“What COVID-19 Has Taught Me About Leadership”

In the past 12-18 months, we all learned a lot about ourselves, our family, our friends, our companies and our country. I don’t have to dig up all the mess that COVID-19 brought to our lives, as most of us are still living in it, or just now coming out of it.  This pandemic has been a true test of leadership in having to make the difficult decisions around budgets, staffing and resources – just to name a few.

For those reading this, and don’t know my background, I’ve been in the travel and tourism industry for fourteen years and I’ve been the Vice President of Marketing at VisitLEX for the past six years. I’ve always been a student of leadership, so I’ve been working on my leadership skills my whole career. At VisitLEX, this has been my first role where I am leading an entire department and have direct input to how we run the organization as a member of the Executive Team.

When the pandemic began, and we had to shut down our operations, have people work from home and “nickle and dime” every dollar so that we could keep the organization afloat, it brought a greater sense to me of what it means to be a leader. In dealing with the pandemic, I took some time to reflect on what I’ve learned as a leader, and I wanted to share four things with you.

#1 – Transparency is key. With so much uncertainty in 2020, I learned that leaders have to be open and honest about what is happening in the world. True leaders don’t shy away from sharing the bad news, even if it may scare your team. True leaders establish transparency by have two-way open conversations between employees and organizational leadership. This leads to increased trust, advocacy and morale from employees. I share a lot with my direct team, and I frame that information so that they can understand it from an organizational, industry and worldly perspective. I’ve seen how this has helped me to continue to build the trust of my team and has also given them a glimpse into why we make certain organizational decisions. It has also allowed them to contribute ideas that I, or our leadership team, haven’t thought of that can positively impact the organization.

#2 – You can still grow in a down year. Leaders never stop learning. The worst thing you can ever do as a leader is to stop learning. The good thing about the pandemic is that it provided us with a lot of alone time. The bad thing about the pandemic is that it provided us with a lot of alone time. All of that alone time should be put to good use. Sure you can take that time to learn a new skill, but you can also take that downtime to take that one extra step that you need to become great. That one extra step could be reading one more article or one more book than you normally do. Maybe that extra step leads you to meditate, do yoga or another type of fitness activity. People don’t become great overnight, it happens incrementally – one step at a time.

#3 – Clock watchers are detrimental to your organization. Nobody… and I do mean NOBODY… likes or needs a clock watcher. We’ve all worked with someone who likes to sit by the door and make comments about what time people arrive and/or leave the office.  There’s been people who work 40 hours a week and don’t get their work done, as well as, people who can work less than 40 hours a week and still be productive. At the end of the day, it all comes down to productivity. I’ve told my team that I don’t care what time you come in or what time you leave as long as you feel you’ve done what you wanted to do for the day. Through regular check-ins, informal conversations and formal review meetings, we are going to find out whether the work is done. 

#4 – Learn how to give yourself grace. If you didn’t know it already, COVID proved that there are far more important things going on in the world than what most of us do at work. We live in a world where we send people messages and expect immediate responses, as if we are the only ones people are thinking about. Truth is, real life takes precedence over our jobs, and when our lives are experiencing turmoil, we tend to let other things slip. And that’s okay – it makes us human. If you fall behind or let a project or task slip, it’s okay. This takes us back to my first point – transparency. Let all parties involved know that you haven’t gotten to that project or task, but that their email now serves as a reminder for you to get back on it. Simply acknowledge, apologize and get back to it.

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