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Employee wellbeing Hybrid working Purpose Strategy

You Have Never Been More Important

In times of crisis, the foundation of leadership and trust is the three Cs: competence, caring and character. It is vital leaders communicate with and support their people. Never has strong leadership been more important.

01 October 2020 • 4 min read

Photograph: Ian Parker/Unsplash

For the last decade, I have investigated what we can learn from the most stressful situations. This came after I had suffered a great loss, both financially and emotionally. I got caught out by the crash of 2008, losing $1m and experiencing an 18 month depression. This painful experience demonstrated that conventional performance ideas fail in crises.

So I began studying the toughest situations – where lives are genuinely at stake – such as in the military, being a first responder and in the airline industry. I then translated these insights into ideas and principles for business. Below are some things to consider as you lead yourself and your people through this challenging time.

Assess and embrace the tough reality

We must prepare for the long haul. We all want this to be over, but sadly this period of intense challenge is only just getting going. We have the turmoil of Brexit, the worst recession in living memory and the continuing COVID challenges to tackle. It’s going to be a long winter. Seeing and accepting the tough reality is essential for us to lead effectively. Reassuringly, we are built for struggle and conflict so we can and will get through this.

To move from surviving to thriving, focus on relationships and engagement.  The pandemic has changed what our clients value, how we deliver that value and the values of our people.

Focus on surviving in a way that promotes thriving: take stock, and replenish resources – both personal and organisational. Take a breath to help you regain and sharpen your focus.

Build relationships to improve value (and values). To move from surviving to thriving, focus on relationships and engagement. The pandemic has changed what our clients value, how we deliver that value and the values of our people. These changes can increase the friction (cost) of some actions, and reduce them for new ones. See what’s changed and use these revised values to focus on delivering value.

Improve your leadership with the three Cs

The foundation of leadership and trust is, I believe, competence, caring and character.

To keep your network strong, build trust through better leadership. US battlefield research shows that followers look for competence, caring, and character. Think about what answers your people will have seen in your behaviour over the last 6 months:

Are you good at your job? Do you care about them as people? Can they trust you to do what’s right for everyone?

If your people had any doubts about your answers to these questions, they’re not in any doubt now. This year, you may have had to move faster than you wanted, without explaining why. When fear is high, people assume the worst. Go back and clear up any misunderstandings.

A stronger sense of purpose – that what you are doing matters – is essential to get you through the darkest nights. Much of this is simply helping people see beyond the immediate crisis.

Connect with meaning. It’s our job as leaders to help our people see that all the struggle we’ve had is worth it, and that they are doing the right thing sticking with us. We do this best when we reaffirm our own commitment to our roles and to the mission we took on. A stronger sense of purpose – that what you are doing matters – is essential to get you through the darkest nights. Much of this is simply helping people see beyond the immediate crisis.

Give people a clear vision on how we will win in the next 12 months. Stress is hard when we can’t seem to make progress. Given all the government rules, a feeling of progress has been in short supply. Communicate how you visualise being successful as a business to staff. If you don’t know, then engage your people with the question and your best ideas so far positively and openly.

Test the most promising ideas. This means instead of attempting to find one best answer, test and engage with your network to answer today’s questions faster than your competition.

Ensure we all get through this

Help the helpers first – those who have been doing most to help others in this crisis. Focus first on their health and recovery, such as by getting health tests and individual health plans if you have the resources. Then, have the strengthened helpers cascade this health and recovery focus throughout the organisation.

Be sure your people feel supported by listening to what they need and then giving it to them (or if you can’t, explain why).

Also of paramount importance is re-establishing the boundaries between work and home. Most of us didn’t plan for ‘work-from-home-as-standard’ but we can use it as an opportunity to create a much more humane workplace. As one of my clients said, it can feel like “I’m living in my office, rather than working in my house.”

Reconnect in person, if possible. Meet in person as a group (conforming to the laws of your geography). If not, meet as many team members as possible individually, and encourage them to do the same with their people. The personal reconnection will come in useful over the winter.

Remember, support is a feeling. It is crucial your people feel supported so listen to what they need and then give it to them (or if you can’t, explain why). Target your support, so that it can be amplified by others in the organisation.

Help people to ignore things. In dangerous situations, the pivotal decisions focus on what it’s safe to ignore. It’s your job as a leader to help people do this confidently. Encourage open information sharing. One leader I worked with in a strategic consultancy used to tell her people “I trust (and pay) you to solve problems… But, if things keep you awake, talk to me.” Usually, she passed it back, but occasionally she was able to anticipate issues that threatened the whole project.

Your impact is now magnified, so see this crisis as an amazing opportunity to make a difference.

Finally, remember this last point: You have never been more important.

This crisis has clearly shown that leaders matter.  You matter.  This year, we have all witnessed clear examples of the incredible difference that leadership – both good and bad – makes in our lives.  Embrace the challenge and opportunity that goes with this.  Your impact is now magnified, so see this crisis as an amazing opportunity to make a difference.  Live the three Cs, and  you and your organisation will thrive in 2021 and beyond.

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