Leaders everywhere are weaving their way through the dynamically changing COVID-19 situation. Perhaps you’ve experienced one of these scenarios:
- You email your team members the latest policy on how your organization is dealing with the coronavirus. As soon as you hit send, a message arrives from your boss adding a new requirement to the evolving standard.
- You feel on top of the situation until you learn from one of your team members that you are sharing incorrect information. The informal grapevine seems to be producing more accurate information than formal channels
To some degree these scenarios, and others like them, are understandable. After all, times of rapid change and numerous unknowns are wrought with confusion, frustration, and miscommunication. The watch out is to avoid exacerbating the situation.
You may feel that you have little control at the moment, but there is one thing that is directly within your control. It’s how you create, share, and allow your people to act on choices. These choices include decisions like:
- Employees can choose to take PTO or work from home if the office closes.
- Two colleagues can choose to share job responsibilities so they both have the flexibility to care for children because school is closed.
- Team members can choose which projects will move forward, which will be postponed until a later date, and which will be stopped all together.
Let’s be clear. Giving people choices is a good thing. Giving people a voice in creating those choices can be a great thing.
In the face of dealing with choices, great leaders make 4 great choices.
Smart Choice #1 – Provide Guidance
I recently heard a leader say that each team member can choose between two software tools to remotely perform their job. She was talking to an audience of employees who had traditionally worked in the office. These people knew very little about the tools and were stressed about the moving to a work-from-home model.
In an open forum, several team members asked for advice about which tool to use. The leader responded to each inquiry with, “It is totally up to you. I’m giving you the choice.”
Team members literally threw their hands up in frustration.
There’s a fine line between abandonment and empowerment. Be smart. Give people options to choose from and ensure that they have what they need to make an informed decision.
Smart Choice #2 – Determine the ‘Right’ Number of Choices
In the middle of spring training, Major League Baseball (MLB) stopped playing ball. I recently heard a sports commentator discussing how teams were handling the pause in normal activities. He shared that some teams gave their players several choices about what they could do during the pause. Players could choose to stay with the team, travel home, or go someplace else.
Players scattered in every direction.
Team management is now frustrated. It’s difficult to communicate with team members, fitness levels are dropping, and some players may be exposing themselves to the coronavirus.
Giving people options to choose from is good. Smart leaders ensure that options meet short-term needs without losing sight of long-term priorities.
Smart Choice #3 – Avoid Giving False Options
Imagine that I offer you two options to choose from:
Option #1 is viable.
Option #2 is blatantly flawed.
Which option would you choose?
Whether I’m trying to manipulate you be offering only one viable option or sincerely attempting to give you a greater sense of agency, the result is the same. You are frustrated with the situation and feel that I’m trying to manipulate you.
A better move on the part of the leader is to be candid about the lack of options and to look for viable ways to give people a voice in the process. For example, the leader could say, “Given the company’s new policy, we only have one realistic option. Suggesting otherwise would be untrue. However, we can work together to decide how we will implement this option and I need your input to make that happen.”
When a decision has already been made, or there is only one viable option, smart leaders avoid giving people a false sense of choice.
Smart Choice #4 – Engage Your People in the Process
Some leaders like to be the hero who swoops in to save the day.
Other leaders have an unquenchable desire to move fast. They feel that bringing team members into the decision-making process unnecessarily slows things down.
We are currently living in an environment where a hero would be helpful and speed seems of the essence.
This combination may cause team members to be unnecessarily left out of the choice-making process. Be careful not to do this. Your people are knowledgeable and creative. Involving them in the process may be the most important thing you can do right now.
Wanting to be the hero or feeling pressure to move fast can leave your people out of the process. Be smart, slow down and look for ways to bring the voice of your team members into the process.
I know that you are dealing with great uncertainty. I also know that your people are looking for someone that they can count on. You can be that person. My hope is to help you along the way.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.