Being the Best You: How leaders can emerge stronger?
In a year that’s tested leadership like no other, how are leaders emerging? Especially given that all traditional markers have changed. What does being the best you mean now?
In a climate of chaos and uncertainty, so many of us have lost sight of who we are. We all have a list of things we have re-evaluated over the last year. But how do we move forward?
My coaching clients currently range from catatonically depressed to manic. Those parents who have had no nursery provision, home schooling responsibilities as well as running a household that needs three meals minimum, constant snack provision as well as the pressures of working in demanding careers, leading their teams and reassuring them, all from home. It’s like asking them to walk and pole vault at the same time. As one coachee explained in a fatigued and tearful session, “It’s like being triple booked on the hour, every hour until everyone has gone to bed. Then I get up in the morning and go again. It’s relentless.”
If it’s not childcare responsibilities, there’s the sandwich generation with older parents and carer responsibilities and those who are living on their own, feeling isolated and missing much needed human contact. Keeping on, keeping on is no longer an option. It’s exhausting, it’s taking its toll, we’re fraying at the edges.
The New Scientist headline of ‘burned out or bored out?’ has never resonated more. Indeed, someone I shared this with, added to the alliteration with ‘burned out, bored out, bewildered and bladdered.’ This is of course supported by the wine industry who as we know is widely seen as one of the winners in this pandemic.
Being the best you; who are you?
Being ‘the best you’ is nigh on impossible when you have lost sight of who you are, how you lead and indeed how you’re managing through each day, never mind each week. HR Review recently found that 7 out of 10 women would opt to take furlough, if it was offered. Entirely understandable, but is this really you or even remotely close to being the best you
So with the glimmer of light that schools have reopened, the imminent return of the rule of six and various other restrictions lifted in five week intervals, what does the future hold for you? The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to take time out, take stock, take charge. Everyone has a list of things they are re-evaluating, let’s emerge from these Covid times with some life improving changes, however evolutionary or indeed radical.
Opt in or opt out?
Many of us have had the time and space to re-evaluate our lives, to figure out what’s important and what we want for our future. But is this the right time to be making life changing decisions? If you plan to opt in and pursue the career you want with the employer you want, then great. If you decide to opt out, do it with the best intent and leave the door open in case you need to re-evaluate again. Either way, this could be the time for you to take this opportunity to be the best you.
The value of human contact
Social isolation has been crippling for many. We will never again undervalue the importance of human contact. But as we emerge from lockdown and social interaction resumes, there is now an incredible opportunity to redefine social capital; still building purposeful networks of relationships with family, friends, colleagues and business contacts, but now with a shared understanding about the value of human contact.
There is a universal acceptance that relationships are essential to survive and thrive. And for me, great leadership is all about relationships. But the pandemic has brought new meaning to ‘social capital’. No longer is it about the reciprocal exchange of benefits, it's about connection and collaboration, ‘being in this together’, cultivating enriching relationships, sharing experiences and working together towards a common goal. It’s about amplifying the better you to create a better us.
Building social capital and collaboration is difficult in a virtual world. Zoom has served its purpose, but it’s one-dimensional, lacks true human interaction and we’re ‘zoomed out’. We have also learnt to never assume. Colleagues in a virtual world may look the part but we only get half the story. Are we really seeing the best ‘them’ when we are missing so much vital body language? Taking the time to invest in having rich conversations that connect with the whole person and deepen relationships has been critical when human contact hasn’t been possible.
The future of work
Most business leaders agree that purely virtual working isn't a sustainable model. Philip Jansen, CEO of BT, describes people being fatigued and bored of the mode of operating virtually. Jane Fraser, the new CEO at Citigroup has announced Zoom Free Fridays as a result of what she views as the unsustainable convergence of work and home life. Staying with Financial Services, Mary Erdoes, CEO of JP Morgan Asset and Wealth Management, believes ‘the success of remote working is fraying, and the longer offices are empty, the more challenging it will be to maintain the culture and collaboration that organisations require’.
Most business leaders advocate hybrid working as a future work model. Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, has stated that their employees will never go back to working in the office full-time, although he is keen to see staff return to the office in some capacity after witnessing a “slow erosion of social capital.” Ford are of the same view for 30,000 of their office based workers.
