Q: How has leading a team changed with this crisis?
Regardless of what else is going on in the world, a leader needs to be positive and needs to be motivating. The difference now is we also have to factor in other pressures the team is dealing with – it’s really important not to underestimate the impact that COVID-19 is having on employees.
We have to make sure that we’re hyper-aware of the stress that they’re experiencing and the concerns that they have. We have to be really clear on our expectations of our teams, understanding that they’re now also looking after their children, supporting elderly relatives, dealing with a lot of uncertainty themselves – we can’t expect the same from employees now as we did at the beginning of the year.
Our EQ levels need to go up a couple of notches and our priorities need to adjust so that our employees know they’re supported.
Q: Who’s setting a great example of leadership in this crisis?
There are plenty of examples of coping and leading extraordinarily well considering the challenges we’re all facing. At Salesforce, I’ve been so impressed with my leadership team and the way that they are leading their team members through this period. I see them prioritising the welfare of their teams, then the immediate needs of their customers.
It’s important that our teams know our primary concern is their welfare – that’s the main thing that leaders should be focused on right now. It’s far easier for people to perform at their best if they feel supported. And if they know that, then their primary concern can be their customers.
The thing that I’ve learnt over the years is that if you’re not a good listener, or if you’re not open to taking on other people’s ideas, then you’re applying limits to your own growth. At Salesforce I’m blessed to be surrounded by a hugely talented team who I’m constantly learning from, and helping me grow as an individual and as a leader.
Q: What’s the secret to ‘showing up’ virtually?
To me, success stems from authenticity. That only comes from taking the time to fully understand each team member’s specific challenges and unique needs.
If your team member is to fully engage, they need to sense your passion and interest in helping them overcome their specific challenges and problems, to know that you are authentic in your interest and your desire to help. Now this must all be achieved via a virtual meeting in which almost everybody is at home, rather than face-to-face in controlled surroundings – so conveying all of this through attitude, words and body language is slightly different.
There are those basic tenets of pivoting a leadership or management style in this new normal – including heightened empathy and awareness of employee stress levels – but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
On the practical front, leaders must do all they can to ensure excellent communication, and to let everyone know they are truly interested in helping and supporting them. They must be succinct, clear and considerate about other people’s needs. They must also make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute to conversations.
This behaviour will set the scene for how their teams can also show up for customers, but leaders can and should encourage collegiality as well – this is an opportunity to give senior team members an opportunity to help each other and develop their own leadership experience.
By emphasising the importance of open, honest and timely communication, and the impact that can have on the business – in the example of a sales team the leader may communicate the impact on accurate forecasting – business leaders can give their teams and themselves the best chance of success.
All of these little things mean we’re thinking more about how to be considerate of other people. We’re thinking about how to make sure meetings are always adding value. When we’re at home (especially if we’re trying to parent full-time, work full-time, and be a teacher too), our time is very important to us, so a new understanding of time and impact is developing.
All of this is going to change the way we communicate in the real world. I think we’ll find our conversations with each other will become a lot more effective. But how well these lessons are implemented will revolve around culture.
Q: What is the link between ‘showing up’ and company culture
As a leader, you must be constantly aware of your persona – of how you come across to your staff and your clients, and the effect your attitude has on them. If you get that right, half the battle is won.
But actually, for true showing up success we have to look at company culture. The best-performing teams across all functions have a strong sense of team culture versus being siloed, individual contributors. Strong team cultures don’t happen by chance; each team member needs to feel a strong sense of belonging and understand how their contribution to the team dynamic is required and valued.
Diversity is also important, as it means we’re better equipped to meet the varied needs of our customers. It also means that as a team we’re stronger because we’re exposed to different ideas, opinions and strategies.
Culture will drive the way we show up virtually. At Salesforce, our values revolve around trust, so unless our teams know that leaders authentically have their best interests at heart, unless we empathise with what they’re going through, then we fail against our own measure of success.
Culture is always important, but today it’s at the core of everything. If we get culture right, we’ll naturally show up well.
We’re all adjusting to this new way of working and the impact that COVID-19 is having on the businesses that we deal with and the communities that we live in, but the one good thing is that everyone is going through it together. While everyone has their own unique challenges that they’re working through, the crisis is galvanising employees, businesses and communities.
The work.com COVID-19 Response Playbook guides leaders through a phased approach to stabilising and reopening a business, and accelerating towards growth.