By Traci Rosenthal
Labor Day 2021 once marked a hopeful end to the pandemic’s work-from-home order. But with the current explosion of COVID cases around the county, the collective work force is wary about going back to the before times, especially when everything—from crowded commutes to shared office space—can feel like a health hazard.
Because uncertainty can be unsettling, we asked Managing Director of The ExCo Group Adam Bryant, who also serves as Senior Advisor to The Reuben Mark Initiative for Organizational Character and Leadership at Columbia Business School, to share some advice he’s gathered from C-suite professionals about how to progress through this next challenge . . . and the one after that.
- Coach leaders to be more comfortable with uncertainty
“Think through moments where something very unexpected happened and how you dealt with it. In other words, try to discover your own capacity for responsiveness and change. Most people don’t get to senior leadership roles without dealing with something challenging in their lives. Think about the resources you’ve found in yourself and around you that helped you figure out how to navigate that shock.”
– Margaret Heffernan, veteran CEO and author of Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together
- Evolve your leadership approach
“The world has changed. We wanted to evolve our leadership approach for this next generation. So, we identified three attributes that we said were important for the future leaders of The Coca-Cola Company.
One was to be the role model—you have to lead by example. You can’t just say what you want; you have to show it. The second was to set the agenda, with clear priorities, goals, objectives, and measurements, so that employees know what is expected of them and how success will be measured. And the third is to help people be their best selves. We believe that leaders of the future are not just focused on performance as it relates to the company, but on performance related to the potential of that employee.”
– Lisa Chang, global chief people officer, The Coca-Cola Company
- Practice Agility
“One of the qualities that we’re focusing on reflects the rate of change in the world. How comfortable are people working through disruption? None of us would have ever imagined a pandemic, or the social unrest on top of that.
We are living through case studies right now, and the key thing is to be watching for them. We’re seeing how people have reacted to certain situations. We saw some people really step up in the pandemic. Capture that information and start to get a flavor for how people respond in certain situations. Do they step up and go after it, or do they sit back and let things happen?”
– Ernest W. Marshall Jr., chief human resources officer, Eaton
- Carry lessons learned into the future
“Our leaders had to lead differently when the crisis hit. What made them successful is that they were authentic, vulnerable, transparent, communicative, and they took the time to get to know their team at a different level. So, one lesson we take forward is the power of authentic leadership and high degrees of empathy and vulnerability and how that can really ignite people.
The other thing that became quite clear to us is we have a lot of limiting beliefs, and many of them were blown away through the pandemic. A lot of things that we think could never be done can in fact be done. Reflect on that and ask, ‘how many times do we limit the potential of our people and the organization?’ Because of what we did over the last year, we can now remind people that more is possible.”
– Susan LaMonica, chief human resources officer and head of corporate social responsibility, Citizens Financial Group
- Stay calm and focused when times get tough
“My natural tendency, when things become unhinged, uncertain and frenetic around me, is that I get more calm, centered, and focused. As a leader in uncertain times, that’s a good trait, because people are looking at their leaders, and their antennae are sensitive. If they get a lot of vibration from leadership, it could send them in lots of different directions.
When times are tough, leaders get a chance to be leaders. Let people know that you are looking out for them and going to create stability, despite whatever comes our way.
When you’ve survived a lot of crises and you get to the other side, you build perspective and understanding that every crisis ends. So, don’t get caught up in the crisis. You know that it will end, and that builds a certain calmness.
Staying calm also requires a lot of creativity. The duck might be still above water, but the legs are moving. It takes a lot of skill, creativity, and hard work to navigate these things. In a sense, jump first and figure out how we’re going to land second. That’s the very nature of entrepreneurialism—don’t be averse to risk.”
– Andre Durand, CEO, Ping Identity