Leadership Basics also work in times of crisis! (updated with TIPS!)

An interview with Ester Eomois by Marge Sassi

The main reason why I decided to ask for an interview from Ester Eomois, one of my TOP3 inspirators and an experienced leader, was that through the whole crisis she was the calmest and most relaxed colleague of mine. Suspicious, as I am, I wondered if she might have a secret “managerial weapon” and through the interview (as an expression of public interest) she might reveal what it is… To my great surprise, there is no secret at all – good old leadership always works, even in the time of crisis. True – as handling the crises is what prepares future-leaders to-be. Keep on reading in case you are interested if Flow is different in the pre-Corona and post-Corona era and if we should give up planning as the world is becoming more and more unpredictable?

Mrs. Ester Eomois (Member of Chair of Management and Executive Trainer in Estonian Business School) has had a kaleidoscope career instead of a linear one. She was a successful executive in the healthcare industry for 15+ years when about 5 years ago she decided to make a big change and devote herself to sharing experience and joined a university – Estonian Business School. Soon after entering academia, she decided to become a Ph.D. student, looking at the career models of millennials. Nevertheless, she has not left the business for good as additionally to teaching, studying, and researching, she is also one of the founders of a new start-up on telemedicine. No doubt, she is serious about self-development! In case you think that’s it, then Ester has 2 more surprises for you – she is a mother of 2 grown-up daughters and President of Business and Professional Women Organisation in Estonia. Impressive, right? She has followed role models such as Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama and as well the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid. While feeling overwhelmed of the presence of this impressive lady, I started asking her leadership and crises related questions.

Do you remember the last time you were in Flow?

Oh yes, it was today – before the interview, time was just flying and I hardly managed to finish…. I recently began a new health tech start-up and today our Telemedicine portal Viveo Health is serving doctors from 35 countries – nevertheless, we are planning to go even more global. Whenever being involved in a task like that, I am so enthusiastic that I forget myself and work without having any lunch or glass of water. My goal and mission are to attract more doctors, especially from neighboring countries to join the 1st allover global Telemedicine platform in the world to make doctor’s visits more accessible.  I feel great to have some skills and experience in the healthcare industry, but still, perceive this as a challenge. I feel it is my role as a leader to make this world a different place for us. There is no point in starting something without making an impact. 

Flow theory highlights the need for supporting the environment as a must for employees to feel motivated and focused. How to motivate your staff while some of your employees are squeezed into working in the kitchen, it is not possible to keep traditional working hours (due to kid’s online teaching or playing) and most of the people have not met their team physically for the last 5-6 weeks?

True, the working environment of the COVID-19 times is challenging and therefore we should talk even more about the engagement of the team. As always, everything starts wtih the commonly shared goals. As a leader, it is your task to communicate this. In a situation, like we are today, you need to find a balance between the long-term vision and short-term plan.


What needs to be done today, so that you will be able to meet your goals tomorrow?

It is quite challenging. The leadership role is to help to find your people this balance!

Setting goals and giving feedback is important to get work done. How to do it online?

The most important thing about the feedback and communication is consistency. The information flow needs to be regular and consistent. My favorite social learning guru Albert Bandura has explained well how people learn.
He claims that feedback as such has a variety of forms. I believe that all this works exactly the same way in virtual teams.
We need to realize “why” we are doing and then “what” we are doing. 

What Bandura says is that firstly we can learn from positive role models – as a manager you need to encourage your team by showing (i.e. telling the stories) how we have succeeded in the past and lead yourself by example. 

The 2nd form of feedback can be positive enforcement – you need to give feedback on things that have recently been successfully done. Crises don’t mean we cannot communicate! 

The 3rd type of learning is “learning by doing yourself” – I am giving good instructions as a leader and as a result of this, my team members can really do things independently.  

Additionally, a good and caring atmosphere matters. Today, in some corporations in addition to virtual meetings and business presentations, there are coffee meetings, yoga classes, birthday celebrations – all this online. It is definitely not the communication form that matters but the fact that social communications take place. 

How would you describe “crisis leadership” – what kind of special features, skills are expected from leaders today?

In a crisis, traditional leadership skills apply, it is about creating a balance between communicating shared purpose and implementing a short-term action plan. People can get anxious or scared for what may happen and as a leader, you have to convey confidence. If there is a crisis situation like today, it is very important, that the basis of decisions is relevant and official sources of information.  This is important in order to avoid people panicking.

How to describe a leader that copes well with current crises?

I think that female leader do better in difficult times. There is definitely a reason behind the saying – Think crises, Think female. Scientific research has proven that women can work better in crises as they keep balance and do not rush into decisions. Female leaders just work better under the stress and do not suffer from over-confidence – they seek input and listen. According to FORBES’ recent article, female leaders rank higher on people-orientation and vision setting. As well, they also manage risks differently as they are not going to fight, but instead calculate the risks. Sometimes it is said that women are used as scapegoats in the time of crises, but I am not convinced about that.  

You were the youngest female top executives in 1990s Estonia struggling with family and career balance, is this the reason why your research is about women’s leadership?

The modern working life is currently experiencing dramatic changes, which inevitably has an impact on the career paths of the employees in the 21st century. The changes in the career market will be especially relevant among millennials, which is the largest generation in the workforce since the end of 2015. While society and changing traditions have made millennial women believe that everything is possible and that they could become whoever they want during their career, their workplace experiences do not confirm it. 

As the motherhood barrier is deemed one of the most important factors hindering women’s careers, it is important to focus on millennial women, in order to improve their access to the labor market and reduce the existing and potential childbirth-related and other obstacles on the career path to reach leadership positions. However, research implies that female leaders’ career challenges are not limited by “maternal wall” but go beyond that. 

Marge Sassi, Flow Enthusiast

TIPS & TRICKS – FROM ESTER EOMOIS:

“Do not forget about Flow, when you are designing your career!”

These tips are based on Ester’s 20 in-depth interviews with millennial generation female managers in Estonia analyzing their career paths and way to the top.

Seize the day, even in crisis times. Look for new opportunities, new ways of working and networking. My research shows that in career development, there is less conscious planning and more taking chances.

Be more courageous and proactive. It is important to step up and show initiative in carving out your career path. 

Teamwork and collaboration are wonderful. Female leaders tend to work alone, “suffer alone” and make decisions alone. Team up and collaborate with others for support! 

Have a role model or a mentor. Success stories often begin in high school- meeting an inspiring person, reading a book, leading a youth organization.

Success breeds success and confidence. Research shows that leaders who have role models are more likely successful.

by Esther Eomois

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