Leaders should be empathetic and flexible during
times of social unrest
It’s tempting to “keep it together” in the workplace. Keep talking to clients and working on projects like everything is okay. But the reality is … we are not okay.
We are distracted.
We aren’t distracted from the usual stuff like relationships and money.
We were distracted while adjusting to working from home during COVID-19 shelter-in-place rules. We read lots of tricks and tips, like using video to create personal connections with your staff and having a designated workspace to formally start and end your workday. We played WFH BINGO games.
Now we are distracted by social unrest and political trauma.
As people leaders, we have a responsibility to acknowledge that our teams are distracted and feeling less engaged at work, too.
I have been managing teams for 25 years and, regardless of industry and global change, these two managerial skills are key when guiding a team from unrest to a new normal.
Emphasize Personal Interactions
Resist the urge to become the micromanaging leader who is laser-focused on tasks and deadlines. While it may be a “safer space” for you to focus on your work, your team needs to know that they’re not alone. Proactively check in with your team to have honest and genuine conversations.
In her book, Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, Jessica Pan explains that we can shift conversations to be more genuine by understanding that we all have a Surface Self and a Deep Self. The Surface Self talks about the weather, facts, and what we had for dinner. The Deep Self talks about what these things actually mean to us and how we feel about them. Go beyond the glib opener, “How are you?” and genuinely ask, “How are you really doing?”.
During times of stress, a strong leader will engage in the Deep Self conversation to connect with staff. If you have someone who is truly struggling, a Deep Self conversation will open up that discussion sooner rather than later.
When a trainer told me that he was struggling to focus on work, I had a choice on how to respond.
A Surface Self response is, “We are all doing our best.”
A Deep Self response is something like: “There is a lot going on right now. What is weighing you down the most?” The Deep Self response led to a frank discussion about the impact of the stressors on his work life.
Our teams need the discussion. Maybe not everyone needs or wants to talk, but you probably know the ones who do.
Leverage Technology to Support Staff Flexibility Needs
One of our benefits as people leaders is to redistribute work (when possible) to keep the entire team in balance.
Use your tools to drive conversation when checking on your staff. Is there capacity for Sandra to handle a few more requests to assist Duane who is overloaded? Can Sharon have the flexibility to work at night to accommodate daytime demands that she has at home?
“Nothing can replace face-to-face engagement. However, when the team knows each other, technology can provide flexibility,” says Richard Nohe, General Counsel at BT Americas.
For example, look at your matter management system to understand the kind of work requests your in-house counsel team is getting. Is HR flooding you with questions about providing safe environments for employees and guidelines? Are business units seeking guidance on diversity and inclusion data and protocols?
Another option is to review whether you are maximizing your use of automation and technology. The idea that the legal market may evolve into an industry that would leverage technology someday has suddenly pivoted into now. Those in the legal market who already use technology to manage their work and relationships are better prepared as they realize tangible benefits through automation.
This is a really strange, unprecedented time we’re in, both from a health and social standpoint. But you can lead your team by example when you emphasize personal interactions over casual conversation and leveraging technology and tools to support your staff.
We are living in a time when everyone is drowning under hard news day after day. As a leader, you have an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to show compassion.
For more resources and other related articles, visit our Managing Change Resource Center.