For executives looking to find new job or keep their current one, possessing the right skills is essential. This simple fact is truer now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, what skills should executives have during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Here's what a handful of executives from a variety of industries have to say on the topic.
Michael Minchella, Business Development Strategist
Executives need to show empathy:
Showing empathy to those around you will have benefits for both the short and long term. With the stress and anxiety levels of most people at all time highs, it is important for executives to be empathetic with staff, vendors, clients, and board members alike, and realize that the pandemic is pushing everyone outside of their comfort zones. By trying to better understand and relate to people, executives will know how to better motivate staff and work with external parties to achieve their goals. This should result in strong working relationships that expand well past the pandemic.
Executives need to be confident, and instill confidence in others:
In sports, the greatest leaders do not waver when facing a tough opponent. Their confidence not only drives them individually, but it energizes the rest of the team to work just as hard. Top-performing executives need to do the same and, despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, they cannot waver from their company's overall goals and vision. Executives that lead with confidence, in everything they do, will instill confidence in those around them, and ensure the business continues to move forward.
Executives need to adapt and roll with the punches:
The most successful executives right now are those who can recognize inefficiencies and make changes to ensure their business continues to grow. They cannot operate as "business as normal" because, well, things are not normal! The pandemic is forcing everyone to learn new skills and new ways to do things. Executives that embrace this and create the new normal, instead of trying to go back to the old ways, will thrive in the current and post-pandemic corporate environment.
Executives need to listen and collaborate with their team:
Strong executives recognize that the best ideas don't just come from within, but also from those around them. They need to listen to their colleagues and involve staff in helping the company face the challenges ahead. Listening and involving the rest of the team will also create a sense of community across the staff, further motivating everyone to work hard towards the common goal. As my soccer coach always said, "TEAM - Together Everyone Achieves More!"
Executives need to have high personal accountability:
As one of the senior staff members, executives need to hold themselves to the highest of standards in everything they do. As soon as staff see their executives take their foot off the gas pedal, they too will feel comfortable doing the same. There is no time to be defensive or argumentative when faced with a misstep; executives need to be constantly focused on the next benchmarks ahead. By acknowledging missteps and being transparent about personal and corporate challenges, executives will be able to bring their staff together and face any challenge ahead.
Michael Minchella is passionate about working with brands to help them understand and overcome their daily challenges. He has 10+ years experience as a business development specialist, working with professional sports teams and marketing agencies. His career has lead him to work with a number of prominent brands, launch a new professional Major League Soccer franchise in New York City, and open a 25,000 seat arena in New Jersey. Michael completed his masters' degree at Columbia University in 2014.
Eric Manten, Human Resources Executive
When everything goes smoothly, being a leader can be relatively easy. During challenging times like we are experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic, however, employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders are looking to the organization's executives for strong leadership.
But what does it take to be a real executive leader during a pandemic?
There are five critical skills executives must have to successfully lead their organization and teams through a crisis: empathy, communication skills, vision, team building, and decisiveness.
Now, let's have a look at each of these to understand why they are critical during a pandemic.
Many people will be struggling with anxiety during a crisis because of the impact of this pandemic on their or their family's health and lifestyle; because they have to cope with working from home; or because they are afraid of losing their job. While executives often have to make tough and difficult decisions during crises, they must never forget that each employee is a person. Real leaders don't play only the "number game"; they also understand and sympathize with their teams.
Nothing is worse during a time of crisis than a lack of communication or wrong communication. While it is not always possible to share details about actions the organization will take, it is essential to share and inform as much as possible. People who don't know what is going on will start speculating and making decisions based on wrong or insufficient information, which can have adverse effects, not only for those individuals but also for the company.
Real executives also know that communication is a two-way process: it is not only providing information; it also includes listening to feedback and concerns.
At the moment, it looks like this pandemic and its effects might last long. But there will be an end to it. True leaders will be able to develop and communicate a vision regarding how the organization will look and what the organization will do post-pandemic.
An essential and possibly long-lasting impact from the current pandemic is the increase of remote work. Executives need to be able to keep their teams together, motivated, and engaged without face-to-face meetings and micro encounters.
There are probably not many environments more ambiguous than the current pandemic-impacted economy. Information on the spread and health effects of the COVID-19 virus is not always clear, and is sometimes conflicting. Advice provided yesterday can be redundant today. And organizations that wait to take measures today might not be around anymore tomorrow. That is why executives need to be decisive, even if that means making difficult decisions for their teams.
While other skills are necessary too, empathy, communication skills, vision, team building, and decisiveness are the five most essential skills executives must have to lead their organizations through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eric Manten is a human resources executive with experience in progressive HR roles in the US, EMEA, and APAC, most recently with a Fortune 150, globally-diversified professional services company ($20B revenues; 50,000 employees). He adds value by integrating human resource strategies and practices with business strategies. Eric is focused on creating and implementing strategies and HR frameworks to guide people, policies, functions, and cultures that adapt to change. He builds trusted relationships at all organization levels, and delivers creative cost-efficient solutions.
