Episode 27: Leadership During the Coronavirus Pandemic with Leadership Development Expert, Abduhlrahman Edrees

Leadership During Coronavirus

In this episode, Jenn DeWall talks about leadership during coronavirus with Crestcom leadership trainer and facilitator, Abdulrahman Edrees.  He received his degree from ASPU in Jordan. He began his training and facilitation journey at IKEA Saudi Arabia in 2008, where he was one of the key employees in their HR department. He left IKEA to lead the training department at several local companies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or KSA, including Magrabi Retail, where he led the training and development for all KSA and Bahrain. Today Abdulrahman leverages his expertise in training and development to develop leaders in a variety of subject areas from problem-solving and communication to business ethics and much more. On the show, Abdulrahman will be sharing his experience in helping leaders navigate this new normal as a result of our global pandemic.

Jenn DeWall:              Hi, everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and I am so excited to be joined by Abdulrahman, all the way from KSA, Saudi Arabia. Thank you so much for joining us on the show today. For those that may not have met you before, can you just tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Leadership is a Mission

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Thank you, Jenn, and thank you for all the audience. Hopefully, everybody is safe at home and in good health. Well, I’m born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I’ve been working with Crestcom for now – this is my fourth year going on. In the leadership and training field- it’s for me, it’s at 12 years of success, and I’m going to say 12 years of the mission. Life mission. So I’m living in Jeddah, nowadays.

Jenn DeWall:              When you say life mission, you’ve been in the leadership development space for 12 years, what about leadership inspires you or, said differently- Why is that your mission?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay, good question. The minute I got the certificate as a Train the Trainer and I become a professional trainer and a facilitator, I took an oath to with myself that this is not the job. It is the starting of the mission, my mission to help people and managers to become future leaders. So it became a mission more than a job for me.

Jenn DeWall:              Why is that an important one to make people leaders? Like why is that important to you? Because sometimes people have a tendency not to think that leadership is maybe that important. But why is that important to you?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        We always want a better life, a better world. That’s why I’m trying to help to have a better life for each one of us.

Leadership Challenges During Coronavirus

Jenn DeWall:              Oh, I love that so much because it is, leadership is a way that we can design a more meaningful life and even a more meaningful life for the people that we lead or manage that we can have a big impact on them. So what kind of challenges are you seeing for our listeners that may not have visibility into KSA? What type of challenges are you seeing leaders face as a result of COVID-19?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        So, one of the things that we’re seeing, especially let me talk about business- in a business way. What we’re seeing that a lot of organizations are rejecting or failing to keep developing their people. I think it’s the opposite. We need to be stronger in developing our people. We need to be facing and continuing to develop them. So this is one of the big challenges. Another one, what I’m seeing is other organizations, and maybe countries were stepping away from being more innovative. So we just, we’ve got this Coronavirus that came out, and people like paused or stopped.

They didn’t want to adapt to the change. They didn’t want to take that view that, okay, what’s the next? How can I change the business? How can I shift the business and keep going on and on and on? So I, this is what I’m seeing. Another thing, the other challenge is that I’m seeing is managers and leaders are mostly afraid to let go of being micro-managers and instead of being the coach for their people. So this is what I’m seeing. This is from my point of view, what I see now

Jenn DeWall:              And I think those are really great observations. You know, especially coming down to innovation, that when a crisis arises, we become more reactive instead of proactive in how we look at our business. And so that’s a really interesting observation about how organizations are forgetting that innovation is a valuable part of how they can respond, how they can change their business to make sure that it’s operating three months, six months, nine months from now. Innovation is a big piece of that. I don’t know if you have anything you wanted to add.  But also just thinking about, I think it’s important to acknowledge that one of the first things that we sometimes forget is the importance of developing ourselves, developing our leaders. Why do you think that that matters now given the environment that we’re in?

