For the past few weeks, conversations with my clients, peers and friends in leadership have been ongoing: some in a coaching capacity, many seeking HR advice, and others simply for interpersonal reflection and mutual support.
Normally each call would be unique to the person or business, but beyond business continuity and shifting operating models, I now find myself having one universal conversation as we all face similar leadership challenges: how do I stay visible? How do I stay influential? How do I continue to add value? Endless questions that leaders are asking of themselves.
What I’ve seen through these conversations are a handful of common themes and principles. They’re not ground-breaking new theories, but the re-imagination and reinforcement of time-tested values and principles that are just as important right now as they always have been.
There is comfort in seeing the consensus of natural leaders turning to trusted, simple reminders on a daily basis, to lead their teams and organisations through what is likely the most challenging and uncertain time of our professional lives.
Perhaps this can’t be done perfectly but we can do our best.
Now that we are settling into our new normal, I want to share five leadership principles that will help you remain visible, influential and add value to your team.
1. Relationships will always be our most valuable currency.
Relationships are the key success factor in our ability to both lead and influence well. Therefore, it makes sense that empathy and emotional intelligence are essential to setting ourselves up for success today and well into the future.
If you already have great relationships, kudos. Perhaps you will explore how to leverage these for the genuine advancement of all. You might partner with your leadership peers to influence key decisions, tap into your connections to bring in new solutions or benefits for employees, or explicitly show trust and appreciation of your staff and their ability to step up and deliver when times are challenging. We all want to do good right now. We all want to be part of a win. So, create a common agenda and empower people to achieve it together.
If your relationship portfolio could do with a boost, then start building. Our collective need still remains the same: we seek connection, trust and purpose. As a leader, you are in a position to deliver these things on a large scale so reach out and connect with people, strike up an insightful dialogue with your peers, ask questions, ask how you can help, make suggestions, get to know the members of your team and their stories. Nothing great happens in a bubble.
Take a good look at all your relationships. This includes your peers, team, and customers. Solid relationships take time to build. If you continue to lead with your moral compass, regularly reference your values, and stay consistent in your efforts to engage with people, not only will this support your current goals, but it will also flow into your personal brand and the reputation of your organisation.
2. Under-communication is more damaging than over-communication
Communication is one of the most commonly reported areas of dissatisfaction when it comes to an organisation’s leadership and engagement dynamic, especially in turbulent times. However, the one agreed sentiment that has emerged recently is that under-communication is far more damaging than over-communication.
People want to know the truth and although it’s natural to want to avoid panic, sharing information reduces emotional distress and fear, it provides clear direction, it allows you to demonstrate empathy and inclusion but most of all it inspires confidence. In the absence of truth and guidance, we rely upon rumours and speculation, inclined to believe gossip that can be more distressing than reality, creating further damage and disengagement.
For this reason, leaders are focusing on providing quality communication of strategic, operational and tactical information to be shared within a robust delivery matrix. As a leader you will be lending your voice to these messages and you have the power to ensure your message is confident, credible and transparent.
3. Solve immediate problems while setting the foundation for recovery
You’re a leader. You’ve been working through a crisis. You’ve been involved in some way in the future planning of your team and organisation. Now as less crisis management takes up your time, you’ve hopefully been able to self-reflect… now what?
There will inevitably be problems to solve. We don’t know how long this will go for. So, how do we inspire for the future?
We start preparing.
This is the perfect opportunity to re-imagine what the return to “normalcy” looks like. Do we want to go back to the way things were? Or, do we want to move into a better future? Leaders are now opening up discussions with their people, empowering them to share and create the new future, while putting together teams to start preparing for the transition back to a safe and fully functioning workforce.
Not only do these efforts allow us to be better prepared but also have an immediate shift in perspective for your entire organisation. Possibilities, solutions and purpose in our work are powerful drivers of engagement through uncertainty.
As a leader it is important this work is done as a collective effort. One person cannot be solely responsible to save the rest, you as leaders do not need to go it alone. Through encouraging collaboration, blue-sky thinking, and rewarding those who are actively rolling their sleeves up, and those committed to the future of the organisation, it allows more people to grow, bond and re-engage.
Every crisis has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each step you take together now will define your future.
4. Stay visible and accessible to your team and organisation
Leaders are traditionally front and centre in most organisations. You provide the big picture, direction, share information, engage and motivate people to contribute and hold your team accountable. You provide purpose.
Your presence has a symbolic effect, but you’re also human and very likely physically removed from your people (if you’re not in an essential service industry).
No doubt there has been an avalanche of formal communication to share and provide direction to your organisation. So, how do we move between the authoritative and managerial personas, which serves a purpose, to one of being human, which serves a greater purpose?
Your people will want to hear from you in your own authentic, personal and honest voice. What they want to know is that you’re available, accessible and flexible. This voice in itself creates an air of visibility. It’s important to let people know how best they can reach you with questions. To create a space for informal interaction and connection. To demonstrate that you’re aware of their achievements and challenges and will provide the encouragement and confidence we’re all looking for right now.
5. Small gestures make a powerful difference
Finally, there has been such an incredible amount of heart-warming stories circulating that deserve a mention for their sheer impact alone. Small gestures. These real stories travel further than a leader’s ability to communicate effectively, or develop solutions, or deliver on x, y and z. It’s these stories about small gestures that I’ve heard from many friends, family and colleagues, which show support, a generous nature and the human spirit.
I’m talking about leaders who are helping with hands-on relocations, dropping off supplies to their employees who are caring for their children or the elderly, rolling their sleeves up to help recruit and induct junior staff, calling on staff to check-in, finding creative ways to say thank you and making emotional and mental health a priority discussion.
Leaders going beyond their professional capacity to lend a hand, to pass on kindness, to pick each other up. Social distancing hasn’t meant the loss of personal connection, in fact, it’s having the opposite effect. Our small gestures have a much greater impact than we each realise on the lives of others.
This one applies to all of us.