Mapping your future
The future of work has changed and with it comes opportunity. In her latest book, ‘Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together,’ Entrepreneur and writer Margaret Heffernan talks about our ‘addiction to prediction’, that we are desperate for certainty about the future. But the pandemic has taught us that it’s impossible to predict. ‘Ineradicable uncertainty’ is now a fact of life and the people and organisations who aren’t daunted by uncertainty – those that demonstrate resilience, preparedness and seize the challenge of making their own future – will have the best outcomes’.
Preparing to be the best you, mining your own creativity and humanity and defining your working preferences, will help you to map the future you want.
To infinity and beyond
In his book, ‘The Infinite Game: How Great Businesses Achieve Long-Lasting Success,’ Simon Sinek talks about playing an infinite versus a finite, zero sum game. We’ve all worked with those finite, singular, zero sum game leaders, out to win and displaying toxic leadership behaviours as they do so
Similarly with businesses. Remember Blockbuster? They played a finite game by protecting their existing business model and prioritising making 12% of revenues from fining their customers. At the same time, they watched Netflix and their subscription model positioning itself as the next best thing. Playing an infinite game cultivates creativity and opportunities to be the best.
So how is your career playing out? Are you cultivating an infinite mindset? Careers are for the long term. Are you striving to do the right thing, thinking beyond limitations and focusing on future opportunities? Or are you playing a finite game with a career limiting ‘win or lose’ mindset?
The authentic you
Who is the genuine real you? The authentic you? People see your tangible qualities, your image, skills and behaviours, but what really matters now more than ever, are your non-tangible qualities, your values, personal drivers and reputation. The tangible has changed and we are seeing people differently – with new and interesting haircuts, at home, private spaces, personal book collections, even caring for children and the family dog. Informal is the new normal.
Therefore non-tangible qualities are increasingly important. What really matters is the true essence of who you are. Are you living your values? What energises and motivates you? Ultimately, what is your personal and leadership brand and what do you want to be known for?
The authenticity paradox
In the TED talk series, How to be a Better Human, Herminia Ibarra, the Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School challenges what ‘authenticity’ actually means and states that the way we think about authenticity poses a real danger to our capacity to grow and learn. The things that made you successful in the past may not make you successful going forward and may even get in your way. For example, technical excellence does not make you a great leader.
What’s tricky is that old skills become core to our sense of who we are and our professional identity, and not sticking to them makes us feel inauthentic. But authenticity can lead to inflexibility. And if authenticity is about being true to yourself, which self? Your old self? Today’s self? Being authentic can also be about being true to your aspirational self or best self.
This leads to what Ibarra calls the “authenticity paradox”; facing a choice between being yourself and being your most effective self, the best you. The best way out of this paradox, she says, is to learn and act your way into a new way of thinking about yourself. It’s about being the best authentic you, not just being you. And it’s about defining who you need to be, not just who you are now.
Better thinking, better you
Have you given yourself time to think clearly and without distractions? Have you done your best possible thinking? And who are you using to expand, add value and challenge your thinking? Think about your existing network of colleagues, mentors and coaches - who can play that key role in being your Thinking Partner? Timing is crucial. The current situation provides you with a window to do some fantastic thinking about what’s ultimately best for you. Who are you? Who do you need to be? Who do you want to be? What will enable you to be the best you? What are you assuming that’s stopping you? What could you credibly assume instead?
As a leader, what’s your purpose and reason to exist? Are you clear on your personal brand, your leadership brand? Because if you’re not clear on what you’re selling, how can people buy you? Who are you, what do you offer and so what? What’s the benefit? What you want to be known for?
Being clear on your purpose is energising. Now is the time to be purposeful, planful and playful with your thinking. It’s all about having the courage to lead and the courage to be the best authentic you. Remember what it feels like to have that sense of passion, purpose and fun along the way?
In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity. Now is the time to capitalise on the opportunity – different times have necessitated different thinking. The virtual world is bigger, employers have had to be more flexible, we have new opportunities such as hybrid working, and you have hopefully had at least some space to think differently. What will a new and better normal look like for you? Use this time wisely before you suddenly find you’re back to previous ways of working and your course is set.
Seize the challenge. Make it about you. Make you the urgent platform for change and achieve the best you.