Chris LoPresti, Business Operations Executive
During these challenging times, executives, along with everyone else, are being faced with a unique set of challenges. There are many skills required to be a successful leader but during these times, five skills stand out as being critical for success. The first and most important of these skills is being safety-focused. As a world citizen, it is important that we all do our part to curtail the spread of COVID-19. As an executive, it is also important to always put the safety and well-being of your people first, above all else.
Closely related to being safety-focused is the skill of emotional intelligence. During these uncertain times emotions are running high for many people. Having the awareness of and the ability to control and express our emotions in a positive way is critical for executives at this time. We must also be aware of the emotions of those around us to maintain a positive environment.
During challenging times, the ability to be flexible/adaptable is also a vital skill to possess. Many of your staff members and suppliers will be facing challenges outside of their control. Being flexible/adaptable to work with these individuals will be critical to future success. Being flexible/adaptable will also help to build lasting relationships of trust and mutual respect.
Closely related to the skill of being flexible/adaptable is the skill of critical thinking. We are being faced with challenges never before seen. Each challenge presents an opportunity to rise up and succeed. You must be able to objectively evaluate information and misinformation from numerous sources in your decision-making process. Many people are looking to you for answers and solutions to these issues. Having the ability to sort through copious quantities of information and utilizing sound reasoning in your decision-making process is a critical skill at this time.
Lastly, in order to overcome the many challenges we are being faced with, one must be tech savvy. No longer can we hide in the ignorance of available technology. Being a lifelong learner, I have challenged myself to keep on top of new technology available in the workplace. At a minimum, we must possess the basic skills to utilize technology to overcome day to day challenges we are facing right now, such as communicating with our people, vendors, and customers.
One great way to acquire these skills is to tap into existing talent. I had the privilege of returning to school a few years ago for my MBA. After over 20 years away from school, I was awestruck with the developments in computer software technology. My eyes were also opened to the incredible tech savviness of the newest generation entering the workforce. Their grasp and understanding of computer software far exceeded that of my own and many of my peers. Look internally and you may be surprised by how many of these skills your team already possesses.
Chris LoPresti is a business operations executive with more than 23 years of experience in B2B and B2C work environments. He has led teams ranging in the size of 10-45+. In his current role, as general manager in a manufacturing company, he has helped to develop relationships with over 400+ B2B customers in a $1B market. In addition to key relationship development, Chris has driven numerous technology and lean improvements throughout the organization, leading to a streamlined and safe working environment.
Duncan Prior, Senior Business Consultant
The world of work has changed permanently and I believe the following five skills are the most important for the coming period.
Vision has moved to the top of the list as a result of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, it may have been possible for organisations to be successful simply by managing their existing activities as effectively as possible and postponing a response to the changing world. COVID-19 has removed that as an option, requiring companies and teams to be executing clearly on a meaningful vision.
Intentionality in an executive is about conveying a clear sense of purpose. The difference between this skill prior to the pandemic and that required now is that intentionality is complemented by the skills that follow on this list. As with vision, it may have been possible pre-pandemic to achieve success with a more one-dimensional approach to intentionality, and it is still crucial, but now it must be used in conjunction with resonance and inclusiveness.
With that clarity of purpose, are you creating an environment that ensures that assumptions are challenged and that those around you feel that they can question ideas and propose solutions? This can appear to contradict the skill of intentionality but the two skills go together.
Resonance is being able to see situations from other peoples' perspectives. Over and above creating an environment of inclusiveness, can you truly see thoughts and ideas from other peoples' perspectives? This requires an awareness of your own blind spots, which everyone has.
Lastly, the topic of concern for each other has become more important during the pandemic. For many, the adjustment has led to savings in travel time and there was a certain novelty in video calls. However, imagine if a company makes an acquisition? The uncertainty associated with such changes will be magnified and the feelings of isolation of the staff will be much greater. In many organisations, executives are 'player-managers' and this will need to be re-thought so that leaders are able to devote themselves to ensuring those around them are taken care of.
Duncan Prior is a senior consultant at BML Digital with 20+ years experience specialising in digital transformation delivery. He has most recently been leading the development of predictive analytics products for the insurance industry at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. His background is in solution consulting with IBM and rapid application development pioneers, Cambridge Technology Partners, managing teams of 10-25 and budgets of £2m. Switching to industry he built technology partnerships as an IT director with companies such as Kainos, Oracle, and Experian to deliver innovation for organisations in education and investment management and savings of £1m.
Amy Hinderer, Business Management & Operations Executive
We are surrounded by great leaders; some are better than others at handling crisis events. So, as I ponder the top skills executives must have during this pandemic, I believe there are specific skills that come to the top based on my observations of the leaders I admire.
