Caring leadership: an authentic way to lead teams through the pandemic

Julie Chell, Chief People Officer, explains the Civica leadership style and its significance right now

In my recent post on mental health and working from home, I shared an insight into Civica’s ‘caring leadership’ style - a term that certainly seems to have resonated. But, what do I actually mean by ‘caring leadership’ and why’s it so important right now?

The role of any leader is to inspire a shared vision, clearly lay out the strategy and lead by example. Leaders provide ongoing support and guidance, but by sharing an empathetic and personal side, they’re better able to connect with their people, more effectively manage performance and ensure the business delivers its short and long term goals. 

Although leadership is a very challenging role, it’s also a very rewarding one. Get it right and you have the ability to make a real difference to someone’s development and career. Now more than ever, leadership counts, and strong, authentic leadership will be the driving and differentiating factor in whether your people ‘weather the storm’ and continue to adjust to a new reality, and feel reassured and have absolute confidence in their employer. 

The pandemic has certainly prompted leaders throughout the world to proactively rethink their leadership style overnight. At Civica we’ve long since captured the attributes and behaviours that we expect of our leaders in ‘The Civica Way’. This global framework requires an element of self-awareness and reflection and ensures our people operate with purpose and confidence. Their teams then feel cared for and included, and like they have the support and encouragement they need to always perform at and be their very best. 

Here are just some of the ways that our leaders are living the attributes and behaviours of The Civica Way and which are particularly relevant right now.

Demonstrate empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of a trusting relationship. By actively listening and understanding, it shows that you genuinely care. As a leader, you need to have the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes, to fully understand their perspective and situation and then make impartial decisions accordingly. To do this effectively you’ll need to ask questions in a supportive way. You’re asking these questions in order to really understand how people are feeling, than be polite or judge. Each member of your team is likely to be grappling with very different personal circumstances right now, whether that’s children, caring for dependents, managing health issues or living alone and feeling isolated. Once you understand everyone’s personal circumstances and challenges you can then keep checking in on them.

Be flexible.

Once you fully appreciate each member’s personal circumstances, you can then step back and ask yourself questions such as: What leadership do they need and expect of me right now? And remember that everyone’s different! Some will need calm reassurance to help them focus on just one activity at a time but others may feel excitable and crave a safe space to talk through all sorts of ideas and thoughts. In complete contrast, they’ll be those who have a tendency to withdraw so may need encouragement to keep others involved in what they’re doing. Now certainly isn’t the time for ‘one size fits all’ leadership.  

Keep connecting.

We expect our leaders to be holding daily team calls. This can include a brief virtual stand-up where everyone checks in for two minutes with what they did the previous day and/or what they’ll be doing today. You can always add an element of fun or something more personal; for example, asking people to share a favourite song, do a recipe swap, fun online quizzes, invite their pets and family onto the call, do a physical warm-up at the start or even use the chat facility to have a simple poll.

Finding ways to encourage people to keep connecting during the day is also helpful. Having a virtual social lunch or coffee break every couple of days will certainly encourage the team to stay connected and keep the office banter going! 

Give feedback.

When life is uncertain we all crave reassurance and feedback. And, when we’re working in the same office, we offer unconscious feedback in all sorts of subtle ways that we’re not even aware of. From a simple ‘well done’, to a positive comment, question or smile and nod of the head; we offer feedback in the subtlest of ways. But, working remotely means that you have to be much more conscious and proactive, otherwise your team will be playing a guessing game, not knowing how they’re getting on. The starting point is to set clear expectations – what do you expect, when and why, and if appropriate, how? Our caring leadership approach is core to how we give feedback here at Civica, encouraging our leaders to apply the radical candour approach – to show you care deeply as you challenge directly.  Feedback should also always be two-way and continuous.

Experiment.

As I mentioned in my previous post on our people being at the very heart of our business continuity plans, the current challenges are continuing to fuel innovation. As a business, innovation is crucial to our success (and it’s also another element of The Civica Way). Leaders can encourage innovation – showing they care about improvements now, and also that they care about the future too. One way to do this is to be curious and ask questions.  What could we do differently? What are other organisations doing that we can all learn from? How can we think about challenges in new and different ways? Which new ways of working will help us in the future?  It’s really important to get everyone involved in trying out new things, seeing how well they work, reviewing and continuously improving along the way.  And now, with people having to quickly adapt to and find new ways of working together, is an ideal time to create more innovative thinking.

In summary, great leaders are those that demonstrate their authentic self and are purposeful and genuine in their actions. They’re the ones whose actions precede them, the ones who genuinely inspire and are remembered for a life time. At Civica we never close the door to new ideas and thinking, and continue to empower and support our people through inspirational leadership – leading The Civica Way.