Denise Broady is CMO for Appian, an enterprise low-code automation development platform.
I believe that leadership is fundamentally about where you put your focus, how you communicate, how you create engagement and how you mentor. So, when I started my new job as chief marketing officer (CMO) in the middle of the pandemic, one of the first things I did was kick off a virtual listening tour with everyone in my department. Everyone: I spoke to all 100-plus marketers, from directors to interns.
In my first month on the job, I scheduled video calls and held virtual open office hours until I personally met and checked in with everyone on my team. A close colleague said I was nuts. But making a personal connection with my entire team at the start was vital.
What I learned during that listening tour caused me to make concrete changes to our 90-day marketing plan. The feedback and the great ideas I heard from our teammates gave me a solid ground-level understanding of our individual and collective strengths and challenges. These insights allowed me to optimize our strategies to better fit the people and resources we had in place. The exercise was invaluable.
The massive disruption of the Covid-19 crisis put new pressures on everyone, including organizational leaders. The circumstances of our working lives are radically different from what they used to be. We are dispersed, separated from each other and accessing organizational systems and processes from afar. Disruption like this puts leaders to the test. Thriving in this volatile environment means embracing the fundamentals of leadership, such as:
• Where you put your focus
• How you communicate
• How you create engagement
• How you mentor
These fundamentals are rooted in our basic humanity. At my company, we have marketing teammates logging into meetings from all around the country and the world. We’re not all working in the same place anymore. But my leadership style still hinges on building personal, one-on-one relationships with my team.
When we transition to the post-pandemic world, leaders will need new ways of reconnecting with their employees. Here are five ways to help your workforce transition to the post-pandemic world by getting back to leadership basics.
1. Put People And Talent At The Center
Great leaders invest in their employees. It’s going to be difficult as we continue to work together from a distance, but I believe it’s more important than ever for leaders to carve out time to get to know people. Chat with people as much as you can, have informal conversations about their goals and aspirations and serve as a mentor to help guide their careers. I started holding open office hours with no pre-set agenda once a month to create these informal communication opportunities for every teammate. I augment these with regular, more formal cadences like bi-weekly all-hands meetings and one-on-ones.
2. Be Accessible And Communicate Openly
Making time for people doesn’t have to be formulaic. Short, informal engagements can be just as valuable as a scheduled catch-up — and I’d argue that they’re more important than ever in the digital workplace. Always be available for an instant message. Give out your cell phone number. Encourage people to reach out with questions and concerns. Ask questions in meetings, and be accessible and transparent as much as you can. Feedback is critical — both giving and receiving — and you shouldn’t wait for an annual or quarterly review. Providing coaching in real time can lead to better execution.
3. Roll Up Your Sleeves
I hate the term “boss.” If you’re acting like a boss in 2021, I believe you are doing something wrong. Great leaders provide coaching and mentorship to their teams and build a hands-on, collaborative culture. Every deliverable is a reflection of your department, so why wouldn’t you want to get your hands dirty to lead by example, enhance the product of your work and make everyone better? Lead to develop and inspire the next generation of leaders, and the feedback loop will make every deliverable and teammate better.
4. Celebrate The Successes Of Others
Making your teams feel appreciated is important for developing talent. Valued employees typically work hard for you, the team and the company. Don’t just “give credit where it’s due.” Celebrate your people and their successes. Send out weekly shout-outs that highlight the great work individuals are doing. When appropriate, you can pull people on the front lines into high-level conversations with senior leadership as long as they have the expertise to provide context and insights. Let other people deliver good news, and let them share and revel in their success.
5. Be Kind
We’re all human. We’re all equal. Don’t be mean. Be empathetic. We all have bad days, and pandemic fatigue is real. People may feel anxiety or depression as the world starts to re-open. Just be nice, be understanding and treat others with the respect you’d give your grandmother. Your team will likely respond to kindness and produce the work quality you expect when you show them you care.
The past year has been full of change, but it’s important that leaders maintain the same priorities that made them successful leaders to begin with — albeit with different tactics in the digital workplace. Continue to be open, transparent, accessible and kind over Slack, Zoom or whatever application is available. Remember the basics, adapt them to our new reality and provide human-centered leadership as we transition out of the pandemic world.