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Learnings from the frontline

21st April 2020

Most of us have valued those on the frontline in our society for as long as we can remember, but never more than we do right now. And we’re showing our appreciation loudly and proudly for the people making things happen to keep our country safe and moving forwards during this difficult time.

Quite right too. But our own attitudes and expectations will be different because of the current frontline battles and behaviours – and this applies beyond the here and now. There are some fundamental truths for business leaders to learn in terms of the roles they play and how they motivate others to play theirs. This is especially true for agencies where people are the heart of the business. It’s about attitude and it’s about action.

So, if you’re running a business that you care about and you’ve put a great deal of effort into having the best team around you, you’ll have your own frontline team to inspire and mobilise. Yes, your first priority as a leader may be to keep calm, act rationally and have a plan. This is expected of you. But you will never succeed in the future unless you respect and utilise the skills, efforts and knowledge of those who are delivering the now and next of what gets done.

So, let’s look at what can be adopted from society’s frontline experience and how this will serve you well in the future.

UNDERSTAND LEADERSHIP
Good leadership isn’t exclusively the purview of those with fancy titles. There are informal leaders in every agency who make a difference on a daily basis. Lessons from the frontline tell us that many do so without being asked – but too often go unnoticed. They are present, in touch and dig to solve the complex problems in the way of survival, or success. They are relatable, resourceful and optimistic. And if you haven’t already, recognising the power of these people is your secret weapon.

LOOK AT YOUR OWN FRONTLINE
Look at your own people. Who has stepped up and stepped forward in the current environment? Recognise them but also consider what their new, or more apparent, strengths might mean in a post-Covid era. Start with what your business will need, map that to the skills and strengths of these individuals and give them the support they will need to potentially realign their roles and progress.

MEASURE THE TEMPERATURE
Having an accurate and regular measure of how people feel about what’s ahead, is critical. The heroes on your own frontline are likely to be very well networked and well placed to get a read on sentiment as well as playing back what’s working and not working. They are also a trusted source better able to get messages to the majority of agency and client teams and credibly reinforce them.

STAY CLOSE AND HONEST
One thing we can learn from the here and now is that facts matter and empty promises do not – even if made with the best of hopeful intentions. Don’t let a desire to lead allow you to mislead others to the point where you lose goodwill and momentum. Share what you don’t know alongside what you do – especially on matters of job security and future investment. And take the messages directly to your frontline, don’t rely on antiquated cascade systems. It’s all about stability.

FREEDOM TO ACT
Few businesses will be able to crack on as usual, so leverage the eyes and ears you have to get a closer read on emerging client needs – importantly what will best serve them in the future. Creating a culture that empowers people to improve whilst always delivering is what being frontline is all about.  So feed the appetite to innovate and give your people the freedom to make things happen.

POWER UP PURPOSE
The word ‘purpose’ has had a good wash over the last few years and to the point where even the believers doubt its metal. But dressed up words aside, it’s when we’re being tested that who we really are shows up. The trick is not to lose sight of it when the current test is over – because it never will be. Let what you really believe in lead the way and shape your priorities as you move from defence to offense.

So, if you aren’t already, it’s time to get on the front foot. This isn’t about a ‘new normal’ – whatever that really means. It’s about remembering who will really win your battles every day and harnessing these heroes so you can be at your best well into the future.

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