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What has good leadership looked like during Covid-19?

By Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought disruption to organisations of all sizes, from global companies with billion-dollar billings to small independent start-ups.

As always during a time of crisis, employees have rightly looked to their leadership teams for support, guidance, and to take decisive action.

No one could have predicted a pandemic with such tragic consequences, but as cases continue to rise globally, business leaders have been tasked with ensuring that organisations are able to survive and ultimately play their part in helping to keep the economy afloat.

At USA Weightlifting, we were hit hard by the cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the closure of gyms throughout the country, but like many other organisations we have worked together to ensure jobs are protected and that the organisation’s long-term future is stable.

There have been numerous examples of both strong and weak leadership during the pandemic, and although there is no playbook that works for all business, here are my top tips to manage teams effectively during a crisis.

Lead with empathy

I have always been a big advocate of empathetic leadership, but it is especially prevalent during a crisis.

Employees work best when they feel valued and by showing curiosity about their ways of working and what motivates or interests them, you can connect with them on a personal level.

Without empathy, organisations can have a ‘them vs us’ feel, with the leadership team unaware of how the vital cogs of the team are feeling.

Be transparent and don’t sugar coat

With the lack of live sport heavily reducing income streams for the majority of governing bodies, people unsurprisingly feared for job losses and redundancies.

As a leader you have a responsibility to be honest with your staff, however tough certain conversations may be.

If redundancies are in the offing, then decisions must be explained to staff and the best leaders will put that responsibility on their shoulders rather than delegating to other colleagues.

We were fortunate to be one of few national governing bodies to keep all of our staff and avoid implementing any salary cuts during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we have been immune to other challenges.

Be innovative

With everyone seemingly struggling financially during the pandemic, leaders have had to be innovative to create new revenue streams for their businesses.

For us, that has taken on many forms including moving our live events and coaching sessions to virtual camps.

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Providing value to sponsors away from competitions has been another factor for organisations such as ourselves to consider, particularly given the importance of that income stream.

Organisations that have thrived and shown the most value to sponsors have been those that focused on a collaborative approach and communicated with their key stakeholders at every level.

Work together to share best practices

Working with likeminded organisations to share best practices and pick each other’s brains is another way of showcasing effective leadership.

We’ve partnered with other governing bodies on a range of different initiatives over recent months which has helped us to reach wider audiences and share success stories that could be implemented by others.

This can also be replicated by local organisations working in completely different industries, but that may wish to support each other during a difficult time.

Good leadership doesn’t have to be restricted to your sole business and sharing best practices will enable you to increase your network and become a recognised industry voice.

Place emphasis on mental health and wellbeing

With many staff not used to the differences between office and home working, some have found it difficult to adapt to the lack of face-to-face communication.

Short conversations in between meetings or during a morning coffee break are now a thing of the past and have been replaced by Skype or Zoom calls.

With so much occupying the minds of leaders during a time of crisis, it can be easy to forget to check in with employees about how they are coping with the drastic changes to everyday life.

The best leaders will always make time to look out for their staff and ensure there is a support system in place should staff suffer from issues relating to their mental health and wellbeing.

Be flexible and adaptive

Just as employees have had to be flexible and adaptive in their ways of working, leaders must ensure that they are not too rigid or structured in the way that they run businesses.

While building a clear plan for your organisation remains an important priority, you must accept that things are constantly changing and what works one week may no longer be effective a week later.

Now is the time to put trust in your staff and take calculated risks that you may not have had the opportunity to do pre-Covid-19.

Altering your offering to suit clients and customers in ‘the new normal’ is vital and to do so you must be accommodating to change at all levels.

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