As I write this, parts of the United States are beginning to allow some businesses to slowly re-open. Over time, more and more people will be going back to work. If you are a middle manager, you might be inclined to attempt a ‘business as usual’ approach as your team returns. Yet, there is nothing usual about the path forward. Most of us are experiencing the greatest ambiguity, volatility and complexity that we have been faced with in our entire personal and professional lives. There is no roadmap to follow, no prescription to cure the impact that COVID-19 has had on every aspect of our lives. A key management skill that is especially critical to your success right now is your level of adaptability. How able are you to adapt or adjust to new conditions?
As a middle manager, you are on the front lines with your team. It is your role to execute on the strategies that senior leaders set forth. And, it is equally your role to be there for your team and create an environment where people can be open about their concerns. You will be walking a tightrope as you strive to balance between empathetically helping your team cope with the stress they are feeling and ramping up productivity. There is no way to know what is coming next. Will stay at home orders start up again in the fall? Will there be furloughs or layoffs ahead? When will business rise to pre-COVID levels? No one has the answers.
So, rather than focus on what is out of your control, help your team to get focused on what they can control or influence. Draw on the key strengths of your team, provide them with the latitude and support to do their work, and keep yourself in a positive frame of mind as a model to your team. Developing your capacity for adaptability can support you in these challenging times to be the manager that you would like to be. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Learn: You do not need to have all the answers. Being curious, asking questions, and involving others in finding the way forward will generate innovative solutions and commitment to your evolving business.
- Be mindful of the conversation in your head: What are you telling yourself? Self-doubt will paralyze you and prevent you from taking what might be some necessary bold moves.
- Step outside your comfort zone: Everyone is in new territory. Expand your horizons and try new approaches. Leaning too heavily on what is already known to you will slow your progress. Experimenting with new possibilities is what is called for now.
- Take small steps forward: In the current environment, the best strategy is one in which you use what you know right now to determine just your very next step. When you take that step, check for the result and let that determine the next small step. Small steps in unknown territory allow for easy course correction.
- Show yourself some compassion: Not every step will have the intended result. Let that be okay. Rather than spending any time on beating yourself up, instead look at what you might learn that will inform your next move.
No matter the situation, your ability to lead is tied directly to how you choose to behave. Your ability to choose your behavior versus react to circumstances is improved through self-care. Ensure that you ask for the support you need from your own manager and lean on your colleagues so that you are grounded, calm and empathetic. Practice the skill of adaptability and you will be primed to lead your team through this crisis.
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