People management; it’s one of the toughest yet most rewarding aspects of work, and 2020 has been a year riddled with change, complexity, uncertainty, and stress for everyday leaders and those who they manage. It has required new and refined leadership skills like never before.
In times of crisis, employees turn to their leaders to navigate change, to find inspiration in a sea of doubt, and grasp on every communication for a glimmer of clarity on what to expect going forward. This past year has been a true test for leaders, at every level. Anyone can lead when times are easy, it’s when the going gets tough, that it’s up to the leader's to rise to the challenge or retreat.
People management skills have never been more important than they are today. Here’s our list of skills you cannot afford to ignore.
In moments of great ambiguity, it can be hard to make decisive and sweeping decisions in a certain direction. However, as a leader, that is exactly what needs to happen. Time is of the essence, and decisions need to be made and new directions formulated. Agility is a leader's secret weapon. It is our ability to respond to non-stop change with an attitude of flexibility, responsiveness, and adaptability.
With the pace of change, being an agile leader and having this quality in individuals in the organization who are flexible and responsive is invaluable. Skills can be developed that promote an agile organization where change does not stress the people within it because it is the normal way of working. Developing your analytical, collaboration, strategy, execution, communication, and influence skills, in yourself and the people you manage will ensure when change happens, and it will, you will be better equipped to flex, adapt, and capitalize on opportunities.
The dictionary definition of resilience is “the ability to adjust easily from misfortune or change.” It’s a leader’s ability to bounce back when faced with adversity. It is hard to say what people management skill has been the most critical over the last year, and for many, this may be it.
Employees seek out resilient leaders. They want to follow and work for a leader who rises to the challenge when times are tough; not one who lashes out and blames others. The great news is resilience is a skill, and like any skill, with practice, you can become more resilient.
Trust in leadership in times of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) can make or break an organization. When organizations must pivot quickly, trust in leadership and the decisions being made can be the difference between success and failure.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, trust in senior leaders is broken. In a Gallup study, they found only one in three employees trust leadership. In addition, the organizations who ranked the lowest on trust found that employees were already planning their exit and have mentally checked out of their roles. It cannot be disputed, trust is an important factor in a leader's success.
Building trust as a leader takes time. Here are just a few ways you can build trust with employees.
- Create and Articulate a Compelling Vision: Your employees need to understand the direction you are going and believe in the path forward.
- Communicate Often: You cannot build trust without an open, two-way line of communication.
- Build Relationships: Genuine connections with employees naturally impacts trust as these relationships build psychological safety.
- Take Accountability: Being an accountable leader means doing what you say you will do goes a long way in building trust.
- Seek Out and Encourage Feedback: Employees want the opportunity to have a voice and for you to understand their perspective. Seek out feedback, and most importantly, use that feedback to drive change, new initiatives, and points of discussion so they know they’re heard.
- Empower Others: By empowering and trusting your employee they will in turn be more inclined to trust you.
Being a good communicator is nothing new, but it is a skill that is lacking for many leaders. In a survey of 1,000 employees, 91 percent said their bosses lack communication skills. A leader’s ability to deliver clear, concise, and inspiring communication is incredibly important to employee engagement, motivation, and productivity. Luckily, communication is a skill that can be learned and can quickly accelerate how well a leader performs, and in turn, how well their employees perform.
As Bart Egnal, Chief Executive Officer of The Humphrey Group and a Niagara Institute partner, explains, “Leadership takes place through communication. Every leader knows that the best ideas are useless if you cannot inspire others to act on them. That’s why it is key that you are intentional on how you prepare for and capitalize on every communication opportunity.”
In the simplest terms, empathy is the ability to understand others. It’s being able to appreciate what someone else is going through, their feelings, and how it impacts their perceptions, independent if you agree on how they see things. It goes without saying, empathy is a skill leaders must demonstrate through these unprecedented times.
Empathy is a valuable skill for people managers, a fact which was confirmed in a 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study.
- 76% of employees said empathy drives greater productivity
- 74% said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer
- 80% said they would switch companies for equal pay if the employer were more empathetic
In the same study, 93% of surveyed CEOs agreed companies should be doing more to address overall well-being. This highlights an important point of truth; it is that in an organization, you as a leader, have the greatest direct impact on employees' work experience. While some people are naturally empathetic, if this is a skill you have not used in the workplace before, training can help build a leader’s confidence in doing so.
Conclusion: People Management Skills Are Learnable
Much of a team's success is a reflection of the one leading them. By taking the time to reflect on your leadership, what went well in the past year, and what you would do differently, is the first step to determining which people management skills you need to rise to challenge when the next one comes along.
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