It’s a pandemic, and the natural tendency for many executives is to wait it out and not push for too much change in the meantime. The expression, of course, is “hunkering down,” and it certainly seems well suited for the remote-work era.
But some experts suggest that can backfire. From middle management to the C-suite, the best firms are keeping close tabs on which employees are jumping at the opportunities that these unfortunate times tend to create. In short, they are looking for leadership traits for the post-COVID era. “Risk taking, curiosity, agility—those are the currency of the realm going forward,” says Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s global solution leader for leadership development.
To be sure, sitting tight may make perfect sense for many people. Indeed, one survey found that more than six in 10 executives said they weren’t interested in a career move. But here are some career steps—some fairy minor or just smart, and some fairly bold—to consider.
Seek Out Your Manager’s New Pain Points
The pandemic has had a way of making old priorities obsolete. Early on, it was firms figuring out how to send goods ordinarily destined for offices and restaurants to grocery stores or people’s homes. More recently, it’s realigning cost structures.
Managers might not be forthcoming with these priority changes, however—it’s up to employees to ask. That can be intimidating, experts say. In normal times, asking your boss what the priorities are might suggest that you’re not paying attention. Now, experts say the boss likely will appreciate employees showing interest in helping the firm. “The penalties are very low right now to speak up, and you can come out of this with more options and a broader perspective,” Baltzley says.
Indeed, not finding out the new priorities may actually be riskier than speaking out. There are many workers, desperate to show they are busy and adding value, doing lots of projects right now—and none of them are helping the boss. “It’s just busywork,” says Hamaria Crockett, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance.
Volunteer for Assignments
Taking on something new, particularly if it’s not an assignment you have much experience with, can be scary and risky. After all, no one wants to make a colossal mistake. But bosses have more pain points than ever, and they’ll particularly appreciate anyone who can step in and make a positive impact, experts say.
At the same time, volunteers can learn new skills, make new professional contacts, and get noticed within an organization.
Ask for That Promotion or Raise
Promotion cycles have been upended by the pandemic, with many companies pushing back changes until next year. But it doesn’t hurt to ask now, experts say, especially if an employee was on track for a promotion before the pandemic shut things down. Talk to the boss and say, “What adjustments can I make?” to stay on track for promotion, Crockett says. Management may tell employees they don’t want to talk about advancement for a few months; they might be uncertain themselves. But bringing up the idea now plants the seed for a deeper conversation two or three months from now, Crockett says.
Just because companies are laying off some people doesn’t mean they’re not advancing others. For instance, one large consumer firm at the same time as laying off 100 vice presidents promoted 30 new ones, Baltzley says.
Jump Into the Job Market
There are many reasons why people are focused on the number of job losses (50 million and counting) and unemployed (18 million). But even as the economy falters there are nearly 5.4 million job openings nationwide, with nearly 1 million openings in professional and business services alone. “Some people can’t hire enough,” Baltzley says.
Career experts say modern resumes should showcase a person’s accomplishments in each job, using data and statistics to highlight successes. At the same time, don’t rely on the resume. Networking is critical. In a 2018 survey of more than 1,000 companies, 78% of the hires the firms made were “offline,” meaning that the candidate came from somewhere other than a career site.
Be Vulnerable and Encourage Vulnerability
Vulnerability is, in the minds of many leaders, still a weakness never to be shown to their own employees. But the best leaders admit that they don’t have all the answers, especially in these times. It’s OK to show that events are affecting you, and letting employees know that it’s OK to do the same often strengthens the bonds between employee and manager. Being vulnerable includes treating others with compassion and being accountable for your actions. After all, experts say, we are all works in progress. At the same time, vulnerable leaders actually can help create a culture of curiosity which can spur innovation. Vulnerable leaders, instead of telling people what to do, inspire them as to what to think about.