Communicative - It takes a special kind of leader to go against the natural tendency to downplay bad news. Recall the adage "don't shoot the messenger" because we know that delivering bad news is a thankless job. However, this is the time when leaders need to communicate through transparency, honesty, and compassion. It is also a time for leaders to include a hopeful vision of the future, so people do not give in to despair.
Acts with urgency - When dealing with the unknown, it is normal to want to wait for additional clarity before taking action. However, when dealing with an event that impacts public safety like COVID-19, the risks of delaying actions are dangerous. Strong leaders will jump into the deep end without all the answers they would like and will correct their missteps along the way.
Empathetic - Many leaders have seen or experienced great suffering or loss and therefore can understand the needs of individuals going through difficult times. They listen attentively without being distracted and, by doing so, strengthen their bonds and gain the trust of those they interact with.
Walks the talk - Role modeling requires that leaders display behaviors that are congruent with their messaging. Simply put, this means that leaders are setting the example for their teams to follow.
Adaptable - A huge lesson coming from this pandemic is the ability to quickly adapt to a changing environment. I find that strong leaders are resilient, flexible, and can skillfully manage both planned and unplanned events.
This pandemic has changed our world forever. Based on our learnings, we will return to a new kind of normal, and the leaders that embrace change will shine in the post-pandemic world.
Amy Hinderer is a business management & operations executive with 18+ years of experience in global enterprise and start-up businesses. She has managed teams ranging in size from 10 up through ~35K supporting revenues between $2M - $9B.
Susan Leys, Healthcare Coach & Consultant
The five skills executives must have during the COVID-19 pandemic include the following:
Authenticity - Bringing your true self to your business and leading with honesty and integrity.
Collaboration - Working together internally with your team and externally with your colleagues, other businesses, or clients to enhance your relationships and meet your goals while also remaining focused on your organization's mission and vision.
Honesty - The ability to treat others as they would like to be treated and have difficult conversations when necessary about their business and goals as it continues to evolve.
Resilience - The ability to bounce back and keep your business going is not easy. One of the biggest challenges accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic is not knowing where the spread of the pandemic will occur. Because of this, businesses have had to adjust while not always knowing how these adjustments will affect your team, operations, logistics, and bottom line. How are you adapting your business during this time? What strategies have you implemented to be able to keep your business and team safe while continuing to run your business?
Tact - Recognizing that everyone is experiencing different (and painful) challenges as a result of the pandemic. Some have experienced the loss of a loved one, while others may be experiencing housing or severe financial difficulties. How are you communicating with your team when you may not know all they are going through emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually?
Having a few of these skills will help your business maintain stability during these challenging months. Having all of them will help you and your team navigate the road ahead in a manner which ensures growth for all of you.
S.A. Leys is a coach, consultant and career navigator at http://www.coachingfornurses.io. We provide coaching, consulting, and debriefing for the healthcare professionals and teams who care for all of us. Follow our hashtag #debriefyourteam on LinkedIn to receive information and strategies to assist your team with coping and retention strategies.
Jim Junker, Global Operations Executive
I have always been a list-maker. In times of uncertainty and chaos, this serves me particularly well as it helps me to limit the unproductive noise and focus my energies on the things that matter most to employees and the business overall. My current top five focus areas during this pandemic are as follows:
1) Compassion - I find myself aligned with Jeff Weiner on this. Empathy is a great start, but it is ultimately the action we take (compassion) that makes a meaningful change in people's lives.
2) Openness - The world has certainly changed in the last six months and in many areas we are not going back. Leaders who have the willingness and ability to really listen to employees, invite new ideas, and are open to making significant changes to boldly address the "new-normal" will be the ones who have the best chance for success.
3) Chief Communication Officer (CCO) - Authentic communication is absolutely critical in times of crisis or significant disruption. To be truly authentic, it needs to come directly from us as executive leaders. Welcome to the C-Suite...put on your CCO hat on and let's get going!
4) Versatility - With the current pace and breadth of disruptive change, the need for versatile and agile leaders has never been greater. What we lead and how we lead matters and will require near constant re-evaluation.
5) State of Readiness - As much as the pandemic feels like a unicorn event, the really worrying thing is there will certainly be another. Author and speaker Joseph Paris sums it up well in his State of Readiness book: Get Ready… Be Ready… Stay Ready!
Jim Junker brings over 25 years of experience building, growing, and operating technology-driven product and services businesses in the Energy and Industrial sectors. An experienced transformation leader, he has led acquisition integrations and executed business turn-arounds in the USA, Europe, and Middle East.
As an executive navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to reflect on your career and figure out whether you have the right skills to continue to grow in your industry. If you possess any of the skills mentioned by the executives above, you're on the right track.
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