Ron Thomas is the Managing Director of Strategy Focused Group, an international consulting firm based in Dubai and Singapore. He was the former CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and CHRO of Al Raha Group, based in Riyadh. Previously, he worked in senior level roles for IBM, Martha Stewart Living, and Xerox HR Services (HR Consulting) in the United States. He is a visiting Executive Faculty member at the Global Human Resources Leadership Institute at Howard University School of Business in Washington, D.C., and an Adjunct Facilitator at American University in the Emirates, Dubai. Ron was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia, and his work has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, Inc. Magazine, and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India, and the Middle East. Ron is a sought-after speaker throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific Region and USA. Connect and follow on Twitter @ronald_thomas.
QUESTION: From your experiences since March, how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the employee experience in Dubai?
Like the world over, it has had a tremendous effect. Since my work covers the Middle East, Africa, as well as Asia, the impact has been jarring. Inadequate workspace in the home, slow internet speed, entire families home with parents working, and children being schooled all in one space. However, on the flip side, commuting time has been drastically cut, and there is the possibility of more work-life balance.
Organizations should begin developing managers for the new WFH/WFA dynamic (work from home/work from anywhere). Virtual management skills are different from in-person. Zoom burnout is much talked about as being the default method of communications. I have tried and successfully shifted back to personal calls as needed and have advised my clients to do the same as needed. The default communication should NOT be Zoom.
QUESTION: You appeared here on my Blog in a Q&A back in 2011. With that in mind, I'd like to circle back to a question I asked you then to see if your perspective has changed: What are the five most important qualities of a good leader?
One thing that Covid has showed a lot of leaders is that leading in a crisis is a lot different than leading in a normal environment. I have heard from numerous leaders that it has exposed the lack of skills needed in managing in ambiguity, decision-making, etc. While on the other hand, some leaders and “non-leaders” have stepped up to fill the void. The past few months have shown the cracks in the armour of leadership that will have to be addressed while It’s hot.
That being said, my five qualities of Covid Leadership are:
As workers return to the workplace, leaders will become counsellor-in-chief in many ways, whether they like it or not. Indeed, this tragedy has touched so many in such profound ways that many workers will be essentially working while grieving. Empathy must be authentic, which means that a lot of managers are not equipped for that role. Developing them is key.
Be honest. If you led with honesty pre-Covid, you will be fine as long as you stay the course. While honesty has always been an important leadership trait, this moment requires another level of honesty – candor. Arguably, the best antidote for a workplace climate of anxiety and cynicism is being honest and open. People respond so much better to the known, than the unknown. Managers should be open, and their people should feel this as truth being spoken. “We are all in this together” is the mantra for Dubai citizens.
Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. “Information is the oil that greases an organization and keeps it running smoothly,” Klann says. “This is especially true during a crisis.”
Repeating and reinforcing information on a daily basis and via multiple delivery methods helps it to sink in and be retained.
“Remember, when information regarding what is happening is scarce or non-existent, people revert to gossip and rumours.” I learned this when I was VP of HR at Martha Stewart Living, when she was convicted. An employee told me one time “I spend 8 hours a day at this office and nobody is addressing this issue and what it means for employees. I have to go home and watch the news to get information as to what is happening although I just left there.”
(4) Listening – Be an Active Listener!
Don’t focus only on the words that your employee is using; nonverbal cues can convey essential information if one knows how to read them. Look out for changes in intonation, volume, pace, and flow – and keep an eye on facial expressions and body language. All of these can be quite informative and reveal a lot. Think of it this way: if you have kids or you are married, you can sense when something is wrong by the responses. STAY WOKE.
Bring your team closer in your decision-making. Ask their advice, seek out their opinion more. Create an environment where they feel trust.
TWEET THIS: The five most important qualities of a good leader are empathy, candor, communication, listening, and collaboration. –@ronald_thomas #COVID19 #leadership
QUESTION: You also appeared on my Blog in 2015. I'd like to circle back to a question I asked you then to see if your perspective has changed: We agree that, for all new employees to be successful, an effective onboarding strategy must be implemented. What are your three must-have tips to all businesses when it comes to creating effective onboarding strategies?
Imagine getting invited to someone’s house and when you turn up, it is a lukewarm welcome, you feel like they are looking at their watch until you leave. That was my experience at a former company. It was the worst experience ever, and I said then that if I had the opportunity to run this program, I would fix it. When the opportunity did come, we built an award-winning Onboarding program that was profiled in “Creative Onboarding Programs” book.
(1) Make them feel welcome and correct that they chose the right company.
(2) Check-in at the end of the first week and every month thereafter. At the end of the quarter, bring back a cross section of the new hires. Mission is to find out how are things and how could they be better. Those check-ins should last one year.
(3) Think of them as new customers and not new employees. This will alter your thinking and re-frame the conversation.
QUESTION: You wrote a recent post entitled, “You’ll be a better leader and manager if you don’t believe the hype.” Can you please elaborate?
“I know that I am a great manager.” When I hear that phrase, I am looking at possibly a candidate for the worst manager. Your team will brand you as a great manager, it is not self-anointing. Leadership branding is earned over a period of time. It is a journey NOT a one-time event. My test is to go back to previous jobs and count the number of people that you still keep in touch with. How many of them reach out to you to keep you abreast of their career or to seek career advice? How many of them still count on you as their coach?
TWEET THIS: Your team will brand you as a great manager, it is not self-anointing. –@ronald_thomas #LeadershipTips #EmployeeExperience
QUESTION: You included a business tip in a recent blog post: “My rule is that if the email goes back and forth twice, I get up, walk over or pick up the phone to get the issue resolved.” Of course, that was pre-Covid, but once we are in the post-Covid world, it will become relevant again. Can you please elaborate?
Since the phone was invented, it was the go-to tool to keep in touch. Covid has driven everyone to video calls, but if you are like me, the visual portions add an extra layer of stress. I have found that just picking up the phone is better for clarification or just to check in. Because every call should not be just about business. Remember how we react when we notice certain calls pop up. Do we eagerly pick up or do you, like me, respond by saying “Not now, I will deal with it later.” Create the relationship so that you are in the former category.
My extreme gratitude to Ron for sharing his leadership insights from across the miles.
Image Credit: Gratitude to Josh Winters of The Brooks Group (@TheBrooksGroup on Twitter).
Blog post referenced in #4:
Blog post referenced in #5:
Blog post Q&A in 2015:
Blog post Q&A in 2011:
Lastly, if you are interested in taking a job in a foreign country, read Ron’s tips on the TLNT website: