Less hero, more human: how small-business leaders must adapt post-pandemic

support, human
Elderly senior person or grandparent’s hands with red heart in support of nursing family caregiver for national hospice palliative care and family caregivers month concept

Whether you’ve been separated by remote working or by the sheer magnitude of COVID-related distractions, chances are your team – whatever its size – now needs to regroup.

After so much turmoil, many of us aren’t the same people we were 18 months ago. In many cases, vulnerabilities that are usually kept separate from work conversations have been laid bare. Employers have found themselves wearing the hat of emotional supporter or counsellor, even when that feels uncomfortable.

As a leader, how can you level up your communication skills as the next phase of our COVID journey unfolds?

Start with them

Many leaders approach communication as a “pushing out” exercise. You have a message that needs to be conveyed so you transmit it via a meeting or email. It’s largely one-way.

By doing that, you might consider that you’re coming across as a competent leader – but that’s only half the equation. To truly build or re-establish trust, you must also create connection; the ability to make others feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

A far more effective approach is to flip the equation and think first about your audience; the person or people on the other side of your communication. What do you know about them? What do they need most from you? What’s going on for them right now that will impact the way they receive, interpret and act on your message?

Genuinely thinking about the others in the interaction will make a difference to the words you choose, your body language and tone of voice. Your message will be more magnetic.

Manage your personal state

It takes courage to have uncomfortable conversations, especially when emotions are high. In my experience, even the most seasoned leaders lose confidence and doubt themselves when they have to communicate under pressure.

The successful ones have learned a crucial skill. Whatever is going on in their world, they’re able to put their own discomfort aside and be 100 per cent present to the situation immediately in front of them. They have control over their personal state.

Whether it’s deep breathing, visualisation or one of the many other techniques available to you, bring your best you to the interaction. You’ll be giving your team a significant gift.

Now it’s time to consider your content

Of course your message is important, but think about it last; only after you’ve considered who you’re talking to and how you’re showing up. Your team won’t even notice if you stumble on a few words, but they won’t forgive you for neglecting your connection with them. 

If the communication is in any way sensitive, urgent or complex, don’t rely on email. Do it face to face wherever possible and take the time to prepare.

Rehearse your words out loud at least three times; you might phrase things differently in the moment, but your thoughts will flow more easily if your brain isn’t having to start the conversation from scratch.

We’ve been handed an opportunity to collectively reset our work relationships. As a leader, your approach over the coming months will pay dividends with your team, well into the future.