A few in my network have commented that much of what I talk about isn’t new – it’s what many of us know already and what lots of us aspire to.
I make no apology for not always jumping on the bandwagon of organisational innovations or new theories and I would ask that others do likewise. However, I am not a Luddite and don’t intentionally go out of my way to stop invention or improvement. What I rail at is the number of articles, consultancies and publications espousing new and improved this or easy to introduce that, and don’t get me started on the amount of language we tie ourselves up in.
Of course it can feel good to be first or feel you are at the start of something new (our colleagues in the media are experts at this in their race to the next big story). To have one-up on the competition and be able to talk about and promote the latest thinking and how it will enhance the organisation and engage our people makes us feel smart, and sometimes smug. But I believe we need to stop taking the magpie approach, hopping from shiny thing to shiny thing and being distracted thinking that the answer is over there.
My advice is, if you stick to the basics and do them well, you can’t go far wrong. Most people want to feel aligned with their organisation, to know where they fit in the bigger picture and to have, or develop, the skills, resources and time to do their job to the best of their ability.
For me, this all comes down to one thing …. Leadership. It wasn’t that long ago when I was pressing a senior leader for interview feedback for candidates – “I’m sorry Lesley, my job has kept me really busy”. This is your job!
Maybe it’s the privilege of my role and being able to see into organisations, maybe it’s the lock-down and general weariness or maybe it’s my age and being bad tempered but it appears that our current situation is further highlighting the gap between the organisational rhetoric of values, missions etc. and people’s day-to-day experiences.
On the positive side, in the last couple of weeks I have spoken with leaders who have, in every way, reflected the values of their organisations. One leader taking time out of a busy week to attend an employee’s family funeral; standing outside the church, in the rain, just wanting to show compassion and support for the employee and their family. Another who, knowing that an employee was struggling with working from home, took everything needed for an afternoon tea and met the employee in the local park. I recognise that we may not all respond to these acts of kindness as positively as these employees did; some of us like to keep work and home separate, but as well as the time and the compassion, both leaders knew their employees well enough to know that these actions would be appreciated and were the right thing to do.
Integrity, honesty, professionalism and teamwork all on display by two simple deeds.
On the other hand, in my daily engagement I am witnessing leaders who are failing to live up to the expectation of their role; those who are not challenging unfair or unethical practices, those who do not regularly catch-up with their people, those who blow hot and cold depending on the pressure they are under, those who are keen to talk about teamwork and then spend most of the conference call speaking, or those who, because you know from their conversation or questions, have switched off when others are speaking.
We can all try to be a little bit better, and I also think I little bit braver to call out this type of behaviour when we witness it.
I have been sharing this mantra for years… there are only 4 reasons why people fail to deliver:
- They didn’t know they needed to; they were unclear of the expectation
- They didn’t know how to; they don’t have, or feel they have, the capability or confidence
- They didn’t have the resources including time
- They didn’t want to
Periods of change, confusion over messaging and witnessing actions which don’t match the talk, can make things even more problematic. For most people, we continue to go through change and face different experiences; going back to a workplace, using public transport again, socialising with friends, or shopping (and not just for essentials). Many are feeling nervous and anxious about it.
People need us – whether we are managers, leaders or colleagues. We need to be open minded and open eared and be ready to give whatever support is needed. As I’ve said before, employee surveys and marathon Teams calls will only get you so far, let’s really speak with and listen to each other.
There are three important things to remember about leadership:
- You don’t need to be in a leadership role to do it
- It requires constant focus on what is important
- We need to know and understand the people we work with