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How To Mentor, Lead, Uplift and Motivate your Team During A Crisis: Alok Bansal
The pandemic has of course extracted a huge humanitarian, economic and social cost and made unprecedented demands upon people from all walks writes Alok Bansal, MD of Visionet Systems India and CEO of BFSI Business.
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity." - John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. President.
I remember these words often while looking at how the global pandemic has changed the world, the modalities of doing business and the meaning of leadership. While reading a quarterly report of the 2021 Global Leadership Forecast in May, I learnt that the corporate world is facing a leadership crisis, so how do we address this issue and find opportunities to reinvent ourselves? What kind of leadership is needed in times like these? Dan Hawkins, the founder and CEO of Summit Leadership Partners wrote in a Forbes article that he has been fascinated and inspired by how numerous leaders have demonstrated authenticity and resiliency during the pandemic. I believe this is what leaders must do all the time, not just during a crisis. Leadership is primarily about focus, communication, engagement and mentoring. At Visionet, we constantly renew our commitment to this credo. We do not just offer customised solutions to our clients to grow their businesses, we also help our employees to grow in the direction they want. The pandemic has of course extracted a huge humanitarian, economic and social cost and made unprecedented demands upon people from all walks of life and not just business leaders. We are hence adapting everyday to this unprecedented global crisis and tweaking our leadership model to keep up with the evolving needs of our team.
Let me decode for you, some of the lessons we have learnt during this time.
Recognise the scale and the minutiae of the problem
A KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on health issues) survey in January 2021 stated that in the U.S. alone, 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder. Since the onset of the pandemic, WHO Director-General TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus has also been reiterating that good mental health is absolutely fundamental to the overall health and well-being of the collective. WHO has repeatedly called for increased investment in mental health at all levels of society, from individuals to businesses. A piece I read in mckinsey.com sometime back compared the pandemic to a “landscape scale” crisis (an unexpected event or sequence of events of enormous scale) which it is, given its unpredictability and enormous impact on our mental and physical health. Worldwide research has also linked social isolation to both poor mental health. The biggest challenge for us as a company hence has been to not miss the fine print and the human perspective as we create pandemic adaptive business solutions. Right at the onset, we realised that a remote working model is not a one-size-fits-all solution because each member of the team will have a different response to it. It is important to understand that each human being is at the moment processing varying degrees of fear, anxiety, vulnerability, powerlessness and uncertainty. As leaders, we must realize that it is not just the organization that is facing a crisis but also those who are a part of it. Our humanity defines us and not just our productivity. Once a leader gets this right, the work culture in the organisation falls into place regardless of the enormity of a crisis. TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus also famously said that mental health is a sector that is “chronically underfunded.” We want to make sure that we don't cut corners in this area and our employees get all the support they need to get through this time.
Adaptive leadership must include a ‘care model
Traditionally, a medical Care Model consists of five core elements: health systems, delivery system design, decision support, clinical information systems, and self-management support. Businesses must create their own similar versions of care models at this time and create a comprehensive system where an employee can derive support to address issues connected with health, delivery of work, decision making, self-management in a remote work space and also access to information about anything that is pertinent, including clinics where vaccination is available. We learnt that just ensuring free vaccination for employees and their families made a huge amount of difference to team morale. Leaders must understand that sometimes what seems to be a small gesture of care, can create a huge, responsive shift within their organisations. Care and individualised support make employees feel included and stable at a time when they are dealing with unique family issues and circumstances. That is why we diligently organise virtual meets and frequent check-ins and offer mental health and pandemic related support along with paid sick leave to employees.
Be an affirmative leader
I have always believed that a true leader does not create followers but leaders. We must acknowledge not just the challenges of this time but create a sustainable eco-system where people can grow to their fullest potential. When leaders delegate, mentor, affirm, motivate and inspire, they create a legacy of empowerment. Putting people at the heart of the organisation, investing in them, appreciating their achievements with an email or a call or during meetings, listening to them, being accessible, demonstrating transparency in all decisions creates a culture where people feel inspired to do their best. And yes, a true leader is never touchy about feedback. Especially at a time like this, employees must feel confident enough to express what is working in the organisation and what is not. Tomorrow, when they lead their teams, they will remember how it felt to be seen and heard and they too will be good listeners.
It is normal to be overwhelmed by the ‘What ifs’ especially while taking far-reaching decisions during a pandemic. But fear when not rooted in logic and rationality can slow growth as well as recovery from a crisis. This is a perfect time to not restrict yourself to just one idea. Go beyond your safety zone to keep exploring concepts that may appear challenging in the beginning. Being creative and thinking out of the box can be a superpower, so cultivate it. And you may make a huge difference to many lives by doing something different. For instance, we happen to be a leading digital solutions company but we have in recent months also helped over 30,000 people by facilitating ICU Beds, oxygen concentrators and more. The point being that we deliver more than just technology products and business process management solutions and our brand positioning statement, ‘Take a different view’ guides us to have an expansive view of life. As an organisation too, by being aware that there are other ways to look at problems, we have created a repository of path breaking ideas and products that can anticipate and resolve the issues that may arise in the future.
Promote diversity and avoid assumptions
The pandemic has accelerated change and global businesses can no longer colour within the boxes. With geographical constraints becoming immaterial, diverse work forces are a given and they will define the future. Visionet has always believed in working with people from different cultures, professional backgrounds, and interests because we know diverse teams are antidotal to long-lived assumptions. Racism, gender discrimination and bigotry are counterproductive in life and business and we cannot build successful companies on assumptions about a certain race, skin colour, gender, caste or religion. We must accept that attitudes, values, and beliefs vary from individual to individual and there is no space for rigid assumptions and stereotyping in a workplace. A crisis usually pushes, envelopes and shifts paradigms but we should not just wait for a pandemic to challenge the status quo.
If you do a little digging, you will find that statistics based on surveys with employees around the world overwhelmingly show that leadership models need improvement and that management engagement is woefully low in most cases. Well, I feel this crisis is the perfect time to usher in an era of integrated leadership development in the workplace and develop leaders at all levels in a company. And finally, we must look at this pandemic as an opportunity to prepare for the challenges yet to come. To paraphrase Shakespeare, leaders must demonstrate that readiness is all because if we are not future ready, we will be rendered obsolete. We must adapt because as Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”