more sincere commitment to your team’s well-being than modeling and encouraging self-care. Some companies, for example, now set a fifty-minute maximum for meetings that had been scheduled for an hour, and those leaders say, “Hey, that’s ten minutes back in your day — I don’t want you on your e-mail, I want you to take a short walk, do some stretches, practice a controlled-breathing exercise.” Many of the executives I coach are integrating self-care activities directly into their team interactions. For example, some have established at least one walking meeting per day, where the team is all walking (outside, if possible) instead of sitting at their computers.
5. Hold boundaries for team members. Several leaders have shared how they have intervened when they’ve noticed team members consistently on e-mail at all hours of the night or working on weekends. The message to these team members is: “Listen, I need you to take care of yourself. I need you to put some boundaries around how much you’re working because I care about you and need you to be able to sustain.”
6. Create moments of levity. Inject humor where you can, whether it’s making funny Zoom or WebEx backgrounds or telling jokes to start a meeting.
7. Show authenticity and vulnerability. Let your team see your human side as you work through moments of crisis alongside them. Some leaders have even made quirky videos of themselves. One executive I know does this once a week — when he’s out and about on an errand, he’ll do a quick video that talks about what’s going on and lets his team into his life. That kind of authenticity and vulnerability can help bring a team together.
As the business world adjusts to a new reality created by the COVID-19 crisis — a reality in which remote work and virtual conferences are the norm for many, and creativity, resilience, and agility have heightened value — leaders have an opportunity to rethink the way they connect with their teams. By incorporating these seven suggestions into your leadership style, you can become a truly inspirational leader, strengthening cohesion and fortifying your team to perform successfully even in the most challenging times.
John Futterknecht is an experienced Executive Coach and Leadership Development Trainer who has successfully completed over 500 one-on-one coaching engagements and facilitated over 1,000 training programs across the globe. He has worked with leaders at some of the world’s largest companies, including many Fortune 500 organizations, and specializes in helping organizations and their leaders excel in complex, highly integrated Matrix structures. His new book, coauthored with Dr. Marty Seldman, is Leading in the Global Matrix: Proven Skills and Strategies to Succeed in a Collaborative World. Learn more at optimumassociates.com