Leadership Lessons from the midst of a pandemic by Premkumar Iyer, National Operations Head, Gozoop

Whileleading businesses and teams during a global crisis like Covid-19, a situation that persists over months; where we choose to focus, defines who we are as leaders.

The year 2020 seems totally jinxed, eerily foreshadowed by a meme that went viral early in the year, called “Funeral dance by Ghana Pallbearers”.

As the pandemic unsettles everything across the globe, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Covid-19 is by far the most difficult crisis the world has faced in the recent past, not only because of its impact on health and the global economy but more so because it shows no sign of coming to an end. For many, staying at home and working in their pajamas is a welcome respite but for leaders, these are incredibly testing times. This is not the time to play ostrich and bury one’s head in the sand but to open our eyes and ears and take decisive action in the face of debilitating circumstances, to ensure that the business and its people stay strong. As I do my best to lead my company, here are my mantras for leadership in these uncertain times.

Get yourself in order first.

In times of war, when two armies faced each other on the battlefield, one of the key tactics deployed was to identify the commanding officer and take him out. Troops without a leader to give them direction are easy to defeat because they tend to run in different directions at the same time.

So, the most important thing for any leader during a crisis is to get a hold of him/herself. Remember your troops need you to lead the charge, so you need to be at your very best. First things first, take some time off to realign yourself. A daily schedule with time chalked out for activities such as exercise, meditation and even family time can go a long way in helping you keep your calm in the storm. A little time to focus on yourself can help you stay anchored and address every situation with equanimity.

Trust in your team.

Remember, you are not alone, and with social distance being the need of the hour, coming together as a team in spirit and action is more important than ever. Be as methodological as you can, chalk out duties for everyone in the team and make sure they are clearly communicated. Take on the role of team lifeguard and help them navigate between urgent jobs and truly important tasks. Tough times will call for tough measures in times to come, so ensuring clarity of tasks and priorities, and a seamless flow of information, will be key.

Balance this by giving your managers enough autonomy to be able to take decisions, should the situation arise. Be mindful that with things changing every second, many are grappling with the challenges of working remotely, so be sure to align work basis everyone’s individual strengths. Now is not the time to experiment: prioritize dependability on the frontlines to save time and consistently ensure quality output.

Build a culture of collaboration.

This is an opportunity for you to build a truly integrated organisation. You may not have all the answers but the truth is that no else does either! This is the time to look at inter-team synergies to ensure that there is no compromise on output. Another tactic is to use available resources from different departments to create a SWAT or First Response Team which can be deployed in any situation requiring urgent attention, or to ease things where employee bandwidth is tight. This way you can increase efficiency and mange workloads effectively. Of course this does come with a caveat; there is no one size fits all, so you will have to step in and allocate roles and responsibilities basis core competencies on a situation by situation basis.

Connect and Communicate.

As things get more uncertain, your team will increasingly look to you for direction and cohesion. Stay connected with them, find new and interesting ways to build bonds. Make sure they can get hold of you when they need to. Check up on them, sometimes even without an agenda.

Employees need to know how the company is doing; will they get their salaries on time and whether there will be layoffs? All such decisions must be communicated with them honestly and transparently. Such uncertainties can take a huge toll on employee morale so it is imperative that you take the effort to truly listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly. Ensure that the atmosphere is encouraging and supportive so that they are empowered to do their best work.

As a leader, this is the time when your communication style will be of paramount importance, and I recommend you be objective, authentic, compassionate and as available you can (within reason of course).

Do it with Karuna (Compassion).

Not to be confused with empathy, Karuna or compassion involves taking actions, no matter how small, towards easing someone’s pain. During this time, actions that alleviate the turmoil for employees, even to a small degree, can go a long way towards creating an environment of positivity. After all, positivity is contagious and we could all do with as much of it as possible. I reckon, R-Naught (an indication of how contagious a virus is) of Karuna is far higher than that of Corona.

Moreover, acts of Karuna can help us find meaning in the chaos. It is for us to lead by example and ensure that sensitivity is hardwired across the board. Share stories of teams coming together and creating magic. Showcase great pieces of work for the entire organization, highlight appreciation emails from clients and encourage those who go out of their way to help and support other team members. Your team will always remember how you dealt with them during a crisis and nothing will drive loyalty and engagement like knowing “My boss cares about my well-being and that of my loved ones.”

My college principal encouraged us to “convert calamities into opportunities” and it is something that has always worked wonders. While Covid-19 is undoubtedly a setback, it also presents us with a defining moment as leaders, as it brings with it the potential for untapped opportunities to create cohesion and inspire innovation in unimaginable ways. It is now up to us to use this time to not just survive but thrive and emerge stronger together.

Hope you, your family and your team are safe and well. #StayHomeStaySafe