How leaders can “hold the hope” to lead teams through COVID
02 September 2020

How leaders can “hold the hope” to lead teams through COVID

Published on 02 September 2020

Workplaces around the world are learning to live with COVID, dealing with the uncertainties and anxieties wrought by working apart and online, alongside fluctuating lockdown. How leaders respond can make all the difference between keeping a team on track or experiencing dissension and disarray. Insights spoke to Glenys Gwynne, Director of Emovare and expert in leadership development and organisational change, on how leaders can best manage their teams through uncertain times.

“Our clients include legal teams, government ministries, banks, and everything in between,” said Glenys. Recently acquired by the College of Law, Emovare will soon work with Australian organisations to develop leadership and executive assistance programs.


Evolving from technical expert to “conscious” leader

“As people navigate their careers, they need to be mindful that what they do in their thirties is not going to be what will be required of them in their forties or even fifties,” explained Glenys. “Senior associates, for example, need to move from delivering technical expertise to assuming a wider leadership understanding of themselves.”

This involves recognising that as people ascend through leadership, a lens is placed on them by others.

“We become more visible in the organisation,” observed Glenys. “This means we need to think about how we’re seen by others, our mood, our energy, and how we respond to other people. We need to become a mentor to others as we become more technically proficient. How do we get the best out of others? How do we give feedback?”

This involves becoming “conscious” leaders - not only of ourselves but of others.

“By doing so, we can not only be at our best but also bring out the best in others,” said Glenys.


People look for leadership through crisis

Self-awareness and social awareness are crucial to navigating COVID.

“There is so much uncertainty,” said Glenys. “People are looking to leaders for how they respond.”

Even the most mature of leaders are being put to the test like never before, given 24 or 48 hours notice to move to completely different models of work.

“As leaders, how do we set a good example for managing our emotions, for leading others, for becoming good role models, for positivity, and leading from that space?” asked Glenys.

She cited the recent example of a banking organisation given 48 hours to move to remote work.

“A project team was put together to work on this,” said Glenys. The team was quite despondent, worried by tight timeframes and the sheer magnitude of work required.

One of the organisation’s senior leaders walked into the room, and the demeanour of the group changed. The leader cited prior projects undertaken under tight deadlines, to significant success. They acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the project but urged the team to work together.

“It only takes one person to hold the hope and move the dynamic of that group into a different space,” observed Glenys. “It only takes one person to ask how we can get through this in a different way. As leaders, we’re reminded every day that we need to be conscious, and from an EQ perspective, lead from that place of positivity and hope as opposed to fear and negativity.“


Holding the hope for a team

Organisations are dealing with significant change. This can be driven by the changing nature of work, government policy changes, or the seismic shifts caused by COVID and a remote workforce.

“Whatever the driver, people in leadership positions are being continually asked to lead teams through significant structural change,” explained Glenys. “You need to lead from a place of hope. Be in constant contact with people, recognise their contributions, give them tools to help them stay in control of what they can control. Some of this is very personal for people - it may mean help managing their home life, homeschooling children or looking after their financial situation, fitness and wellbeing while working from home.”

This is particularly challenging as some jobs may be under consideration; even the jobs of leaders themselves.

“How do we, as leaders, communicate through this? How do we listen to people who are concerned about the future? How do we keep people buoyant? How do we help each of our team members stay abreast of change, and encourage them to stay responsive to projects? How do we lead our teams in a way that ‘holds the hope’ and gets the best results possible? All of these questions require an EQ lens,” said Glenys.


The value of profiling self-awareness

Profiling from a self-awareness and EQ perspective can be very helpful. This can involve understanding how leaders operate under pressure.

“Profiling can give us a deep understanding of our strengths, and how we can utilise them when we are required to work differently, and under pressure,” explained Glenys.

Some leaders become directive when a more collaborative approach might allow teams to achieve better outcomes.

“Taking a more collaborative approach means talking about what we want to achieve and how we’re going to achieve it,” explained Glenys. “This process gives people a sense of control over what’s happening to them, as opposed to responding to what they’re being told to do.

“Co-designing how we’re working, how we’re collaborating, and identifying what’s important to us, are simple but effective tools of leading,” said Glenys. “They give people a sense that they are contributing to change, and that this change is worthwhile.”


EQ is fundamental to navigating COVID

Many people, particularly through COVID, tend to come to their work by turning on their computers and working through tasks. Glenys advises taking a step back for ten minutes and asking, what are the priorities for the day? What are the challenges?

“This very simple act of reflection helps us to avoid getting into tasks and lead instead from a place of optimism, positivity, and hope,” said Glenys. “At the moment, it’s easy to drop into tasks. We need to take a more balanced, EQ approach. There will always be challenges that come out of the blue, but setting our intention for the day is a very positive and useful way of starting out and staying connected, working on the things we need to work on as opposed to staying in a reactive mode.”