When things get rough, many people look for orientation. This is the moment for managers to step up to become real leaders.
Managers have a repertoire of tools and methods to steer their area of responsibility under more or less expected conditions. Checks and balances are there to initiate corrective actions to bring the area back to normal. Deviations from the norm are seen as temporary. Management is for fair weather with some rain and thunderstorms from time to time. Management does not work in a Tsunami or any other form of game-changing catastrophy.
Leaders provide orientation and a feeling of shelter in times of crisis – even though they do not have any more personal safety than anybody else. Are they super-heroes? No, leaders have the same fears as anybody else, they simply follow the meaning of a quote that is (probably wrongly) attributed to Martin Luther: „Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.“ This means: creating a form or normality, or positive routine that gives a perspective of a positive future.
What are such new (or old) routines that help develop a positive outlook in times of an all-encompassing crisis? These are not spectacular types of things, it starts with small things that you simply just do with consistency.
Here are some examples for those who lead their teams now remotely:
If you promised to have one weekly Skype with all of your team per week – just simply do it! Do not find excuses why this week you are too busy, again: simply do it.
If there is a birthday of a team member, a message to him/her and all in CC does the trick. Many others will follow your example and it becomes a small virtual birthday party.
Talk with each team member at least once a week, and also ask them how they personally are. And in case you have difficulties remembering such personal things because you have been trained all these years to focus on business stuff: Write also these personal details down to remember next time you talk with him/her.
Simply listen. Give people time to talk to you. Ask back, repeat in your own words to make sure you really understood what they said, reflect feelings back by saying things like “this must be difficult for you”, acknowledge effort and achievements by saying things like “despite of these challenges it is amazing how you got this done”.