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Four Tactics for Leading Through Change and Uncertainty

Nov. 22, 2021
Amy Ericson, senior vice president at PPG, reflects on lessons learned during the pandemic.

The future of where, when and how we work remains unknown for many, as the pandemic remains a primary concern for individuals and organizations globally. Uncertainty can cause disruptions within teams and companies, resulting in reductions in productivity, collaboration and effectiveness. As we all move forward, one certainty has emerged: effective leadership is more important now than ever.

Employees are looking to their leaders for guidance not only on business matters, but also for help traversing the unpredictable landscape caused by the pandemic. Leadership has had to evolve to accommodate our new normal, and in my personal experience, these four tactics are must-dos as we navigate the next unchartered chapter.

Lead with Compassion

Every working adult has a unique situation to deal with during this time of uncertainty. It is important for leaders to recognize this and adapt accordingly. Overseeing a global team of 1,500 employees at 21 facilities, I realize everyone is doing the best they can. Recently, an emerging leader asked me, how do you ensure you are leading with empathy?

First, ask how your people are. Really ask them. Then, listen. You may find that they’re struggling, and your interest in how they are doing and genuine concern will help them move forward productively.

Second, acknowledge their situation and ask how you can help. Do they need access to new tools or resources? Do they need a different schedule?

Third, thank them, and follow through. Praise their courage to be honest, and deliver on your promises to help them succeed.

For example, the idea of a work-life balance has taken on new meaning given the forced overlap of a person’s home and work worlds. A lack of childcare, virtual schooling and shared working spaces have created an even greater burden on parents, bringing to light the behind-the-scenes juggling act they’ve been performing for years.

As a working mother of four daughters, I get it. I am fortunate that my children are old enough to not require constant supervision, but stay-at-home orders still had my whole family working and studying from home. This experience has provided me with insight and empathy into a situation that many, including my employees, are continuing to face in 2021.

Make Time for Yourself

Lack of social interaction and constant isolation impact us physically and mentally. According to a psychological science report, absence of in-office daily interactions and the impact of loneliness and isolation can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.” This not only impacts our personal lives, but also our work productivity, efficiency and success.

Sitting on a plane waiting for takeoff, we’ve all heard the inflight instructions that you should secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. This applies to leading your teams, too. Both as a mother and as a leader, I’ve learned that if I don’t practice self-care, my family and my employees do not benefit from what I truly have to offer. Today, as I do many days, I woke at 4:30 to swim at my local community pool. I’ve always loved how swimming clears my head and I’ve found that I’m more productive on days I swim than those I don’t. Investing that bit of time to improve my mental and physical health prepares me to tackle the day.  

Focus on What Matters

Many employees struggle with the opposing forces of work and family. Help to alleviate this strain by encouraging employees to be there for their families. Communicate the importance of the little things—those moments that matter that have otherwise been lost in the constant go, go, go culture we have come to accept.

Examine what is really important. Doing so will show you what “balls will bounce” if dropped, and what will shatter. Make adjustments to accommodate your people’s needs and situations without sacrificing the needs of your business. I recently did this by re-considering which meetings I had a contributory role in vs. those where I’m just invited for my information. By cutting out the latter, I’ve created more time to do real, impactful work to advance my businesses. Although things may look different after a re-focus exercise like that, you’ll almost invariably be better off for having done it.

Energize, motivate, enable

Leadership is contagious – whether it’s good or bad. My style has always been to energize, motivate and enable our talented employees. I have doubled down on these efforts to energize my teams, providing a virtual sense of comradery, support and optimism; and inspiring productivity amidst the ever-changing pandemic environment.

Finally, stay true to yourself and have faith in your abilities. Know your company and your stakeholders; encourage diverse teams; and lead by example. It is important for employees to see their leaders practicing what they preach and holding themselves accountable.

The understanding, adaptability and support from leaders to employees will lead to improved efficiency and productivity, and success for your teams and businesses.

In the months ahead, as the nation and the world continue to manage this health crisis, I encourage everyone to take with us the lessons learned during this difficult time. Let these lessons inspire us as people, employees and leaders. Let us implement these skills into our lives to make us more successful in whatever we do.

Amy Ericson is senior vice president at PPG, a global paint, coatings and specialty materials company. Amy leads three areas of PPG’s global enterprise: packing coatings business, specialty coatings & materials business and corporate strategy.

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