Engaging Leadership – for a world turned upside-down 

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, or maybe on that small 10 acres of the earth’s surface unaffected by the pandemic, you’ll be very aware that everything’s gone a bit…well… floopy.

You might remember that was Phoebe Buffay’s excellent adjective in Friends for having no plan and nothing figured out.  I reckon we’re all feeling a bit floopy right now.

It’s a well-researched phenomenon that in times of such, er….. floopiness, people look to their leaders for a sense of direction and reassurance that everything is going to be alright.

They don’t really know what’s going on, what will happen next or what to do – and they’re really hoping that you, as their leader, have it all figured out.

Many of us are – and will continue to be – living in a distributed and virtual reality. People are looking for us to point and lead the way and even though we may have no better idea what to do than they do, we have to find a way to be a beacon of hope and a source of support and direction, for everyone’s sake.

So how do we do that, I hear you say?

A very fair question.

In an attempt to be ‘un-floopy’ (like that’s a word) I have a few suggestions:

  • Focus on people and relationships ahead (but not instead) of targets and indicators. In truth, I’ve always exhorted leaders to do that, but now more of them might actually believe me and try to do it. We’ve seen how world leaders have responded to the pandemic and it shouldn’t go unnoticed how our female political leaders have typically achieved better outcomes for their people than their male counterparts. The countries among the lowest numbers of cases and deaths, and the best responses to controlling the virus: Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among the worst: the USA, UK, Brazil, Spain and Italy. Male leaders at the helm in the former, female leaders in the latter. Now, there are clearly many influencing factors here, this shouldn’t be about gender stereotypes and correlation is not causation, but the approaches taken in each group have some noticeable similarities. One major one is that the successful group have led with intelligence, caring, empathy and a desire to protect and support their people. I’ll leave you to decide if that is equally true for the second group.
  • Understand and deal openly with people’s fears, concerns and uncertainties. Don’t pretend that everything is just fine: that will just make you look like an idiot. We all know that things are a long way from fine. Deal with the reality but with the mindset and language of hope for the future. We can and will get though this.

Great organizations with great leaders and great people will be able to do great things – and the uncertainty of tomorrow will create many opportunities as well as many challenges. While many organizations will fall in the coming months, those businesses and leaders who rise to the challenge will reap the rewards. Your job is to make sure that you’re in that second group. No pressure.

  • You don’t need to be a hero to do the right thing for your You don’t need to be a genius either. You just need to think carefully about what they – and your other stakeholders – need from you and then set out to provide it. Much of this is about getting the balance right. When one priority or one stakeholder takes too much precedence over others, bad things can happen. Hitting share-price targets won’t help you for long if your customers desert you or your best people jump ship. Similarly, we’ve seen in recent months what can happen when supply chains break down. Your job is to map out the range of stakeholder needs and find the line of best fit though them to support and serve them all. To do that you need your people on side and together. Circle the wagons.
  • Collaboration and innovation have the power to save us all. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t try to – do this on your own. It will help your people enormously to feel part of the solution rather than helpless victims. Empower them to find new ways of doing things, unleash their creativity and bring them together – virtually if that’s the best answer – to share ideas and work together to co-create the new world. Small groups have been shown to be very effective over recent months in developing new ideas and shifting operations and performance dramatically in very short order.

These are just a few pointers and there will be plenty more to follow – please also share your own ideas. Nobody has the answer here, because there isn’t one.

But together, we can do this.

Nigel Girling, The Inspirational Development Group, TAG Steering Group Member,

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