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“Lead with empathy.” It’s one of the most important—and most repeated—pieces of advice given to managers who are attempting to reassure and motivate concerned employees right now. But it’s one thing to acknowledge this advice (“Yes, I will be more mindful and compassionate”) and quite another to effectively apply it during real-life situations. Imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes is something everyone should all do, but that mental exercise alone won’t adequately prepare managers and executives to communicate productively with a distraught colleague or de-escalate an emotionally charged exchange.

What will is the continual development of soft skills, like active listening, purposeful inquiry and affect regulation. Without them, managers will be hard-pressed to earn the trust of their direct reports and unlikely to help their company adapt and succeed during times of disruption. That’s why it’s more critical than ever for organizations to get their leaders the training they need ASAP.  

Leaders Need Skills Training, Too

Given the incredible rate at which technology is advancing and business needs are shifting, companies are investing more heavily in ways to help their employees build new skills to prepare for what’s ahead. And employees, themselves, agree that this move is necessary: According to Cornerstone's "Building an Adaptive Workforce" report, 83% of the 1,000 employed individuals surveyed believe it is essential to improve professional skills. But these new skilling initiatives, which address the gap between current skill sets and those needed for future business success, often apply to the general workforce as opposed to company leaders. 

Skills training is just as essential for individuals who are managing a team. As anyone who’s had a difficult boss knows, managers aren’t necessarily born with the ability to be strong coaches or dedicated mentors. And that inability to connect with, properly motivate and empower their reports costs companies big time. Gallup estimates that managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. In addition, at least 75% of the reasons for voluntary turnover, from career advancement opportunities to general work environment, are influenced by managers.

Finding Solutions Now

That’s why it’s imperative to provide those in charge, from first-time managers up to the C-suite, with leadership training, including opportunities to practice and adjust their immediate reactions and verbal responses. Fortunately, recent tech advances are making interactive learning sessions more realistic, effective and accessible. 

XR technology specialist Talespin, for instance, recently released “Leading Through Uncertainty,” a series of five VR learning modules, to help leaders better handle challenging workplace situations during times of crisis. The company’s CoPilot virtual human technology platform relies on simulated conversations with avatars to greatly accelerate learning time. Think about it: Reading or listening to suggestions for how to communicate with a distraught colleague becomes more effective when you can immediately put the interpersonal skills you’ve just learned to the test (and experience successful or disappointing outcomes as a result). And data supports the “practice makes perfect” theory: Immersive programs increase time to proficiency by up to 300%, according to Talespin CEO Kyle Jackson. 

“So, what we've got with VR is true immersion, we've got some level of gamification. We've got some level of a safe place to fail, which just in and of itself is a massive gain in learning,” says Jackson. 

And there’s never been a more urgent need for managers to become better leaders faster. Every interaction and decision matters in today’s post-COVID world, as businesses attempt to unite their employees and power through unforeseen emotional and financial stressors. 

“Again, let’s give managers a safe place to fail at this before it's in the line of great impact for the other person,” Jackson says. “We think that this is actually a really great use case and a really important time to put the strongest tools behind leaders and managers.”

To learn more about Talespin’s learning modules, visit talespin.company/leadingthroughuncertainty.