Exceptional leadership in exceptional times

With the global spread of Covid-19 at such a speedy and terrifying pace, there is of course tremendous amounts of uncertainty, fear and a lot of the unknown which has brought on a widespread panic, over and above the actual disease. People, especially employees, are worried about their physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as their financial stability and what the future holds and rightly so. Economies are struggling, businesses are going into administration and both large and small businesses globally are at risk. We’re amidst a worldwide pandemic and an economic wobble. This doesn’t leave much room for employee motivation and engagement in the sense we know it, as employees are living day to day, unsure of what tomorrow will bring.

Global uncertainty for employers and employees alike
This global challenge is a very trying time for both employers and employees alike. There is a collective struggle on all levels – personal and professional – all round. Working from home poses a lot of hardships for some, especially for those with children who need attention, home schooling and online classes. There’s a lot more menial tasks which have been thrown into the mix, from cleaning to cooking, so the focus on work may be somewhat diluted. Where employees are used to working 9am-5pm or even with flexible working hours, the workday may start to look a little different now, and this balancing act poses a lot more stress, anxiety and fear. Productivity dips, hours are reduced and it’s hard to maintain team morale and a sense of unity.

Businesses are really searching within how to survive this pandemic. Their existence remains crucial for both the fabric of society and the great economic engine.Now more than ever, there’s a real opportunity for business leaders to step up and exemplify extraordinary behavior to their teams and employees during this time of hardship. Leaders need to be authentic, transparent and approachable for their vulnerable employees. A new type of support is necessary, probably on a level majority of companies have never experienced before. It’s a learning curve from the top to the bottom. Under normal circumstances running a business, managing teams, cultivating relationships and remaining competitive is a juggle. Management are constantly trying to balance the needs of the organization together with the needs of its employees in a harmonious manner. Fast forward to what we’re all experiencing, and these are not normal circumstances. The economic impact of Covid-19 are predicted to be far worse than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis combined.

Exceptional leaders going above and beyond
With that in mind, it’s a very hard time to stand out and shine. However, some leaders have gone beyond the call of duty and are an extraordinary example highlighting how important their employees are, and that they value their contributions as well as their holistic wellbeing as a priority. Employees want to know that their leaders are going through the same struggle, sharing the same sacrifices and there’s no discrimination. This points to real leadership mantra where the “we’re in it together” mentality shouts loud and clear.

Marriott International’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, delivered an effective and touching video message to his entire global team, which has spread across social channels with 890k views, dubbing him an authentic leader. Speaking directly to his team via video demonstrates both Sorenson’s humility and vulnerability; two character traits which allow people to connect and feel a sense of belonging. The global restrictions on travel, required social distancing and banning gatherings of people are having an immediate impact on Marriott’s business across the board. To date there’s been a 90% decline in business in China and 75% below normal levels in its other countries. Speaking straight from the heart with personal emotion, coupled with factual statistics and realities, Sorenson shows the importance of talking to your team in an honest fashion. He pulls at the heart strings understanding how important each and every employee is, and that they too have their families and lives to maintain and look after. He understands that all employees may be affected by this virus personally, may be caring for a family member or friend or may impacted in one way or another. On top of this heartfelt message, he commits to forgoing a salary for the remainder of the year and cutting those of his executive team by 50%. Without hesitation, the value of his teams are evident. Employees are the face and heart of every business, whereby companies wouldn’t be able to operate such without. His employee centric focus is testament to its committed, motivation and driven employees making Marriott a global success.

The need for employee engagement in crisis
The need for extraordinary leadership is more prevalent than ever before. Management needs to infiltrate to all levels and functions of the business in a real and meaningful manner. There’s no such thing as too much communication. Be optimistic yet realistic. Open as many channels for communication as required. Offer extra support, be it financial advice, emotional comfort or tips how to reduce anxiety. Make working from home as seamless as possible by having IT support at the ready.

Employees are a company’s greatest asset, so taking the necessary time, resources and effort to look after their wellbeing and nurture/ maintain the company-employee relationship is business critical, now more so than ever. Employees will remember in times to come how their employer dealt with them during such a crisis. Employees want to feel valued and cared for, and this in turn will result in employee loyalty, retention and commitment.

Employee recognition can help boost employee engagement and business success. Download our free e-book to find out more.