In challenging times like these brought on by the global pandemic, employees look towards the leaders of their organisations to set the foundation for how to deal with current circumstances. How leaders react and treat employees on their teams will make lasting impressions on company culture, employee engagement and retention and the ability to attract and hire new talent. 

What are the skills and qualities that the most successful leaders demonstrate, especially in crisis or uncertain situations? And what are the traits that the best leaders will embody to lead their team and organisation successfully?

5 skills and traits influential leaders show

1. Transparency

With openness and a willingness to document everything they do, the best leaders operate with open doors during a crisis. Transparency is highly important because it builds trust - something that becomes invaluable during challenging times when many changes are happening at once. Transparent leaders also build the confidence of the team and eliminate misunderstandings and the spread of false information. 

2. Decisiveness

Circumstances can change quickly, especially during a situation such as the quick spread of COVID-19. An effective leader should have the skills to listen to all the options and the relevant stakeholders and then make quick, decisive decisions that will benefit everyone involved. 

3. Excellent communication skills

An effective leader should be able to speak to employees at all levels in the company in an open and relatable way. Later, as the acute crisis passes, top leaders know how to communicate with their teams in a way that inspires confidence and builds motivation to keep on through whatever challenges might come next.  

4. Vision

Looking beyond the crisis and seeing what should come next is extremely important in making quick decisions and seeing the way forward to navigate through the storm successfully. Having a strong vision for the company and communicating that vision to employees effectively can help increase employee engagement and drive the organisation forward. 

5. Empathy

Empathy is a complex skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times with lots of success. Empathy allows leaders to understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. It also means that the leader can look beyond to inspire, encourage and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels. 

Becoming an empathetic leader

While many of the traits mentioned earlier and skills are essential in a crisis, empathy stands out as one of the most important. Some of the world's best leaders are highly empathetic, and it shows in their decisions, communication, and way of relating with those they are leading. 

Empathy isn’t a quality that comes naturally to everyone, but the good news is it can be developed. Here are five actions anyone can take to become an empathetic leader. 

-Focus on two-way communication.

Openly and often, empathetic leaders  share as much information as possible, even when it seems unnecessary or redundant. That communication should be direct, straight-forward and crafted with the idea that everyone is human and not just a number in the office. And listening is as critical as talking - empathetic leaders hear what people are saying and place a strong emphasis on being available for two way communication. 

-Maintain a connection

After the initial essential communications, empathetic leaders make an effort to maintain a connection with people at all company levels. Check in with employees to ensure that they know the available resources and see how their situation evolves. Mental health is always an essential factor in overall productivity and employee engagement - and it becomes even more impactful during a crisis. Reach out to employees often and sincerely. 

-Put yourself in your employees' shoes.

A key characteristic of someone empathetic is seeing situations from various viewpoints of different employees throughout the company. Make an effort to go through exercises in which you regularly think about decisions from a strategic leadership standpoint and from the point of view of employees that the decisions will affect.  

-Seek out training. 

The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned. Look out for training that can help with effective communication, managing people with different personalities, or focuses on developing other leadership skills. 

The way forward into the future

While many future workplace processes are moving towards automation, others are becoming increasingly more human-centric. Leadership is one of those things - employees and other leaders alike expect strong leaders with high self-awareness who make decisions with empathy and kindness. Empathetic leaders are the ones who will be in high demand in the future as we make our way into the new normal.

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