3 Ways To Develop Leaders During COVID-19

Remember when we all thought the Coronavirus shutdowns would only last a month or two? We were so naïve. While restrictions have loosened in some areas, it seems like intermittent shutdowns and work-from-home arrangements are here for the foreseeable future. Many companies will need to set up work-from-home processes for a longer period of time than we originally thought.

Organizations that are not used to employees working from home have had to set up new technology and communication channels to ensure the work gets done. Many of these measures were intended to be temporary for the extenuating circumstances we were in. At some point, as this drags on longer and longer, the circumstances can no longer be seen as “extenuating.” Organizations need to find ways to move forward.

This article is not an attempt to discuss everything an organization needs to do to prepare for prolonged work-from-home arrangements. This article is intended to focus on one aspect that may be neglected or postponed during the current climate: leadership development. Now more than ever, organizations need to be developing leaders who can meet the challenges of the day. Additionally, employees—including leaders—crave growth opportunities. Growth is a key ingredient to keeping people engaged. People want development, and organizations need to develop their people in order to succeed over the long term. Development is often seen as a proactive priority, but the longer you put it off, the sooner it will become a reactive response to poor leadership practices.

Here are three things you can be doing right now to continue ongoing development of leaders:

Virtual Training

Virtual or online training is something that is often used when training people on harassment policies or OSHA requirements. It is also frequently used in training for basic job functions. It can also be an effective tool to build leadership effectiveness when used in the right way. One of the powerful aspects of in-person training is that managers get a chance to interact with each other. They get the opportunity to network, to talk about their own management concerns, and to try out techniques on each other.

Pair quality online-training content with virtual facilitated discussions. Discuss the content of the training, and discuss the specific challenges of managers in implementing the content. Organizations are becoming more comfortable with Slack, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams as media for communication. Having a group of managers studying the same online content followed by small group discussions can be a great way to help managers internalize the content and get them to start thinking about how to apply it. As a side benefit, the virtual discussion groups may lead to organic networking and collaboration between managers in different areas.

360-Degree Feedback and Coaching

Though training can be a great way to introduce theories and practices to managers, they will not fully know how well they are applying leadership practices without feedback. While working from home, leaders will lack the consistent, everyday contact from their managers, their peers, and their employees where spontaneous feedback is often shared. When meeting in person, sometimes that feedback is shared verbally, and sometimes it is shared non-verbally. Either way, there are ways for managers to sense where they stand. Working from home presents a feedback challenge. 360-degree feedback has long been a powerful tool in leadership development, but it might be even more useful now. It provides a confidential setting where direct reports and peers can provide structured feedback on competencies and behaviors that are important to the organization.

Any 360-degree feedback is best received along with at least some coaching. A 60 to 90 recap of the results of a 360 with an experienced coach can help managers process the information, prioritize development areas, and create an action plan or a way forward. All of this can be done virtually and for minimal expense.

360-degree feedback can be a particularly positive experience for high-potential leaders. In this case, the assessment is being performed and the action plan is being built with the future in mind. It becomes a pure development exercise. 360 assessments can be paired with psychometric assessments that measure personality traits, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, or conflict styles to enrich development discussions and goal making. These programs create excitement and engagement in high-potential leaders, and they help organizations develop the leaders they will inevitably need in the future.

Manager Check-in Meeting

For development purposes, let’s look at manager check-in meetings from two different angles. Organizations can help managers develop by having them check in regularly with their own managers. They can also help managers develop by providing tools, principles, and guidance for conducting their own effective check-in meetings with employees.

Very often the manager check-in becomes a tactical discussion about current work, roadblocks, and general mental and emotional stress. Most managers have some process for checking in 1 on 1 with their employees. How these meetings are conducted, and the content of these meetings vary widely from manager to manager even within organizations. To improve the quality and consistency of these meetings, , organizations should provide guidelines for how often the meetings should be conducted, for how long, and what should be discussed. Most managers intuit their way through check-ins, lacking any sort of expectations being set by the organization. An important part of leadership development is teaching managers how to have effective check-ins with employees.

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This is especially true for leaders checking in with leaders. Top leaders can exemplify effective check-ins with the leaders who report to them. These meetings should be filled with feedback and development discussions. Top leaders should understand the goals and ambitions of the managers who report to them, and they should help them in accomplishing their goals. This 1-on-1 feedback and development should then cascade through the rest of the organization.

Providing structure and tools for these discussions can help ensure that managers will know what to cover in check-ins and will help employees know what to expect in these discussions.

Any growing company will see leadership development as a critical part of planning for the future. While these things are often put on hold during extraordinary, global events, when those global events drag on for long periods of time, there comes a time when organizations need to reprioritize development. There are obviously many ways to develop work-from-home leaders. These are just a few relatively low-cost ideas. Investing the time and resources into this now can help to engage leaders in the near term and prepare for the long-term growth and sustainability of your organization.

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