It is evident that we are living in unprecedented times and normality in almost every facet of our lives has been disrupted to a greater or lesser degree. For the UK – where I write this, it feels like we are just at the start of a long and difficult ‘black run’ (in skiing parlance) – very steep, scary, unclear what is round the bend, tough to get control with no way of going back. I have written before about ‘throwing your heart over the bar and the rest will follow’ – we are in a similar situation now, it is important to let go of the past and embrace a new normal. Naturally people resist and are frightened about the change and need a little help to ‘throw their heart’, that requires leadership, from within as well as externally.
Without stating the obvious and sounding trite, for the vast majority of us this is the biggest leadership challenge we will have faced and hopefully, will ever face. As Leaders with a capital ‘L’ – people are looking to you for answers because of your position or role. But also leaders with a little ‘l’ – in charge of our own lives, dealing with our own fears, creating our own clarity and making tough decisions as we play our part in the framework of society. There is so much written about leadership and so much already written offering guidance and insight at the these tough times that I thought I would try and offer a simple summary, an easy and accessible reminder about the things you should be focussing on to lead your teams and yourselves through these tough times. The focus is simple, the difficulty and complexity is in the execution, the follow through and in bringing these leadership practices to life. I’m not saying these 5 leadership practices are the ‘right’ answer, but they are a pretty fair synthesis of everything I have read, heard or experienced.
Setting Direction – this is as much about week to week as it is about longer-term visions and aspirations. Clarity and uncertainty are being delivered daily in equal measures by the powers that be and nobody knows where this will all end. So what certainty and clarity can you give your teams this week, what and how will you define success for this week, what intentions are you setting yourself and your teams?
Potential action: Here is a question to consider with your team “the announcement that Covid-19 is now over has just been made by the Government, what needs to have happened, how have you and your team been, what have you achieved together for you to feel like you have made progress and succeeded during this pandemic?”
Aligning and Motivating Others – everyone is different but in the first instance, having done the thinking above, how much time are you spending connecting with your teams on a 1×1 basis to support, to share and ensure they understand and believe that you are heading in the best direction.
Potential action: drive the habit of positive focus and get people to celebrate what they are proud of on a weekly basis.
Developing yourself and others – the way that we are being forced to work now is hugely unfamiliar for so many people, working remotely from home for extended periods is alien and requires us all to learn new skills and build new routines. Make sure that people are taking advantage and using the time available to be bigger and better versions of themselves by the time this is over and more importantly your team is even stronger than it was at the start.
Potential action: encourage skill sharing and top tips from each of you every week, force yourself and your team to grow and collaborate with that growth.
Challenging the status quo – I think that has been achieved quite effectively for us by Covid -19
Driving Change – it is easy to get wrapped up in the challenge, the diversions and navigating the changes. Ultimately, we will all be judged by how we responded and what we delivered, regardless of the changes to the way we think and have to operate. The ease of embedding change is heavily influenced by the levels of openness and trust that exists in a team, focus on fostering those traits strongly in your teams and hopefully change will follow. Remember people will only change if they ‘believe’ rather than simply ‘understand’ it is the right thing to do.
Potential action: focus on the ‘why’ first before you talk about the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.
I have always said that if you can’t lead yourself you haven’t a hope in leading others and I firmly believe that to be the case. So all the Leaders are also leaders first and foremost and the model applies equally well to us all, on a personal basis. We will be given information, support, guidance by the government and those around us, but when we look back, the only person responsible for how you emerge from the Covid -19 crisis is you!
Creating Personal Direction – at the very least, define what you want to have achieved by the end of the week and take a holistic approach in terms of the parameters. I would suggest physical, work, relationships, intellectual and emotional well being as a starter for 5 or a framework to populate.
Personal Motivation – be clear about your why and what is important and keep focussing on celebrating progress, the small wins and being grateful. Doesn’t matter how bad it gets, I guarantee that there are people a lot worse off than us at this moment in time.
Personal Development – you have probably been thrust out of your comfort zone to a lesser or greater degree as a consequence of the experience of the last week or so, that discomfort and uncertainty is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The good news – what feels uncomfortable now will feel better in a few weeks’ time because you will have grown and developed to deal with it, there is a tremendous opportunity for us all to learn and grow and those who adapt the quickest will prosper. How can you ‘consciously’ learn through this process, actively step back at regular intervals and ask yourself what have you learned, what has gone well, how do I need to be better? As Jim Rohn said – “don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better!”
Personal accountability – yes the government has a responsibility to look out for you, yes your employer has a responsibility, your family too – but ultimately, the only person responsible for the way you choose to respond is you! Only you can determine if this episode is a springboard or a sinkhole and the shape in which you end up.
Personal Change – the culmination of the other 4 elements in this instance, rise up and be the change that you, your family, your co-workers, your community and our society needs. The requirements of social distancing, the call for discipline and control in the face of panic, following the rules and putting up with hardship are all going to require us to act differently.
Unprecedented times call for new actions and new responses by definition – a society of leaders makes the job of the Leaders easier. If you are leading an organisation, a function, a team or a community – good luck in the challenging times ahead. For all of us, embracing the opportunity to lead ourselves through this crisis and come out the other side in better shape could be seen as an adventure that we shouldn’t turn our back on. I thought this quote from Helen Keller is worth considering “A bend in the road is not the end of the road….. unless you fail to make the turn.” Your choice whether YOU make the turn!
As always and even more pertinently I guess – onwards and upwards! Stay safe and well.