Having the Right Leadership Mindset

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Well, let me say it in a different way, maybe. What we’re missing is having the right mindsets, having the right mindset, and taking in, developing our people. If we have the right mindset in developing our people, it will be a benefit. It’s a plus for us, and it will affect everything. So if we have the right mindset of developing our people, we’ll have more innovations. If we have the right mindset of developing, our people will adapt to the change that we’re facing. If we have the right mindset of developing our people, we would have a better life again. So I think it’s a link going back to the mindset and developing those people. And before we develop the people, we need to be prepared ourselves with the right leadership mindset.

Jenn DeWall:              Oh, I love that. So one of the solutions that you’re offering right now as a result of the COVID or Coronavirus pandemic is as a leader, if you want to create success, if you want to maintain innovation, the first place that you have to start is with your own mindset. What happens if you don’t start with your mindset?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        You’re going to lose everything. If you don’t have the right mindset, the right leader’s mindset, you will lose everything. We can see it globally. In each country, in each part of history in this world. The right leaders with the right mindset, you will find success going on in that country. That’s what’s happening. And that I think this is the main thing. So we really need to have the right mindset of leaders to adapt to the change that we are we’re in. I’m going to give you just a short example of me personally. So when Coronavirus started we get all of us, we went home, we started working at home. So what happened with me, if I didn’t have the right mindset in a positive way, I don’t think I would be here now. Or doing this interview with you. Why? Because I’ll be like running out, or I’ll get Coronavirus. I might get Coronavirus, but I had the right mindset of adapting to the change, understanding what needs to be done that will keep me in a positive mood and how that affects my family too. So again, it’s the whole, for me, what I see is having the right mindset

The To-Do List and the STOP List

Jenn DeWall:              Mindset. And it sounds like there is a little bit of– with your mindset. It’s about focusing on what you can control.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yes.

Jenn DeWall:              What are some of the things that we can control right now? Right? I know that people can feel maybe that they don’t have a lot of control because their job or their organization may have shifted, and their lifestyle has shifted. But what are some of the things that we can control right now?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Time is number one. You can control your time. So one of the things that I have done, it is arranging my daytime. So I have time to work. So this is working time. I have time to exercise, and I have time to eat, I have time to entertain myself, my family. So dividing your day with time, the to-do list, you need to have your own to-do list. And then in a part of it, having the stop list, this is one of the things that we talked about it in one of our topics in the leadership training. You need to have your stop list.

Jenn DeWall:              A Stop List? What is the stop list for people that don’t know what that is?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay. We’re doing a lot of activities on a daily basis. Okay. So some of those activities, we don’t get any outcomes from it. So it’s, you’re doing it, but you do not see the benefit. So those activities, you need to shift them to the stop list like you have a to-do list. So those are the activities that I need to stop doing it the next day. That is not showing any benefit or outcomes to me personally and maybe to my organization. And perhaps now it’s a family, your family at home. So this is the stop list looking at the activities that you’re doing on a daily basis that you’re not getting any benefit out of it.

Jenn DeWall:              So essentially for me, I guess from a personal note, I think if I’m thinking about things to stop, part of it is watching the news, but the other part of it is social media because I find that it’s really easy to invest a lot of time in social media, but I don’t necessarily get a return on that investment.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        I think one of the number one stop lists globally is to stop walking to the kitchen! Stop going to the kitchen and opening the fridge. So this is, I think this is number one globally because we’re all at home, so our activity is going to the fridge, eating some food and going back. So we need to stop doing that.

Jenn DeWall:              Oh my gosh, that I, yes, there have been people that talk about it as the quarantine 19. Saying that they put on so much weight because we are working from home. But I think that’s important to your point about the stop lists, but also how you look at your time. Even though things are accessible, schedule a time when you are going to go into your kitchen and eat. Don’t make it something that you just do when you’re bored or maybe when you’re stressed, which is, you know, something that we like to do when we want to avoid that problem that we may be having. But schedule time that you will do that instead of mindless about that. You know you had talked, I love that you know, the to stop list and the to-do list and to focus on where we are getting the most benefit to maybe our own professional goals or personal goals. You had talked about listening as being one of the things that are also really important right now in terms of how leaders can show up and support their teams. What did you mean by that?

