The coronavirus pandemic requires bold firm leadership
If sports movies are to be believed, the only things you need to lead a team during critical moments are a moving script and a good speaking voice. The big-game speech is a trope that’s been repeated countless times over the years. You know the drill: Before or during a big game, a key figure — usually a head coach, sometimes a star player — gives a rousing lecture to their team. Inspired by these words, the team emerges from the locker room and marches toward victory.
Sadly, leading in the real world is a little more complicated. While you can learn a lot about leadership from sports figures, you should probably rely on more than oratory tactics to rouse your team during these unprecedented times in the profession. Real-life leaders need to be proactive, engaged, and positive when tensions run high during this extended busy season.
One of the pillar qualities of great leadership is adapting to the situation. Every workplace has different variables, from the personalities on a team to the health of a business. In accounting, one of the biggest environmental factors in the workplace comes in the form of seasonality. There are no getting around tax deadlines and the way they warp the accounting calendar. No matter how far you plan ahead, you will have to deal with the added stress and excess work that tax season entails. How you approach this situation as a leader goes a long way toward determining team success and mental well-being.
With that in mind, here are some tips to navigate your team through one of the most tumultuous tax seasons it has ever seen.
Acknowledge the climate
When it’s raining and you need to walk somewhere, you bring an umbrella. Similarly, when a crisis happens, you need to have the tools to weather the storm. That can’t happen if you refuse to reckon with the added workload that’s coming and the new ways of working remotely. It is important for you to be honest and direct with your team about the challenges of this extended busy season, earnestly ask for their support, and understand the stress they are under as well.
Try using positive yet realistic rhetoric when discussing increased hours and urgency. Remind your team that everyone is in this together and that you’ve made it through hard times before. You should also be positive and realistic about what tax season will entail in terms of man-hours, how processes will change, as well as setting rules of engagement around modes of communication internally and externally so people don’t become overly stressed. Showing you are in this with them will make communicating honestly with your team a whole lot easier.
You can preach balance all you want, but some team members are always going to want to crush themselves to get the job done. As a leader, you have to be mindful of the health and wellness of your team. You don’t want to discourage people from going above and beyond, but you can’t let people burn out as a result of ceaseless work. Encourage or mandate regular breaks, maybe provide their remote workspaces with healthy snacks, do some exercise as a team virtually during long sprints: These are all ways to help promote healthy behavior. After all, it’s not worth having the most productive staff ever if your entire team burns out quickly.
Supporting healthy work habits, even during times when work is relentless, is also essential in demonstrating to employees that you care about them as people. We’ve all had a boss who’s willing to share laughs when times are good, only to change in their leadership style when the going gets tough. No amount of work can change the fact that people need to be treated fairly and given time to rest. As a bonus, well-rested employees do their best work. You may think squeezing extra hours of productivity is the only way to make it through, but science shows otherwise. Adding extra hours only works to a point, because quality of work suffers over long periods of time. Instead, you have to ask yourself how to get the most from your team, and that always includes making sure they’re feeling their best.
Don’t forget to celebrate
Can you imagine anything worse than winning the Super Bowl and then having to go to regular 'ol practice the next day? No trophy presentations, no ticker-tape parades, no “going to Disneyworld.” Just back to business as usual. That hardly seems right, but it’s exactly what many firm leaders expect of their teams after the playoff-level crunch of tax season. Leaders ask a lot of their teams during this time of year anyway, much less a busy season with the added stress of change management and anxiety of sickness. It’s vital to celebrate those teams throughout the season and even after your mission has been accomplished.
There are myriad ways to take a moment to reflect. At the absolute minimum, have a firm-wide meeting where the entire staff can be congratulated and let off a little steam. Even better, host a company virtual party, plan for some virtual card games, take a virtual fitness or yoga class together, or come up with other creative ways to enjoy each other at a human level. Accounting may not have an off-season, but everyone deserves a chance to exhale.
With the right style of leadership, you can make the effects of this environment we are under much less stressful. Make sure your team knows what’s coming, provide them with the tools to make it out okay, and take a moment to celebrate when you get through to the other side.