Lockdown, furlough and social distancing have changed the game for business leaders. Steve Jefferys, Client Service Director at Armadillo, shares four principles to navigate the next phase.
A few months ago, we were forced to abide by an equal norm: confined to our homes, allowed outside once per day and in forced isolation away from our social rhythms. We didn’t revel in it, but we knew where we stood and why.
Fast forward some weeks and we’re now in receipt of ambiguous official advice, losing our clarity in the process. It’s that clarity we could do with more than ever as we transition back to some form of normality. Lockdown Britain was a short-term hardship, but it sharpened our focus. It was a leveller in a time of so much bad news.
Commercially, it’s the same story. Businesses welcome some colleagues back from furlough, while others remain absent. Equally, some companies will be looking to restructure their operation.
The shifting sands have removed our leveller, with our leaders tested beyond their comfort zones to ensure their organisations don’t slip their bindings. Some leaders are made here; others will shrink in the headlights of uncertainty.
But regardless of the direction we take, one thing sits quietly beyond all else: the need for a refined version of leadership that stands the test of time. Clarified in uncertainty, yet practised unilaterally, here are four areas we may see ourselves turning to more than ever.
1. Leading the person, not just the employee
Leading is appealing to and moving in equal parts the rational and emotional sides of people. Successful leaders consider peoples’ wellbeing, motivations and needs and evaluate those against rational tasks and requests to influence them effectively. It’s a difficult balance to strike – I’ve certainly not always got this right – but it’s more important now than ever. We need to inspire people as people and hold them to account in an honest, supportive way with the whole package considered.
2. Communicating regularly, honestly, clearly and consistently
To lead effectively, you don’t do one of these, you do all of these. You don’t shun it; you prioritise it. You don’t hide from it, you embrace it and front it. In fluid situations like those we’ve experienced, people don’t expect rapid, right-first-time answers.
They do expect honesty, updates and clarity. And they expect to be treated as a grown up. In fact, regardless of circumstance, this should be the very basis of effective, minimum viable leadership. Our brains are wired to thrive with routine, and the routine and consistency of update and honesty binds more strongly than the uniformity of the message being conveyed. Respect will follow.
3. Showing humility: involving people and folding their contributions into something far bigger
Leaders make big requests and have big goals, but these goals and requests are only as good as the belief and investment people have in them. Leading is not shouldering everything and playing the hero. The most important lesson I’ve learnt is that success is in the fusion, blend and synthesis of many minds and inputs rather than an autocratic and rash statement of a solution without consultation.
Let people know where you want to get to. Then, invite debate as to why and seek agreement as to what needs consideration. After this, empower those with the most suitable skills and time to work towards this.
Often, this might mean the leader taking a step back as there are others better equipped. And that’s fine, especially if it makes the solution and achievement of the goal more effective. So even if total consensus isn’t possible, you can move people as one if you get them on the bus first.
4. Setting the tempo and then regulating the energies
People often say great leaders light up a room, but they’re not necessarily the biggest personalities with the loudest voices. Leaders do need to ensure their vision and tone are credible and energising – now more than ever – and something that people can invest and believe in. Equally important, however, is to ensure that the energy and commitment from others never waivers even if the ship changes course and especially when the waters get choppy.
The secret will be in ensuring there is enough latent belief from the outset that can be re-framed and re-directed without ever ensuring the wider vision is knocked off course. This will need every ounce of leadership muscle – influencing hearts and minds in equal measure – to be effective and long-lasting.
None of these areas are new or original to the last few weeks and months. They are, however, a refraction and distillation of those core leadership components that make up decent, human leadership for any time, not just hard times. It just so happens it’s taken a crisis for the mists to clear and expose them more clearly.
Article orignally published in Minutehack