What do good leaders, horses and Covid19 all have in common?
Good leaders, horses and Covid19 all have one thing in common, and that is they do not discriminate. In Covid19’s case, this is not good! However, for leaders and horses, this is a wonderful trait. The workplace change we’re going through right now – thanks to Covod19 – is momentous, and affects everyone in one way or another. So how can practising good leadership help navigate challenges and build stronger workforces for the future?
With reports like this one from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency already discussing the impact of COVID-19, I’ve been thinking about our changing workplaces and how this is affecting everyone in different ways.
This in turn led me to reflect on how leaders can better support all members of their team as they deal with their own unique challenges and create a happier, better workforce for the longer term.
Different impact on everyone
According to the report, the ‘gendered impact’ of the virus is in part to do with women taking on more responsibilities such as caring for family members and educating children kept home from the school due to the virus (although many schools across Australia have started to go back).
However, the report also notes that with many men working from home or no longer employed, they are likely to increase their carer and domestic work. I know there’s been a lot of adjustment in my own household – I’ve heard the same thing anecdotally from my colleagues and friends and I suspect you have too.
In the long term, this period of time will undoubtedly change workplaces for the better, with research saying increased workplace flexibility and greater involvement of men in care and domestic work could be among the potential effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
This means we are living through what some are saying could be the management challenge of our age, so leaders need to step up now to support all employees, no matter who they are, and ensure the stability of their workforce longer term.
Ways leaders can help
With many going through change, I’ve thought of a few strategies for leaders to guide their teams through this time and emerge stronger.
- Avoid unconscious bias. One of my favourite aspects of working with horses is that they are non-judgmental. They respond to the way we make them feel rather than our appearance, status or achievements. These things have no meaning to a horse and, if you think about it, it is a beautiful way of being.
You would know the term ‘unconscious bias’; making stereotypical assumptions about people based on factors such as race, age, gender, size and physical appearance, often without realising you are doing it (hence the ‘unconscious’). Its effects have been researched and the concept is a major focus in discussions around improving workplace equality. At this time more than ever, we need try our best to overcome these so we don’t accidentally make anyone’s life more difficult.
- Be understanding. I’ve noticed some folks are more on edge lately, which can manifest in being shorter or snappier when speaking to others, not coping with their workload as well, or acting more emotionally. That’s understandable given the stress many are under.
One of the words in our Leading Edge Life Skills motto is ‘compassion’ and that’s all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try not to take offense or escalate these types of situations but think of it from the other person’s perspective.
- Act present and find ways to help your team be in the moment too. One of the main skills that our leadership training brings out in participants is presence, because being here in the moment is what you have to do when horses are involved. They don’t respond well (or at all) if you mind is elsewhere.
My foundation horse, Opal, gave me a huge personal lesson in presence moment during a leadership workshop with a new client from the consumer goods industry. I decided I would work with Opal for the introductory demonstration as she and I are usually so in tune to each other. Well, instead of being like one with me, Opal walked away from me, ignoring what I thought was our usual communication. I made it part of the demo – making the point about clear communication and leadership qualities – but I was really surprised. The session went well and afterwards I was chatting to the HR manager, Lena, who said one word that hit me like a freight train.
I had let myself be so distracted with trying to do my best for our new client that I wasn’t present and Opal called me out on it. We’ve worked together for so long and I took her for granted. She called me out on that too.
It is not easy to remain present when we are feeling the pressure of new challenges and trying to perform multiple tasks – work, schooling, childcare – all at once. And it could be that your kids end up being your Opal and calling you out on this. Remember to cut yourself and your team some slack. Make it a part of the workplace chat forum to ask everyone to contribute an insight or observation each day every day to keep everyone present and valued.
- Don’t forget your quiet achievers. Here in our stables, we have a lovely horse called Kylie. She’s easy going and cooperative. The challenge with a team mate like Kylie is if she’s not feeling comfortable, it’s often not always obvious to our clients. She may raise her head momentarily or subtly swish her tail, but remain with her team. Watch out for the Kylie on your team – they may seem okay but secretly struggling. You don’t want to lose your quiet achiever because you didn’t realise they were unhappy.
- Give everyone space to speak up. In keeping with the last point, make sure you have a safe environment for team members who are finding it difficult to work from home, balance different responsibilities and look after their mental health to be honest about these challenges and ask for guidance.
- Work together. We’re all adjusting, so teamwork (despite physical distance) is even more essential than ever right now.
What are some of the ways you think leaders can help? Let us know below.
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