The Best Leaders are Good Listeners

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay. Listening. Let me say, before talking about listening. I think one of the things that leaders that they need to do that will take us to the listening. They need to start being or wearing the hat of a coach. Leadership during coronavirus means this is the time of being the coach more than being a leader. Okay. We took the manager to become leaders on a normal basis. Now with the Coronavirus going on, this is the time for leaders to become coaches. So one of the things you need to do to become a coach is listening. It’s not only just listening to your employees and their ideas and what is going on, but listening and engaging with them. This is one of the things, and one of the questions that I heard a lot from people, especially during our sessions that we’re doing online. They’re asking how you can keep those people engaged? How can you keep them more motivating? This is the coaching part is you listen. You ask them questions and listen to the response. This is how you keep them motivated. This is how you keep them managing your people online or virtually. So that’s why listening, I think it’s a number one needed tool for us as leaders, especially in virtual.

Jenn DeWall:              And you know, in what ways, I guess what I think about listening, it’s, you know, right now and why that’s important is we don’t have visibility to everything that everyone is doing. We also have just unique circumstances where people might have more challenges or be struggling in a different way. And as listening, you can just hear them as a person. What are your thoughts on that? What specifically do you see in terms of the benefits of listening? What are you seeing maybe leaders do, and how is that impacting the way that they lead during coronavirus?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay. I’m going to take it from a manager because most managers don’t listen. So I think this is the right moment for them to practice listening. For leaders, it’s good; it helps them now to develop their coaching skills. Because, as a leader, you need to have that coaching skill or the habit of being a coach. So one of the keys is listening. So we need to listen more than talking more. And again, it makes the person in front of you more engaged. It’s just listening.

Leadership During Coronavirus means Building Relationships

Jenn DeWall:              Yeah. And it’s, I mean, I know one of the challenges that leaders face right now is building trust because we don’t have the same face to face interaction and it might not feel as personal. But it sounds like if we just really focus on listening and practicing curiosity, putting on that coach hat, it can help us still maintain some of those relationships and also build some of the relationships in a way that people might feel they can’t do because they’re not face to face with them.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yes. Because again, coaching, part of it- most of it- is building a relationship with the employee or the person on the other side. Because again, you’re not seeing them as you said, you don’t see them. And if you see them, you don’t know what’s going on behind the screen. So as an example, if you’re in a meeting virtually, you don’t know if that person is really with you, engaged or not. So again, building a relationship as you said, and keeping it moving, the number one skill now is listening.

A Message from Crestcom: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and I just wanted to drop in with a quick note. Do your managers know how to build an effective team? Can they create an environment where teamwork is encouraged while setting appropriate benchmarks and delivering projects on time? Are they able to align expectations, so their team works effectively toward common goals? You hired the right team. Now let us help you develop them. Crestcom offers a robust leadership development program that focuses on results each month. Participants learn and apply key leadership skills and tools that will unite teams and drive organizational growth. We are serious about accountability. After each class, we help participants apply those leadership skills in group coaching sessions. Are you ready to take your leadership development to the next level? Contact us at Crestcom.com so we can help you develop your leaders. And now, back to our podcast.

Jenn DeWall:              Listening. That’s the number one skill right now. Hearing what’s not being said, hearing what is being said, even in terms of listening to, you know, knowing that we’re in a remote environment, that we actually really need to do a lot more communication to make sure people understand. Maybe how goals have changed, how processes have changed, and to make sure that they understand those adjustments. And I feel like listening is the one tool that’s going to ensure your business can still operate because you’re making sure that people understand how their roles have changed.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        And can I add one last thing to that?

Jenn DeWall:              Yeah.

Be Aware of Different Cultures

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Think about understanding the different cultures. Maybe I’m talking about here in Saudi Arabia because we have a different culture in every business. So when you’re face-to-face, you can still get the full communication, but when you’re just only listening, and you don’t know the other side of the other person’s culture and his background, it will be harder to understand them. But if I listen to him and I understand his culture, then I know when he raised his voice, it’s normal. When he lowered his voice, it’s normal. It depends on his culture and depends on how he has been raised. So I think one of the things to add to the listening is understanding the other person’s culture. It would help more in communicating with people.

