Jul 15, 2020

Isn't it time to call a truce with leadership?

Enough.  Enough of these unimaginable COVID challenges.  Enough of something the majority of us had never heard of before this year. 

Enough of the polarisation between those who had a blissful lockdown and those for whom it was the bleakest of times and continues to be.

Enough of sensational headlines of remote working for ever, CFO’s slashing premises budgets causing half of the office population to despair and the other half delight.

More than enough, of business and indeed government for that matter, not being held to account on some truly desperate thinking, behaviours and actions leading to truly dreadful outcomes.

Isn’t it time we called a truce?  An end to all of this?  An end to some of the shittiest times we have seen in “peacetime” in decades.  

For business leaders navigating this incredibly complicated and complex time, there’s a myriad of questions: How can they protect the business?  How do they protect the people?  Can the business or indeed specific areas of the business survive? If so how, especially given the rapidly changing demands and restrictions on how we learn to live with COVID-19 in our midst?  

The expectations are high.  One of my clients working for a global consumer goods company confirmed today that the number one question employees are asking globally is  ‘Are there going to be lay -offs?’  Followed closely by ‘When can we get back to the office?’ Neither of which they can answer, they’re responding and offering reassurance and so far their people are accepting that and working towards the next comms update.

We’re expecting leaders to keep the business on an even trajectory, keep up to minute on the rapidly changing Government decisions, be mindful of the impact of societal changes, the climate crisis whilst simultaneously, being present, inspiring and keeping us all informed of everything at all times whilst managing their own worries, vulnerabilities and fears.  There’s some critically important decisions to be made affecting lives and livelihoods.

In short, we’re expecting leaders to be super heroes and very few are able to live up to our extremely high expectations.  The increasing disparity between executive pay and that of the average worker isn’t helping.   It’s a tough role in ordinary times and near impossible in these extraordinary times.

Isn’t it time we called a truce?   An end to this need for leaders to be super human?  Isn’t it enough to be a human leader?

So here’s my thinking, firstly I’m hoping you don’t object too much to another potentially cheesy acronym!  Let’s agree a truce, a leadership truce.  One where we’re clear on expectations for all of us. It’s about leadership:

Trust

The inner glue that binds all human and business relationships together.  Trust comes from:

  • Credibility, the words we use, our honesty
  • Reliability through our actions, behaviours, our communication and keeping to commitments. 
  • Intimacy, tapping into our emotions, giving us that psychological safety that Google identified is the bedrock of successful teams, where people feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. 

Perhaps important to note Brene Brown’s wisdom here, “Trust and vulnerability grow together and to destroy one is to destroy both”.

Reassurance

We should expect reassurance from our leaders, even if they don’t know the answers yet.  It’s not good enough for leaders to go wobbly on us or go ‘awol’ hiding behind closed doors or Zoom one-way broadcasts. 

As Helena Morrisey, financier and campaigner said in early March at the outset of the pandemic, people are anxious, they want reassurance.  “They want us to be honest, even if we don’t know.  They expect us to be there, to be present, available and experience that human touch".  

Understanding

Asking questions, listening intently, listening with palpable interest, listening to enable your people to do their best possible thinking, listening to understand.  Taking care not to listen only to those that shout the loudest. Seek out the introverts too.  Avoiding the dangers of group think, gaining from the diversity of thought from the best possible thinking, challenging underlying assumptions that belong to a pre COVID era that no longer applies.  These are disruptive times, we desperately need disruptive thinking from leaders who understand the need to be focused and flexible.

Clarity

Helps to see what is really possible.  It’s about being clear on what you want your people to do and why you’re doing this and that you’re all in this uncertainty together.  Clarity of thought, results in clarity of decisions and communication.  Along with clarity of communication comes connection.   Great leaders connect, both rationally and emotionally.  They are credible and reliable, they bring the hard stuff to the table and combine the limitations, the possibilities and the learnings with positive messages of hope.  

Empathy  

Whilst people want their leaders to listen to them and understand their views, they want them to do this empathetically, not just paying lip service or doing it as some academic, meaningless exercise.  

Empathy is the ability to share and understand others emotions, to see something from another point of view, another perspective.  Empathetic leaders give their people hope that they care about them and take their views into account.  Take heed of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the most valuable brand in the world and ranked by Forbes as the most powerful brand ever, who warned MIT graduates “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career.  Don’t accept this false premise.”   

Empathy is contagious, it creates personal connections, staying connected shows your people you care, shows you’re all in this uncertainty together and that there will be an end point.  

 

I understand the problems, the challenge of competing priorities, the relentless need for accelerated decision making.  So many talented leaders are working under immense pressure where they can’t predict or control the outcome.    

There’s been some amazing leadership throughout the crisis and some as always that has been beyond reproach. This next phase needs different as well as differentiated approaches. None of us are expecting absolute cast in stone guarantees but a leadership truce……offering trust, reassurance, understanding, clarity and empathy……that’s not too much for people to expect is it, as we continue into more of this uncertainty that we are all a part of?  

As always thanks for reading.  I’m grateful to everyone for your comments and feedback and always open to hear your thoughts.