Leaders — What Have YOU Learned About Yourself as a Leader Through the COVID Crisis?

(A set of practical questions to ask yourself in the spirit of continuous improvement…)

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“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

If you are a leader, have you been purposeful about reflecting on YOUR crisis experience like the great educator John Dewey suggests?

Face it — It’s been a difficult six months. Difficult in our personal lives and difficult in our professional lives. Because of the pandemic, political leaders and business leaders alike have had to navigate largely uncharted waters. Leaders have had to make tough decisions that impact multiple stakeholders, often balancing the head, the heart and the gut.

However, there are some cautiously optimistic developments. There are indications that this wave of human and economic destruction might be peaking (for now). We have begun to restart the economy. We are turning some of the lights back on.

Yes, we are now in a constantly morphing state of post-shutdown. And we’re almost guaranteed that everything will not be the way it was, but at this point we don’t know what we don’t know.

Because of this inflection point, it’s an important time for you as a leader to take stock in your own performance — as a leader — during this crisis period. That’s because as we transition to restarting the country and potentially re-pivoting our teams and organizations, we’ll need to be at our leadership best to make that transition “back.”

And we are more likely to be at our best when we have done some purposeful reflection on our recent efforts in crisis.

This is not about abject navel gazing, but more like an athlete or sports team reviewing the game tapes after a contest to determine what went well, what did not and in the spirit of continuous improvement, how to take action on those things that did not.

Some key questions that you as a leader should be asking yourself, then:

  • Which of my leadership/management strengths (not technical or functional skills) have served me and my organization well during this period? Why? What are 1–2 examples I can think of?
  • Which of my leadership/management areas of non-strengths — even weaknesses — have shown up and have been at least a partial barrier to achievement on my part? Why? What are 1–2 examples I can think of?
  • Which of my personal attributes or dispositions, like adaptability (a good thing) or resilience (another good thing) or volatility (a not so good thing), have either helped or hindered my performance as a leader?

Okay, those are very open-ended questions, and some might prefer a little more structure and day-to-day language in this dialogue-with-self. So, the following queries are related to leadership skills that are relevant to almost any management role:

  • To what extent have I clearly and succinctly communicated information and ideas to others in a way that that held their attention? Have I almost always transmitted information down from my leaders in such a way that I’m not overly filtering or overly embellishing?
  • How effectively have I coached members of my team and set them up for success? That is, how well did I provide appropriate guidance without being overly directive and how well did I maintain a supportive relationship with those I coached?
  • How successful was I in executing what were often regularly changing plans and tactics and holding myself and others accountable for what needed to get done?
  • To what extent have I been able to keep others engaged and committed by acknowledging their efforts, leading by example and by reminding others of the organization’s purpose and values? Have I caught people “doing something right?”
  • How good of a job have I done with delegating and sharing responsibility instead of trying to do everything myself, even for those situations when I knew exactly what had to be done and I had the knowledge and skills to do it?
  • How have I done with leading others through the changes we’ve had to deal with? That is, have I regularly provided rationale for the changes, involved others in responding to the needed changes and recognized and addressed peoples’ anxieties and concerns about the changes?
  • For decisions I’ve needed to make during the crisis, to what extent did I use both data and my own judgment and did I involve others in the solution as appropriate? And even while balancing those factors did I still act in a timely manner?
  • Highly effective leaders regularly demonstrate Emotional Intelligence. Have I regularly been purposeful about being self-aware of my actions and how I “show up” at work? Have I avoided adding to the drama? Do I think often about whether there is good alignment between my intentions and my impact and adjust as needed? Do my words and deeds generally build trust with others? Have I guarded against getting “emotionally hijacked” in challenging situations? Have I remembered to demonstrate empathy to associates who are struggling because of the crisis?
  • Even in the pandemic atmosphere of high anxiety, uncertainty and even fear, have I collaborated well with others, not only with members of my own team but across teams, departments or even business units?
  • Have I steadily maintained a strong customer or client focus and gone above and beyond — and encouraged others to do the same — to provide those customers value without putting myself or associates at risk because of the virus? Have I found occasions to recognize members of my team for their customer focus efforts?

Every world-class athlete is working on some aspect of his or her game — that’s one of the reasons they are world class. And they are almost maniacal about studying their own performance. They review, they reflect, they experiment with ways to improve. And they continually practice the habits and performance techniques that make them great so they can execute under stressful and challenging situations.

Reflection, then, and acting on those reflections, is a key part of how excellent performers in many different fields get even better. Is leadership — especially in difficult times like the COVID crisis — any different?

I think not.

About the author: Mike Hoban is a leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. In addition to his 40 years experience as a leader and consultant he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 10 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.

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