COO Leadership Update: Working Through Adversity
Throughout its 126-year history, the Exchange has stayed resilient during tough times again and again. Stores have persevered through hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires and war.
During the past 20 months, the Exchange team has faced unprecedented adversity. The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted how we deliver hard-earned Exchange benefits. Supply chains have been disrupted. A battle for talent has necessitated doing even more with less, all while keeping our customers and each other safe.
Achieving our aggressive, customer-focused goals has always been challenging. During times of adversity, challenges multiply and difficulty becomes even greater.
The longer we face these challenges, the more we must call upon leaders to rise to the occasion! No matter where you serve at the Exchange, you are a leader navigating through times of adversity.
Outstanding leaders step up, especially during tough times, and some common traits and styles allow them and their teams to achieve success. Below are seven leadership traits key to helping lead through adversity and keep yourself, and your teams, ready and resilient.
- Understand the adversity at hand and develop a plan…expeditiously: At the onset of a crisis, it’s important to learn as much as possible about the situation and address potential impacts. Resources can come from inside and outside the Exchange. During the COVID pandemic, leaders who quickly adjusted gained information from external sources (CDC, installation partners, etc.) as well as internal networking to share best practices. Don’t shy away from adversity. Face it head on.
- Project optimism vs. pessimism: A leader’s demeanor is one of his or her most important traits during times of crisis. No matter how much pressure the leader is under, remaining calm, composed, optimistic and enthusiastic is crucial. It is perfectly natural to feel stress and pressure, but leaders must exude a sense that “everything will be OK” and “we will get through this together.”
One of the most important events in history, D-Day, provides an example of the power of optimism vs. pessimism. Dwight Eisenhower, the Commander who led the Allies to victory at Normandy, once said, “When pressure mounts and strain increases, everyone begins to show the weakness in their makeup; it is up to the Commander to conceal his and to above all conceal doubt, fear and distrust.” Further, he stated, “without confidence, enthusiasm and optimism in the command, victory is scarcely obtainable.” Eisenhower realized that both optimism and pessimism are infectious and that they spread rapidly from the leader to the team.
- Be visible: You can’t project optimism without being accessible and approachable! It is important that your team sees you out front and that you are there to answer their questions, provide guidance and give support. An absent leader will quickly lose the team and the synergy of working in a common direction.
- Be empathetic and transparent: Practice transparency and keep communication flowing. Share information. Demonstrate empathy and a sense of understanding with your teammates by putting yourself in their shoes and showing genuine care for each of them. For example, during the global pandemic, associates at every level have worked in short-staffed stores and restaurants. They also endured the stress of reporting to work in the early days of the pandemic, as we all were learning how to operate safely while still being an essential service on military installations. Being sensitive to what associates are going through is key to helping them through times like these.
- Keep an eye on your team…and yourself: Remember to take care of yourself and those around you. Look for signs of declining morale, fatigue and burnout. You are crucial to overcoming challenges, and it’s more important than ever to make sure your physical and mental well-being are taken care of. Working through adversity is a marathon and not a sprint, as we are seeing with the global pandemic and the impacts from this new environment. Take good care of yourself!
- Show your appreciation: We have tools to recognize and thank teammates such as the formal awards program, but often a simple “thank you” and a conversation about topics not related to work can go a long way in maintaining morale. Working deliberately toward having regular touchpoints with your team will demonstrate that you are there alongside them. This will build trust and respect. A team will increase loyalty to the organization and up their game considerably if they are appreciated and their successes are shared!
- Never fear adversity: While leading in calm waters may be comfortable, leading in rough waters will vastly sharpen your leadership skills. I often tell future leaders, “things must happen to you in order for you to become a stronger leader.” Facing adversity will allow for personal growth and learning. While we may not always succeed, we brush ourselves off and learn lessons. What worked? What did not work? How would you handle things the next time you face adversity?
I can tell you with certainty that even after the current tough times fade, adversity will surely come again. Being ready to lead your team through it is what sets great leaders apart from the rest!