Leadership skills, and the ability of effective leaders to demonstrate adaptability in times of crisis, are more important than ever right now. As businesses adjust to COVID, once in a lifetime winter storms, and other unusual conditions, strong leaders are critical to the business.

The world as we know it is rapidly changing and leaving leaders with only two options: Get with the program or get left behind. As we all adjust to a new sense of normalcy, especially at work, here are five ways leaders of teams can adapt their soft skills.

Step 1: Practice Resilient Communication

Communication is one of, if not the most important, skills for leaders. As someone who’s worked in her fair share of corporate roles for many companies, I’ve seen the good and the bad. During a pandemic or during any crisis, communication is paramount.

Everything begins with good communication, and resilient communication is a vital skill one needs to be a good leader. As explained by The Brain Alchemist, “Resilience allows us to survive, thrive, and grow through challenges, conflicts, and tensions.”

“Resilient communication can feel vibrant, honest, sometimes vulnerable, but also liberating because we can fully express what we mean and be respectful and hear what others have to say without jumping to conclusions or feeling defensive. By expressing our vulnerability, we offer others space to open up too.”

No one wants to work for a company or leader who seems closed off and hard to read. To avoid this, be vocal. Build trust by showing your employees that you possess exemplary communication skills and are willing to go the extra mile to keep them in the loop, even when you’re unsure of the future.

We’re all experiencing uncertainty, and that leads to stress. What steps can you take to communicate and alleviate this for your people?

  • Will the pandemic cause future pay cuts?
  • Will the pandemic cause future layoffs?
  • Is the business in discussions to sell?

Unless you’re unable to share the information due to confidentiality, tell them, even if it’s bad. People appreciate honesty and it will show your strength as a leader. So many “leaders” choose to ignore the elephant in the room. Don’t be that person. We all know a crisis when we see one!

Step 2: Empathize, Don’t Sympathize

Everyone’s reality changed, including that of your employees’. Once upon a time, they might have made their way to work at 8 am and left the office at 5 pm sharp, but with COVID, not anymore. Demands are different and our experiences have changed.

Many now work 24/7, trying to balance work and family life. Work might have been their escape from the craziness, but now they’re attending to toddlers, making dinner, and doing laundry, all while attempting to turn out the same quality work they’re known for delivering. (And let’s be honest. All of this digital is draining!)

This will never be the ideal work situation, but for the time being, this is reality. No one has all the answers, and recognizing this as a leader shows your emotional intelligence. Put yourself into your employees’ shoes and show empathy for their situations.

Yes, they might miss some deadlines and their four-year-old might insist on participating in your Zoom call, but we’re all trying to make the best of a bad situation!

Remember to check in often with your people as ask how they’re holding up.

Here are a few empathetic statements to use as a leader at work:

  • I can understand how this must be frustrating for you…
  • I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with that…
  • I can’t imagine what you’re going through…How can I help?
  • I trust you, and I know you’re doing you’re best!

Step 3: Learn to Celebrate and Appreciate

Every win matters, especially now. Businesses are closing, people are getting sick, and others have lost loved ones. Let your employees know that you appreciate them for showing up day in and day out. Appreciation is one of many underrated leadership skills!

Whether it’s showing up to digital meetings while nursing a sick kid back to health, or showing up to work in person while risking their safety, recognition helps. Thank them for being loyal and helping the company stay afloat.

Everyone needs to be recognized in the way that works best for them, and you should celebrate the small wins in addition to the big ones. (Check out this related blog post.) Celebratory team lunches, thank you notes, and letting the team off a few hours early for a job well done go a long way!

Step 4: Collaborate, Don’t Dictate!

Great leaders do not dismiss ideas, they listen and they help improve them.

We’ve all had conventional leaders who quickly dismisses an idea. Most of us wouldn’t suggest an idea unless we thought it was worth it, right? It can be highly frustrating and lead to feelings of disengagement.

Be the leader that inspires your team to learn more, be more, and do more. Welcome ideas that are not your own. Before rejecting ideas posed by your employees, ask for the details you need to fully understand. Truly weigh their pros and cons before concluding. Ask them to help you find the answers!

If their idea is not the best option for the company, communicate this information in a way that shows their suggestions were heard and considered. Everyone wants to feel validated!

Step 5: Live and Embrace the New Normal

Easier said than done right? The truth is, we’re a year into this COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s clear it isn’t going anywhere soon. An uncertain future isn’t fun for anyone.

As a good leader, you must help your employees transition to their new normal and gain a sense of resilience in this time of crisis. Agility is a key leadership skill!

For remote employees, it might mean retrofitting company rules to be relevant in work-from-home situations, adjusting the lead time in which you expect email responses and deliverables, or even limiting the number of work meetings you hold per day.

If employees are still coming to the office, ensure you provide proper sanitation areas, encourage them to practice physical distancing, and wear a mask. Show flexibitly if they want to work from home a couple of days a week if it’s realistic to your environment, and know that they might need more flexible hours to deal with family issues. Mental health is key!

No matter what company you work for, the new reality is hear to stay. While the COVID-19 vaccine shows promise, your best bet is to adapt your leadership skills and build trust! Not only will your company learn and grow, but you will experience personal growth. Most importantly, your employees will stick around to see it.