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Leading a team during lockdown

For Julia MacDonald, team leader at a leading food production company and an active member of her community, completing a course in Team Management and Motivation during the COVID-19 lockdown certainly demonstrated the strength of her own motivation! 

COVID-19 created a new set of challenges for Julia, who is a mother of two.  Previously, she had a structured routine in place that allowed her to carefully balance her work and home life.  

“It all went out the window when COVID hit. I was doing twelve-hour shifts. I usually lead a team of four, but this increased to ten because we had to get more product out and keep the supermarkets fully stocked.” 

On top of her long working days, Julia also had family responsibilities. As Julia’s husband was also an essential worker, her son stayed in a separate bubble with his grandmother. After work, Julia would help her son with his homework by standing outside the window at her mother’s house. 

Family life is important to Julia, and she recognised that making time to spend with her husband was crucial to her mental wellbeing throughout this time.  After a short power nap, Julia would begin work on her course after her husband arrived home at 10 pm. “I would study when he was sitting there with me. It was our quality time together.” 

Julia is working towards a New Zealand Certificate in Business. She was inspired to start this programme of study, her first further learning experience, after missing out on an advertised promotion at her work. She decided that getting her skills certified was the best next step.  

“I decided to get the paperwork to support the fact I know what I’m doing.” 

As she progressed through the course, though, Julia discovered that it was giving her more than paper proof of what she already knew. 

“I realised that there were a lot of things that I hadn’t factored into the daily running of my team,” says Julia. “Being able to use what I learnt on the course was mind-blowing for me and kept me motivated.” 

Of particular use to Julia was the analysis of different leadership styles. She realised that she had naturally adopted a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to leadership, telling her team to complete their work “just whenever you can get it done.”   

Julia decided that she needed to try a more structured approach, especially as she had to supply essential data to her own manager. She started giving much clearer targets, and her team responded well. “I think that before, they felt that they were just winging it. Once I was clear about what I needed from them, it gave them more structure.” 

The daily application of what she was learning on the course was a revelation  

for Julia. “If I hadn’t taken the course, I would still be stuck in the same rut with my team. I was motivated to keep going with the course because I could see improvements.” 

Management have noticed the improvements, and she has received complimentary emails and phone calls. 

Of course, studying hasn’t been without its challenges. Julia admits that there were times when she would get frustrated and just close the laptop. Asked what advice she would give to other online learners in this situation, Julia remarks, “Definitely reach out to your facilitators. That’s what they’re there for. If they don’t know you’re struggling, they can’t help you. They want to help you pass the course – that’s their goal.” 

Julia appreciates that her facilitator encouraged her to take time to gather her thoughts, and then helped her with course content and assessments, giving clear examples until it clicked.  

Another valuable piece of advice Julia gives is to talk about your work with other people. She has found herself discussing course content with managers at work, and even her best friend. Often, simply talking helped her to clarify her own thoughts. 

Having experienced meaningful success in her course so far, Julia’s motivation is as strong as ever. She knows exactly why she is working so hard to achieve her study goals. “I want to be the best person I can be. I don’t want to go backwards, and I don’t want to live pay check to pay check. All the friends I know that have the life I want worked hard to get where they are. They haven’t just been given it on a silver platter. I realised that I’m not going to get where I want if I’m stuck in a rut.” 

Julia recognises that the qualification will also give her greater job security. “If I was made redundant, I want to be able to fit into a similar role. I want to be recognised, and for my years of hard work to have mattered.” 

But most of all, it’s about moving forward. “I need to improve myself for my family, to get the lifestyle I want, and for my wellbeing.” 

“That’s what motivates me to look at management. I’m good at it and I’ll work hard to get better at it. That, and I like being bossy!” 

“That’s my goal. And my family is definitely my motivation to get there.” 

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