Most employees receive the appropriate level of support and guidance when they first take on the role of ‘leader’. For some, it is a natural progression. For others, becoming a leader is more challenging; nevertheless with the right support they achieve success.
Understandably, the global health pandemic has thrown endless challenges to leaders and the adversity has taken its toll on many. Leaders are finding themselves with additional hats, including being change managers, innovators, wellbeing coaches, and counsellors.
The focus for many employers has been about survival, so no wonder senior leaders are empowering frontline leaders to keep paddling. But in doing so, are they overlooking that some are becoming lost and exhausted, and find themselves without the skills to keep going?
When time is such a precious commodity, ‘checking in’ with leaders can be overlooked. This is particularly true when leaders have a demonstrated history of ‘getting on with the job’. The problem is that removing the check in also diminishes the opportunity for frontline leaders to share where they may need extra support. Unfortunately, some leaders view asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence and this builds a reluctance to speak up. Checking in to ask, “R U OK?” is one of the most important questions that a leader can ask.
A key role of a leader is to provide coaching, mentoring and feedback to their direct reports. When times become tough, it is natural for employees to feel like they need a bit of extra love in the feedback department to alleviate some concerns. In a time when there is a lot going wrong, senior leaders have an opportunity to increase their touch points and provide feedback on the many things that frontline leaders have successfully achieved.
In the current climate, it is quite easy to focus on the negatives as there are plenty. Frontline leaders can find themselves in the firing line as they are often dealing with escalated customer complaints and disgruntled employees.
At first glance, a senior leader may see the increase in issues as a negative. However, if they view the situation more broadly, they may uncover that the frontline leader has been successfully putting out multiple spot fires without fuss. Focusing on the wins, no matter how small, sends a message that the frontline leader is valued and their hard work is noticed.
Senior leaders can be under enormous pressure at times and it can be easy to ‘shift that pressure downhill’. In a normal business environment, effective delegation is a strength. But in these uncertain times, senior leaders should carefully consider the amount that they handball to frontline leaders. There is a fine balance between empowering and overwhelming.
In times of crisis, it is normal for senior leaders to gather behind closed doors and work out the game plan. This is appropriate and somewhat expected, however sharing the vision and recovery plan with the frontline leaders enables them to operate more effectively and importantly, to feel valued. Including frontline leaders in strategy discussions demonstrates that not only that they are critical to the business, but that they also have a voice worth listening to.
In turbulent times, self-doubt creeps into the minds of even the most competent leader. One of the most powerful actions that a senior leader can do is to show belief that their frontline leader has the skill to navigate challenges and achieve success. This helps the frontline leader to be confident about their abilities, and not to give up when the odds are stacked against them.
This is the season to take calculated risks and use innovative thinking for solutions to customer problems. There will be some incredible successes, but there will also be some critical errors. It is important that senior leaders can help unpack these mistakes so the frontline leader can learn from them. But it is equally important to celebrate the courage associated with risk taking as well as the creativity and passion that result from innovation.
When times are tough, it is imperative that senior leaders have the emotional intelligence to recognise when frontline leaders are nearing capacity or encountering more challenges than normal. While undoubtedly there are some personality types that thrive in this environment, many will flounder. Senior leaders should be prepared to get their hands dirty and work in partnership to get the job done. When there is a lack of empathy and teamwork, it can cause angst as frontline leaders will feel frustrated at being left alone weather the storm.
When we are blessed with strong frontline leaders, it can be tempting to ‘let them be’ and focus on where the loudest noise is coming from. This is a dangerous strategy and will most likely lead to a nasty surprise. Senior leaders are encouraged to ask these two simple questions:
Leadership is not an easy role and in many ways leaders are just expected to ‘get on with the job’. Checking in and taking the time to listen, provide support and discuss strategies to improve productivity or create a solution is pivotal to success. Sometimes frontline leaders just need to know that there is back up available if and when they need to take a breath.