Leading a team during a period of uncertainty is always a challenge.  If you are new to your role, it’s even more so. You may still be getting a feel for your new responsibilities, and on your team, people may not know how to trust you yet. Here are some ideas to build trust as you communicate and lead them through this global pandemic.

Step up and lead. People need to hear from you. They need to know that you are thinking about them and looking out for them.

  • If you’re leading a team of people who need to report to work every day, they need to know that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe – extra cleaning, handwashing or sanitizing as they walk in the door, perhaps screening people before they even enter the building.
  • If you’re leading a team of people who are now working remotely, you will need to make an extra effort to be visible. Be sure you are keeping in touch with everyone on your team – not just as a team or in meetings, but individually as well. A personal text or individual phone call just to check-in can go a long way toward building your working relationships.

Share clear, trustworthy information.  Don’t wait to communicate until you have all of the information. This is an evolving situation, so chances are slim that you will have a complete message that’s fully buttoned down. Share what you do know so far.

Avoid speculation and guessing.  Don’t put out statements that you can’t confirm. If something you are sharing is “potential” or “planned” or “our best guess at the moment”, say so. Communicate your degree of certainty about the information you’re sharing, so that your audience can put the message in context. If it’s a changing and evolving situation or a policy that may change, say so.

Communicate in a regular rhythm.  You won’t have all of the information at any given time, but you can make a commitment to communicating on a regular schedule. Let people know when they can expect to hear from, and then stick with that schedule.  t’s okay if every so often your update is “we have no new information.” By setting a pattern for updates, you are adding structure to the chaos.

Speak from the heart. Before communicating, give yourself space to process your own emotional experience. Allow yourself to move through fear, anxiety, frustration, or whatever your mood is, until you are settled and strong. Then, turn your attention and your feelings toward your team, to your caring and concern for them. Let your message come from that place.

Share your criteria for decision-making.  When you can spell out how you reached a conclusion and why, it helps people make sense of your decision. They may agree with it or not, and they may agree with your reasoning or not, but they will know that you considered it carefully.

Give people time to adjust to the new normal. Everyone is facing some disruption to their daily routines, and it may take a few days to get the details sorted out so that they can be productive again. Make room for that. Consider your meeting schedules, projects, and deadlines, and adjust, where possible. Now more than ever, you will need to go to bat for your team (and yourself!), to be sure that workloads and schedules are realistic, given the other demands on everyone’s time. Identify what really matters, and make sure your team is on track to deliver those things.

Help establish new routines. Coach your team members to set up new daily and weekly routines. Coordinate with them to align these routines to your meeting schedules and deadlines, while staying realistic about the other demands on their time and energy.

Create time for connection. For people who are used to being in an office, remote work can feel lonely and disconnected. Find ways to foster connection and relationship building. For example, consider starting each meeting with a few minutes for catching up. Include an ice-breaker question if that helps get things going. You could ask people to name one thing that they want to celebrate since the last meeting, for example. Or a question like, “What’s something you’re looking forward to doing when life gets back to normal?”  Consider hosting an optional “Zoom lunch” or “Zoom coffee chat” where people can bring food and catch up with one another.  Be prepared with a few conversation-starters for these, too.

Focus on what you can do. It’s easy in the face of uncertainty for people to lose energy and momentum. We can fall into thinking “what’s the point” or “why bother” when it comes to work, and find our energy pulled into survivor mode. As a manager, you can help people add focus to their work time by identifying a few projects together that can be done in the time they have available. How can each of your team members, and your team as a whole, use this time to move something forward?

Continue to be clear about expectations and performance tracking.  While giving time for people to adjust, and shifting expectations and deadlines is important, you still need to be tracking the performance of your team. You may have moved the goal, but you still need to know where people are in relation to it. Be sure your team is continuing to report their results to you on a regular basis, and that they are identifying any specific obstacles that are getting in the way. By maintaining the discipline of clear tracking and reporting now, you are sending a strong signal that performance matters.

Celebrate and acknowledge progress.  Now more than ever, you need to be sure to celebrate progress and acknowledge the efforts people are making to keep work moving along. Worries about the global situation are likely to be taking up at least some of the mental and emotional energy of each of your employees, which makes every step they take toward their goals all the more meaningful.  Acknowledge that.  (And do this for yourself, too!)

Being new to a leadership role is never easy, and in this period in history, it is especially challenging. If you pay attention to how you communicate with your team, and actively work to build trust, this can be a great opportunity for you to step into your leadership fully in ways that will prepare you for anything that might come your way.

Looking for some support along the way?

The kind of information I’ve shared here is what I work with my clients to implement as they step into new leadership roles. One of the things I hear from them all the time is how isolated they can sometimes feel as they take up their new roles. They have a reputation to build and uphold, and that leaves them with very few people they can talk to. As their coach, I am someone they can turn to when things are tough – a sounding board and a guide, with a proven method for helping them build trust, come across with confidence and get results.

If you’re feeling alone or in over your head in your new role, let’s talk. We’ll get on the phone for about 45 minutes and look at where you are in your leadership, and where you’d like that to take you in your career.  If I can help you get from here to there, we’ll explore what that could look like.  If not, I’ll point you to other resources. Either way, I promise it will be one of the best hours you’ve spent in your career.

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