Jenn DeWall:              Ah, that’s such a great addition. Really focusing on our ability to have empathy or to take the time to respect and see someone for who they are instead of maybe how we think someone should be or how we were raised. Respecting that there is value In diversity.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yes, you’re right.

Jenn DeWall:              I think that’s such a great point to add. One of the things that we were also talking about before we actually recorded was the challenge that leaders have in motivating their employees right now. Because they don’t have the same accessibility to them. What are things that you would recommend that leaders could do to still motivate their employees?

Create Water-Cooler Moments, Even When Working From Home

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        I say, I’ll give you a short word for it- the water cooler moments.

Jenn DeWall:              What does that mean? What does a water cooler mean?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay. Is having, you know, in our normal lives we have those times where each company has a water cooler, and you find employees standing there chatting taking off the pressure by interacting with others. So we need to create that moment even virtually, we need to do that.

Jenn DeWall:              Creating the opportunity for them to connect. What, why is that so important? Why does, why do we need to focus on, you know, that water cooler moment?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Well, we need to have it because it’s part of the listening. It goes back to the listening part. It goes back to understanding each other. So again, it links to you’re employee listening to them and building that relationship. So one of the things that we did is creating the cooler moment is yes. So what we did, I’m sorry- I’m trying to get you to the example that we’re doing. It might help others because it helped us a lot. So one of the things that we did in our organization is each one hour to two hours, we played that water cooler moment. We stopped talking about work and started listening to each other, asking how they feel. What kind of challenges they’re facing personally and professionally and giving each other some recommended things. So this is the water cooler moment.

Jenn DeWall:              I thought that’s such an important, you know, it’s so important. I love that you talked about how, when you create this water cooler moment that it’s not, you know, just to be used to talk about work. It’s to be used to connect at a very human or maybe a little bit more of a personal level than what they would typically do. Asking about their emotions and asking about their challenges. You know, I think that’s one of the first things that we might forget is that we are all going through a shared challenge. That is something no one has seen before. And so there are going to be emotions about that, and it’s important to be able to talk about that. When would you recommend that people create these water cooler moments? When do you think they should do it? Or what could that look like?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Okay. When silence starts, so if you’re doing a meeting or you’re having everybody on virtual, online, when you see that there is silence. Nobody’s talking, and nobody’s sharing. This is the right moment to create a water-cooler moment. Okay. As a leader, you start it and let them go with you

Ask More Questions

Jenn DeWall:              What kind of questions could you ask to create that moment?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        What have you done yesterday? What kind of movie did you watch, what kind of dinner you had, what you did yesterday? What have you learned? So there’s a lot of questions you can ask a person.

Jenn DeWall:              Yes. But I think people honestly, especially if they’re not maybe as outgoing as you and I- because you and I are both pretty outgoing people- but for those that maybe aren’t, you know, comfortable, those questions I think can help them. So yes, just being simple. What did you do yesterday? What have you been enjoying watching on TV? What have you learned? One of the questions I like is, you know, to add on, what have you learned is, what is one thing that you’ve learned that’s going to stick with you after the pandemic is over and we go back to business as usual. What, you know, do you have something that you’ve already taken away?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        You can say what is the first place you’re going to visit after the Coronavirus leaves?

Jenn DeWall:              Where’s the, where’s that going to be for you?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yeah. Oh, for me, I’m going to visit my mother and father. I didn’t see them for a long time. So, and my animals. So those are the two places that I’m going to visit.

Jenn DeWall:              Yes. And what do you think you learned about yourself as a result of being or having to adjust to a completely different way of doing business? What is one of the things that you learned personally that you want to continue to focus on?

