Regardless of your age or geography or role or industry, 2020 has challenged and stretched you. For service leaders, this year has put an extra burden on an already tall task of spearheading immense change. In the same way companies that have reacted nimbly to how the pandemic has changed the needs of their customers; service leaders have had to tap into different skills to meet the needs of their teams in this new world.
In my conversations with service leaders over the last nine months, many have shared poignant stories of how this year’s experiences have impacted them as people – and also how they’ve had to rise above their personal impact to show up for their teams, their customers, and their companies. There are three skills that seem to have been particularly critical to hone this year:
Vulnerability. This may be the lease familiar or comfortable for some of the service leaders I’ve talked with, but it is also arguably the most important. This year has been hard, and we all need a little more empathy and camaraderie. In order for your teams to feel comfortable being honest about what they’re struggling with, or sharing their feelings, or expressing their needs, they need to have a safe space to be vulnerable. We published a podcast last week with Linda Tucci, Global Sr. Director of the Technical Solutions Center at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, which I highly suggest you listen to if you haven’t. In the episode, Linda says: “People are suffering. 2020 is throwing the kitchen sink at us, between the lockdowns, job loss, wildfires, hurricanes, stress, polarization. I would say that we have to ask ourselves, how do we manage, how do we lead in these times? If we want to be experienced as leaders, we have to demonstrate both empathy and compassion. People connect with people. And being vulnerable is not a weakness; it’s an act of courage. There’s evidence that leaders who are prepared to show their vulnerability more easily gain the trust of others and are believed to be more effective leaders, and I believe in that statement. Brené Brown says, endearing greatly, that, ‘Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of human experience.’ And I believe in that.”
Linda’s sentiment is one that is shared by many service leaders I speak with. They all discuss how they’ve become more personal with their team, more open in discussing feelings, and more connected on a human level. And, overwhelmingly, while they all wish circumstances were different, they feel increased vulnerability and connection is a very positive change. It’s important for leaders to normalize language about mental health in the workplace and being vulnerable yourself gives your team the permission they might need to do the same.
Flexibility. Chances are the way you work this year is different. Service delivery is different, business decisions are different. Customer needs are different – and employee needs are different, too. As leaders, we can’t hold to expectations, practices, or routines that worked in a post-COVID world simply because “that’s how it’s done.” We need to be willing to reexamine not only how we work to serve our customers in new and different ways, but how this year may change the way our employees work as well. We have employees now working from home that are juggling family and household responsibilities in ways that are just unprecedented.
In a podcast featuring Reihaneh Irani-Famili, VP of Business Readiness, National Grid, we discussed the need to evolve to a value-based mentality when we think of assessing productivity. “You need to replace the 8:00 to 5:00 mentality by a deliverable based mentality and a value-based mentality. And it’s both for the leaders in the companies as well as for those employees. Because as an employee, if before my success was I spent eight hours in the office, now that needs to be replaced by this is the value that I have created in the hours that I was working or being productive,” she says. “The more clarity you can give on the outcomes and the value that you’re trying to drive and less about how they would get to that, it helps people be more productive, more engaged, and it would really make sure that your productivity doesn’t get impacted by this sudden move to a virtual environment.”
The consideration around flexibility becomes even more critical when you think about how you support the women in your workforce. In this article from McKinsey & Company, they state: “Due to the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, as many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce (defined as taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether). If these women feel forced to leave the workplace, we’ll end up with far fewer women in leadership—and far fewer women on track to be future leaders.”
Fortitude. We can likely all identify with times this year where we’ve just felt like throwing in the towel. When you’re facing your own challenges, it can be daunting to show up – let alone show up and try to be positive for your team. But service leaders have. They’ve show up when they don’t feel like it. They’ve dug deep to be positive when it’s easier to give in to negativity. They’ve worked tirelessly to rally their team. They’ve had to continue showing up through hard decisions, layoffs, and reductions in workforce. Leaders too have to balance the stressors of work with the demands of home. None of this is easy, but service leaders have shown immense fortitude this year. To do this, you need to determine how to recharge. You have to figure out how to put your oxygen mask on before you focus on helping others. Fortitude is admirable, but without an element of self-care it will result in burnout.
I want you to know how much I respect each of you and honor what it’s taken to lead in a year like this. I’ve felt so genuinely fortunate to get to have conversations with so many service leaders this year – to hear their stories firsthand and to witness the greatness that is in all of us come to life in such challenging times. I’ve hoped to be a sunny spot in some of your cloudy days, and I hope you know you’ve been the same for me. None of us know what 2021 will hold, but I do believe wholeheartedly that this year has made all of us stronger, closer, and more acutely aware of what really matters.