It’s easy to feel worry, fear and uncertainty amidst all this global disruption. It’s not just the virus that’s contagious. Emotion has a way of catching between people that can amplify the anxiety we’re already feeling. Psychologists call it ‘emotional contagion’ funnily enough!
Change and disruption are a part of life, but when they’re extreme like this we naturally look for a step-change in the support, guidance and direction from our leaders. At Winsborough we frequently talk about leadership being a resource for the good of the group (i.e. not for the individual). It’s not until now that I’ve realised the full truth behind that statement.
As a leader you’ll be drawing on all your experience and knowledge to get your team through the tough stage of adjusting to the disruption. But your attitude and perspective will be potentially even more important to set the scene for your people in the coming months. Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, mused on the nature of human suffering “…it’s not what happens to you but how you react that is important.” Great advice equally relevant today; you can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control your attitude in those circumstances.
If we’ve been doing our jobs as leaders recently, we’ve provided the all-important support that people needed to adapt to the massive change that’s been forced upon them. Whether that’s helping people get set-up and work productively from home or supporting them to operate under the front line pressure of essential services. The trick now is knowing when people need help to stay in their ‘room’, and when they need a prompt to look out the window.
I’ve been party to many conversations recently where talk of “rebuilding” resolves to get back to the way things were before lockdown as quickly as possible. Frankly, it’s unlikely work life will ever be the same again, but we don’t have to look at that as all bad either. As leaders, part of our job is encouraging people to build a positive view of what ‘different’ might look like.
Who else has discovered new ways the team is working that you don’t want to lose? What have you been forced to stop doing that you now realise you’re better off without? How we look at and communicate the challenge in front of us as leaders is important. We have a unique, one-time opportunity to encourage a reimagining of how our teams work together, or what those teams fundamentally work on.
Demonstrating confidence and trust in your people, their skills and their collective capacity is a powerful seed to plant right now. Particularly if you hope to capture the positive changes this disruption has serendipitously provided. It’s natural to feel that tighter control over what your people are doing right now is the best course of action. But please don’t confuse decisiveness with micro-managing!
It’s not easy right now and everyone has their own unique context and challenges. If you micro-manage your team you will add to their pressures, and hamper any self-discovery around positive ways of working differently. Of all the questions you’ve been asking yourself as a leader recently, one of those questions should shift in the coming months from “what do I need to do?” to “what can I trust my people to do themselves?”
I wouldn’t call myself a royalist by any stretch, but the Queen hit it bang on when she addressed the Commonwealth earlier this month, saying, “…We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.” This might not be quite the same as the world war she has lived through but the sentiment is the same, the future is positive if we can let ourselves believe it.
You might not be the ruler of a Commonwealth or a country, but you will have a group of people and a related community who will be relying on you for guidance and direction around an uncertain future. Encouraging your team to stay positive, look for and lock-in the good aspects of ‘different’, will give you a huge advantage in the coming months. While this is an incredibly difficult time, not all is lost and out of tough times always comes new life and new ways forward.
So keep an open mind to innovation and adaptation, be prepared to listen, to learn and to share. You may not have the answers just yet, or have a crystal ball to look into the future, but as a leader you do have the wherewithal to control how you respond today and how you influence those around you.
You can find a selection of Leadership Resources that the Winsborough team have put together to help you through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond here