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2020 Leadership Reflections by Jen May

It’s been a year like no other.

My experience of the pandemic has been on the whole one of intensity and gratitude. I’ve worked through the pandemic for a company that has put the health and wellbeing of their employees first.

It has not always been easy. Navigating the uncertainty at work in the early days to realign my focus (and the focus of my colleagues) to channel nervous energy into positive outcomes has been all encompassing at times.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past year…

Managing your wellbeing; setting boundaries

We are constantly connected and I know i’m not alone in blurring the lines and spending too much time on screens and working too many hours in the process. I like to be very accessible to the people I work with, but in doing that I realise it’s important not to diminish your energy and the quality time you can give in and outside of work. Decide what you think will help you, your colleagues, friends and family and stick to it. I am very generous with my time during the week, but will make sure now that I take a long walk each day, exercise at least 3 times a week, eat dinner each night with my husband and leave my work phone at home when I go out at the weekends.

Managing your time; harness the focus time and cut out the faffing

As someone who personally finds focus in silence, I have relished the space to think and cut out unnecessary activities in my day that take up head space and time. I realise I inevitably spent time on lower value thought processes that were more “in” the business, and instead I could replace those with higher value thoughts and spend more time “on” the business. Having said this, life can feel like groundhog day quickly for me. Finding difference and freedom has been equally as important and translates into new refreshing energy. I found setting creative tasks, taking time to learn and mixing up aspects of my work schedule where possible have been important.

Developing your team culture

For some it feels like culture is at risk of eroding due to the lack of physical contact. I have been trying to work out my role as leader in this. I think culture is made of everyday interactions, what we say and do consistently, and it’s these micro happenings that build up overtime and start to either develop or erode a culture. What if now is actually a fantastic time to re-approach your culture? I have seen expectations informally re-written through teams cutting out egotistical behaviour, pulling together and looking after each other’s health and wellbeing. I have really noticed teams who have rallied together and those who haven’t. It shows. How to do this is another matter. My experience has been that maintaining and pushing the culture forward is about regular communications day to day, regular problem solving discussions, acting as a beacon for the values of the company (which I personally believe in, makes it easier!) and being open and honest about what I think and what I know.

Managing your colleagues development; Feedback and learning

I think taking time to source and give feedback to the people who are working at your company is vital. It’s now more difficult to pick up on how people are doing all of the time, especially when there is a barrier of tech in the way; plus we have the detrimental, yet engrained approach in the UK of saying ‘we are ok’ when we are not. Take the time to gather feedback from those working with your team and set aside time to provide positive and constructive feedback to the people who work in your team. People will pick up on your sentiment towards things, but as people are likely to be more concerned about their workplace security it’s important to continue to be open and realistic. Leaving people wondering why you’re making a suggestion, or what’s behind your cryptic comments can be difficult and demotivating.

Managing relationships and new opportunities; collaborating across the ecosystem

One surprising benefit I have seen is the number of new relationships we have built, as people work hard to rethink aspects of their business, coupled with working more remotely (making it much easier to set up meetings!). I have found that people are open to collaboration and have the spirit ‘we’re all in this together’. I think this is important for team morale too – meeting new people and opening up new and interesting projects to work on. It’s a welcome creative outlet and helps teams to consistently raise the bar and learn as they are met with new skills and challenges to overcome.

Managing your business; redefining your business model and areas of focus

Whilst many aspects of running businesses are in flux, that can translate to opportunity. Many people in my network are seeing their business streams fluctuate, some in decline and some soaring. How to harness this is the question. Setting the challenge to consider how to reframe your business can be a great exercise for your top talent within the organisation if facilitated well. Not only can the problem solving exercise provide a team setting and creative outlet for your people, it can help to set aside quality time to tackle this essential topic. Businesses tend to rise or fall during recessions, rarely just plodding along. It’s leadership that ultimately orchestrates these outcomes at incredibly high stakes, making decisions with little certainty, so why not work with the talented people around you and foster their development at the same time as solving major challenges. I have seen this first hand during the months just past, working with talented people in my company to consider how we continue to engage our customer base with a digital first mindset during the pandemic.