Life has been chaos for not only Americans but the entire world as we continue to weather this pandemic. And the workplace is no different. Where we work, and how we work, is undergoing just as much transformation as the rest of the country. Covid-19 has brought into greater relief that the solutions we already know about leadership are still the most important lessons we can embrace in the workplace. As we close in on the end of the year, here’s a checklist of the best lessons from leadership I’ve found:
Diversity is more than what you see on paper.
Yes, we must represent all ranges of ethnicity, national origin and gender. But did you consider veteran status? Did you know that many states do not have workplace protections for the LGBTQ+ community? We also need first-generation college students, first-generation immigrants, the masculine perspective and the feminine perspective (both of which can come from any gender). We need income diversity, geographic diversity and diversity in point of view. Diversity isn’t just what your company tracks in metrics.
Empowering others delivers results.
It can seem counter-intuitive: The more you focus on helping others succeed, the more your leadership vision can be brought forward. This nominally self-effacing principle is the core of servant leadership. That doesn’t mean subjugating your opinion, or a lack of leadership or accountability. It means meeting your staff where they are and guiding them forward — not just to the best version of themselves, but to the best version of the company you want to lead. It takes longer than just telling someone what to do or what you believe; however, that investment is repaid with deeper commitments, stronger empowerment and more growth for everyone.
Expect more, better and new.
Meeting your staff where they are doesn’t preclude setting high expectations for them and yourself. In a time where it feels like everyone is talking about “connection,” “emotional wellness,” or a hundred other now-common buzzwords, you should still be challenging your staff to make their ideas stand out. It’s not about re-skinning something that works; it’s about taking something entirely new to market with bold choices, mitigated risk and clear ROI. And if it’s not new? Send them back to the drawing board and go with them.
You are responsible for the messages you send.
We tell a lot of people a lot of things every day, and sometimes our messaging can get lost in translation. You get back a memo that doesn’t hit the mark; you get back a social calendar that seems off. The reason, more often than not, isn’t a lack of skill or effort, it’s a lack of understanding. It can be tempting to adopt the outmoded mentality of “they just don’t get it,” but the truth for you is that if your staff is misunderstanding your instructions, you’re not giving them correctly. And that’s a standard you can hold them to, as well, in reverse. If they feel you haven’t heard them, they need to try again.
Impact is more important than intention.
We hear it all the time: “That’s not what I meant.” And the response? It doesn’t matter. The impact of your words is just as, if not more, important, than your words themselves, and you’re responsible for that impact. You’ll make mistakes; we all do. But coming to every interaction with a pre-emptive sense of accountability will help the people you’re working with give you the benefit of the doubt, have faith in your intention and provide honest feedback that improves your impact.
Continuously remind yourself your point of view is narrow.
Experience is not a stand-in for being right. Yes, experience matters, but you will also be wrong sometimes. Seek out new information and new opinions from those around you, especially underrepresented voices, and let the world surprise and inform you. You don’t have to take their direction, but you should let them inform your perspective and explain your reasoning, even when you think it’s obvious. It builds investment and respect, even when others still disagree.
Know your brand and live to it.
When you leave a room, what do you want people to say about you? Pick five characteristics, or three, and remind yourself of them every morning. Make sure that you’re hitting at least one a day. And when you’re in crisis, when you’re stressed, when you’re not thinking about them, think about them. If an action is not furthering the reputation you want to have, rethink whether it’s really necessary in the first place.
Be a person, not a robot.
Leaders can be distant sources of light, especially for junior staff. The truth is many people are just as intimidated as you might have been as a junior staffer. Share your failures in real time and how you learn from them. Be vocal about it. Embrace kindness. Take time for yourself, even if it’s just to stare out the window. Share yourself, including your frustrations and your successes. Be human. Don’t be a leader, be a role model. Be filled with empathy, and expect it in return.
Leadership and collaboration must be balanced.
In today’s environment, life can sometimes feel like the tail wagging the dog. Being there for staff, embracing them, being a servant leader, meeting them where they are — it can build good leaders. However, there is a difference between empowerment and entitlement, and a good leader knows where that line is and how to walk staff back from it.
This leads to perhaps the best guideline of all, at least from my point of view: Leaders see their staff, hear their staff and empower their staff — but they also lead them through investment, loyalty, passion and honesty. Leaders aren’t there just to march into the future; they are there to light the way for others and make sure everyone’s on the journey together. An ambitious destination is nothing if we don’t make it there, together.
This article originally appeared in Forbes at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2021/12/28/leadership-in-the-time-of-covid