Leading Through Change

The skills great leaders use to keep their team engaged.

What a strange time to be a leader. Just over four months ago we were all in our offices and various places of work preparing for another run-of-the-mill year. Suddenly, we were thrust into a brave new world, one of social distancing, worry for our loved ones, and profound economic uncertainty. Everything as we knew it has changed.

It’s at times like these that leaders truly get to test their mettle. Many leaders have had to ask staff to work longer or different hours whilst balancing childcare duties or navigate shifts in household income as partners are furloughed or laid-off. Many people have had to deal with profound grief at the loss of family members. Being a leader that can navigate their way through these things, whilst keeping their team engaged and productive is no mean feat. There are, however, a few common skills that great leaders use to keep their people together, even when there are both physically and emotionally far apart.


Great leaders don’t stop bringing people together. Whether that’s through regular touch-base meetings, town halls, or even just individual check-ins with staff. It’s at times like this that it’s more important than ever to reach out to people not just because you have something you need them to do, but just to see how they are. When teams are busy or working behind masks, this has to be even more intentional, as those impromptu trips to the breakroom or to grab coffee don’t happen. Keep your team talking, so that they continue to feel like a team.

Key Stat: A recent Interact/Harris poll indicated that 91% of employees feel that their leaders lack effective communication skills. A mixture of group level and individual communication often serves organizations well and allows for a constant two-way stream of information. Communication through multiple platforms is key in a time as such.

Talk About Feelings

It’s not always easy for leaders to do this, but it’s what differentiates you from a manager. Managers tell people what to do, leaders take them on a journey with them. By asking people how they feel, you can get a sense of the personal work and personal challenges they are facing and find ways to best support them. An empathetic and caring leader creates loyal and engaged teams who can ask for what they need to keep being great at their job.

Key Stat: A 2019 study by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics indicates that over 60% of workers are unwilling to talk to their employers about mental health. In these times, it is important to allow your employees to fully share their feelings and emotions. Managers can only help employees unlock their true potential when the employees are fully healthy.

Know Everyone is Different

Everyone experiences change differently. Leaders notice where their team is on the ‘change curve’. Some people will sit firmly in denial and avoid talking about difficult things. Others will experience anger or sadness. All are legitimate ways of processing change. Know your team and try not to impose your own feelings about change on others. Listen to their experience

Key Stat: A Gallup poll demonstrated that 67% of employees are often burned out at work. At a time when several employees are dealing with heightened pressure on all fronts, understanding differences and championing diversity is key. Consider a “strength based” approach to management, that allows each team member to play into their specific strengths in the workplace.

Celebrate Success . . . and Failure

Keep recognition up; more than ever staff will need to hear when they’ve done great work. Celebrate when even small things go well – positive reinforcement will keep morale up and help focus on proactive and meaningful work. Don’t be afraid, however, to talk about when things don’t quite go to plan. It’s important to debrief and learn from failure, and it’s a helpful way of celebrating when someone has tried to innovate by doing something new. Oftentimes failure is just a step on the way to success.

Key Stat: A 2015 study by Linkagoal shows that 31% of Americans have a fear of failure — this is greater than the 30% who had a fear of spiders and far greater than the 15% that responded indicating a fear of ghosts. Rather than fear failure in our business, it is important to develop strong contingencies and agile plans that can adapt to changing landscapes. Failure is something to be embraced as it can lead to success if a manager can help their team rebound with a solid plan and boost morale.