We are currently going through very difficult economic times – and that means many employees do not feel safe. This has a negative impact on your organisation because when your people don’t feel protected by your leadership, you start to lose their trust and their cooperation.
From there, they understandably spend more time protecting themselves and less time on the future of the company.
While you still need to make tough decisions (some of which your employees won’t like), it’s vital as a leader to be aware of how to best present these decisions.
So solid strategic leadership has never been more important – and at its core it’s about communication. So let’s break down some key approaches to leadership that you can use during tough times, or during any times, to ensure your employees feel safe and protected.
- Talk to your team
- Positive feedback
- Ask questions
- Be collaborative
- Be tough
- Read, read, read
Talk to your team
It’s important to share information with your team – the more your team know, the more engaged they will be. You need to demonstrate that the decisions you are making are ethical ones and that you are accountable for them. By showing them your vision – particular when navigating difficult times – you will gain trust.
Setting aside time for one-to-one sessions with each team member is also a good move. Even if there isn’t much to talk about initially, having that session in the calendar means your employee will feel there is a safe space where they can speak to you about matters they might not want to bring up in the group. And as time goes by, you may find they start to use it more and more.
As a leader, this is a great way of understanding their expectations and creating a closer working relationship.
It may seem like this goes without saying, but when was the last time you gave positive feedback to your employees? It may be something as mundane as keeping a note to thank them in a meeting (whether as a group or one-to-one) for their work on a particular project.
During difficult times, when everyone is stressed, it’s so easy to forget positive re-enforcement since it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation with little room for anything else. But by taking the time to thank employees for their work, and giving genuine positive feedback, you will ensure they feel safe and valued.
This will also pay dividends when, inevitably, you need to give critical feedback. This way, they don’t feel you’re always negative.
When an employee isn’t performing as you had hoped, one way of approaching it is asking an open ended question. Let them do the talking, and see what you can gather about what went wrong from what they say.
Starting with a question, then letting the employee speak freely, is a great way of empowering them, and will also help you solve problems.
You will also be able to further collaboration in your team if your employees feel free to ask questions of you and each other. A genuine diversity of ideas, freely expressed in meetings, will not only engage your employees but will speed up problem solving and boost overall collaboration.
When your employees feel part of something, they are more likely to feel safe and protected. That means getting feedback from them not just on key points but also the smaller initiatives you are working on.
In this environment of collaboration, it’s important that employees feel safe from any kind of bullying or any sense that they are being attacked. While not every idea is going to be a good one, the way you handle it (criticising an idea rather than a person) is key.
Ensure that everyone has a voice and feels free to speak – even the quieter members of your team. If all discussions are approached with the idea of ‘how can we make the company better?’ then this positivity will feed your team.
You are not a lesser leader by bringing together the opinions of your team. It’s your job to take the best ideas then provide strong leadership based on them.
This might sound like a contradiction to what we just covered, but creating an environment where your employees feel safe doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict. It’s more about how you deal with it, and how quickly you deal with it.
So while you ensure everyone feels safe, you are not afraid to be tough when you need to be. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Employees need to know where they stand, where the line is (and what happens if they cross it) but that you are there to support them overall.
Fear simply doesn’t work as a motivator, and you’ll find over time retention will suffer. When employees make mistakes, they need to be conscientious enough to understand the seriousness of the situation, while also understanding that mistakes will happen. It’s a fine balance.
So it’s creating a kind of psychological safety while also being a strong leader that wins the day.
Read, read, read
As a leader, you need to continually grow. The fastest, and perhaps easiest way to do this is through reading. It can help boost:
- Systematic thinking
- Communication skills
- Emotional intelligence
Being able to engage with some of the best minds that have ever lived is invaluable. It’s about gaining fresh perspectives and insights. You will expand your knowledge base and help you challenge your own assumptions and become a better decision maker.
There is a variety of books which may be useful – in fact, a number of great sports books, written by former coaches, have found their way onto many a business person’s desk. So do some digging, find what interests you, because almost anything well-written will help feed positively into your growth as a leader.
Your role as a leader
Employees know that the life of a company is unpredictable – even the largest organisations can fall on hard times. So while you may at times need to make tough decisions, decisions which they may not like, if you have built up a transparent, ethical style of leadership, they will at least respect your decisions even if they don’t like them.