Leadership During Coronavirus is About Serving Other People

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Personally, it is to keep serving people. I think that now, now, this is the time to serve people more than anytime else. And again, I might be crazy. Let’s say this, but I’m going to say it. Okay. I’m glad to have Coronavirus, to be honest. I’m glad to have to see Coronavirus coming up because it shows us the truth about a lot of things. It shows us how we need to be grateful in our lives. It showed us who are the true leaders and who are not, who are just pretending they’re leaders. Now during a crisis, you can see the right leaders and who is pretending. Being positive is one of the things that makes your life happier. So yeah, this is it.

Jenn DeWall:              I think that’s a great perspective that obviously there is a lot of maybe undesirable things obviously about Coronavirus, but you point out the opportunity within it, which is to maybe slow down. Or to, you know, that right now with Coronavirus we’re seeing that shift where people are focusing on those values that are very, very important to them. I, you know, I love that perspective because I think a lot of people are focusing on the negative consequences of Coronavirus, but there’s a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from it. That we can connect in a different way, that we can work in a different way. That we maybe need to see leadership in a different way that you can’t hide behind the business anymore. You have to be open as a leader, and people are going to be able to see whether you’re a good leader or maybe not as effective.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yeah. And again, understanding your own personal truth in you, this is the time. I always told my wife during this time. I always tell her when you feel that you’re down, imagine the glass in front of you- half of it is full, and half of it is empty. The way you look at it, is it empty? Or is it full? This is how you look at the crisis that we are in.

Jenn DeWall:              So yeah, glass half full glass, half empty. I mean, it’s right you about this. One of the benefits, this is a unique opportunity to focus on gratitude. What are the things in our life, professionally or personally, that are important to us that we are just happy to have? And to be able to think about how we can maybe show gratitude or at least place greater importance. I know you’ve talked about n the beginning, just time. It is making time for the things that are important to us.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Yes. Time. I think we’re repeating ourselves. It’s time, coaching, listening. I, if I want to pack it up, it is keeping yourself motivated and in positive emotion. This is it. This is, this is the right way of leading yourself and leading others.

What is Your Leadership Habit for Success?

Jenn DeWall:              You have to walk the walk. You’ve got to do it first before other people can follow you. Yes. So we close every single podcast with the same question. And so I want to ask you, what is your leadership habit for success? Or said in another way, what habit do you have to create happiness for yourself or success for yourself?

Jenn DeWall:              When I see that people are enjoying the change in themselves and see the truth, that makes me proud that our happy to become a leader or to help them. Maybe, maybe I can say it in a different way. When I start helping to become better, this is the success for me. And what I see when they come to me and tell me, thank you, Abdulrahman, you have changed a lot in my life. This is success. I feel honored at that time.

Jenn DeWall:              So focusing on the development of others. Yes. I love that. We are making them as we know from one of our courses, making people greater than yourself.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Making them happier, making them happier. This is, this is it.

Jenn DeWall:              Yeah. I think that’s a great point to end on. What can we do today to help make other people happier or make their lives easier? What can we do as leaders to make a greater impact?

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Listen to them, listen to them,

Jenn DeWall:              Listen, hear them, provide support! Allow them to be, you know, humans with emotions. You’ve shared a lot of great tips on the podcast today, and I just want to thank you so much, Abdulrahman. I keep, you know, I’m going to work on that. I know I can say it differently.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        You can call, call me Edrees. It’s easier for you.

Jenn DeWall:              Thank you so much, Edrees, for offering your insight, for taking your time and also just for giving tips on what we can do to be better leaders during this challenging time. It was really great to connect with you.

Abdulrahman Edrees:                        Thank you so much, Dan. Thank you for the audience for listening to us, and hopefully, everybody is in good health, living a lovely life.

Jenn DeWall:              Thank you so much for tuning into today’s episode of the leadership habit podcast. If you liked today’s episode, don’t forget to share it with your friends and leave us a review. If you want to connect with Abdulrahman Edrees, head to our show notes there. You can find the link to connect with him on LinkedIn, and you can also find his phone number, which he has provided in case you should have something that he could help you with as a leader. Until next time.