Like many leaders, you probably have others looking to you right now to help keep them motivated and positive through a very rough patch. And while you may have trusted colleagues and LinkedIn connections you turn to for advice, your team is trying to find comfort among themselves and others in their situation. In other words, we’re sitting at different lunch tables, talking about the same problem.
So, how do you lead in a situation that you have never been in before? Below are six tips for supporting and inspiring your staff while building genuine trust, even in the toughest times.
1. Transparency is the best way to earn and keep trust.
As astronaut Chris Hadfield says in his MasterClass ad, “The more you know, the less you fear.” Not only does it make a great slogan for this post, it’s also conveniently true. Uncertainty doesn’t have to become a problem. Instead of taking things on by yourself, tell employees what’s going on. Knowing what you know will put them in a better headspace to collaborate and contribute.
2. Have conversations with your team
Employees aren’t looking for you to have all the answers. It’s okay if you don’t. They just need to know what’s going on, what’s been tried, and what’s being considered. Providing staff with a safe space for real dialogue with you and with each other is invaluable.
3. Be realistic, and honest about uncertainty
It might be tempting and even seem like the smartest decision to avoid talking about things that are uncontrollable or uncertain. But tough situations need words put to them.
It’s true that there will be times when everyone—including leaders—has more questions than answers. But dealing with these situations in an unspoken ”We’ll get through this!” rallying-cry kind of way doesn’t help. Your team wants honesty about what you know and what you don’t, and the steps you’re taking to get more information. (And if the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has taught us anything, it’s to resist the urge to make promises on things beyond your control.)
4. Address fear and anxiety.
People talk, so it’s important to communicate openly and often. And in the absence of information or communication, employees left in the dark have nothing but their imaginations. Offer them the flashlight of communication and security blanket of transparency. (Yes, there’s some irony in the idea of a see-through security blanket.)
Additionally, share any resources you can to keep others informed and updated. They’ll feel more empowered and safer having them.
5. Offer a safe space to talk.
“The road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.”
–Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek
Fear can play all kinds of tricks on how people think. And when we aren’t thinking clearly, communication can become clouded by misinformation, doubt, and bias including:
- Fear that someone is “infected” because they happen to be from a certain country or region.
- Assuming that someone’s ideas are “outdated” because of their culture or religious beliefs.
- Suspicion of a fellow employee during an acquisition or merger.
- Doubt in someone’s ideas or proposals because of their intersectionality or rank in the company.
Additionally, research from the University of Ottawa shows that ostracism in the workplace can be more psychologically damaging than harassment.
Giving employees a safe space to talk can bring people back into a space of collaborative thinking, prioritizing, and problem-solving.
6. Lead with relentless empathy and compassion.
Working from home means that business-related challenges and anxieties have become new housemates for your employees. How would you feel in their situation? (Hint: If you’re in the same situation as them, your own experience can be an invaluable tool here.)
By leading with that feeling in your mind and heart, you’re in a far better position—one of compassion—to give others what they need right now. When people feel safe and cared about, they are much more willing to talk and share the things you need to know. That’s when real progress gets made.
This all goes for you, too. It’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to feel all kinds of things. Especially right now; even as a leader. Maybe you don’t hear that enough. But it’s an important part of the human experience.
How are your people really doing? Learn more about how Thoughtexchange can help you have conversations about Mental Health in your workplace.