Written by Brendan Barker
While the global community is in the throes of unprecedented organisational change, have you had a chance to step back and look at what’s happening in your organisation?
Your employees’ stress levels are increasing, and their resilience is suffering. Lives and livelihoods are being impacted on a never-before-seen scale. The rules for how we operate are constantly changing and all this is largely driven by external forces.
The result of all this turmoil – and the sad reality for many organisations – is a workforce burdened with heavily eroded trust. Why does this matter? Because your people are the key to the success of your organisation and when they lose trust things can begin to unravel quickly. A large global organisation recently ‘right-sized’ their company by reducing to the labour pool to the tune of six thousand people. Do you think the surviving employees trust their jobs are safe? I’ve always found it interesting that, across the board, we use terms like ‘right-sizing’ for the organisation. Add to this the fact we still use terms like ‘labour pool’ and ‘human resources’ and it’s a sad indication we still see employees as functions – as mechanisms through which senior leaders can achieve organisational and personal success and advancement – and when we don’t need those resources any longer we discard them. In that right-sized global organisation, nobody said ‘Do you know what? We’re going to destroy the lives of six thousand people today’.
Your people may like your business and they may like you but don’t deceive yourself that liking you extends in any way to a belief they trust you. I know many people who like their leaders and still believe those same leaders will cut them loose when the chips are down. So, your skills as a leader matter now more than they ever have before. Your people need resilience, inspiration, motivation and most of all trust.
So, here are a few things leaders need to be doing right now.
Develop extraordinary leadership skills
Author and motivational speaker Lisa Haisha said, “great leaders don’t set out to be a leader…they set out to make a difference”. Being a leader therefore isn’t just a matter of managing a group of people, it’s about having a positive impact on the lives of the people you have been entrusted to lead. So you need to develop your leadership skills. Identify those skills you need to cultivate and then set about cultivating them. A Gallup study in 2017 identified approximately 58% of leaders in Australia have never had any formal guidance or learning around what good leadership is.
A good way to start is to use the 70-20-10 model of author Charles Jennings. Jennings’ model asserts most of our learning is garnered from;
10% formal learning such as coursework and training.
20% from developmental relationships and feedback from others.
70% on-the job experiences and performing challenging assignments.
The model suggests one of the most comprehensive ways to develop your leadership skills is to:
Find the right courses to give you practical tools and a theoretical basis upon which to build your leadership capability (10%).
Seek out the right people and role models who will help guide your learning and provide you with genuine, honest and helpful feedback (20%).
Identify or create the right actions that will allow you to transfer your theoretical knowledge into practical action (70%).
Focus on Team Resilience
Team resilience is different to individual resilience in that team resilience requires tight interdependencies between team members (Stoverink et al. 2020). They must be allowed to support each other and challenge each other in a respectful environment. Your role as the leader is to encourage this kind of behavior and to build the environment that allows team resilience to flourish. Look at the teams in your organisation. Do they come together to collectively tackle challenges, or do they silo themselves, shutting themselves off from the rest of the team and trying to go it alone?
Creating an environment which allows team resilience to flourish requires actions that encourage people to come together and connect in a meaningfully human way. They need to be talking to each other. Building relationships that lead to a genuine sense of caring for each other.
More importantly though, they need to know you care about them. That you are there to help them, protect them and keep them safe. But it isn’t enough to tell your team this, they need to see it in your actions and hear it in your voice. Your only hope of building genuine trust and resilience is to lift your team up. Elevate and support your team through selfless action and you will have a team of people who will focus on the future and move assiduously towards it.
Create a sense of Psychological Safety
Of all the things you can do as a leader right now this is perhaps the most important.
What is psychological safety?
It is the certainty we feel that we can generate wildly radical ideas without the fear of being mocked humiliated, or that we can admit to mistakes with the confidence we will be able to learn from them above simply being punished for them. But psychological safety remains conspicuously absent in many organisations and that seems to be chiefly because we spend our time trying to control people rather than leading them.
If you don’t have psychological safety in your team then you likely have psychological danger. The fear of admitting mistakes leads to a culture of blaming and humiliating others. This in turn means people are less likely to share different views and the organisation ends up with the ‘Common Knowledge Effect’. The people in the team are more likely to suggest ideas and solutions that everyone already knows because it’s safer to do that. The psychological safety cycle means people feel comfortable admitting and discussing mistakes and in doing so they learn from their failures. More people are likely to share radical ideas as a result and the team grows, becoming more creative and better at decision making.
Creating a culture of psychological safety is never going to be an overnight process. It requires an investment of time, effort and energy but if you can’t do that you’re never going to have a team of people who are willing to follow you.
As a leader, you can only lead people who want to be led.
The late author Maya Angelou once remarked “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. And Dr Bonnie Badenoch notes:
“If our attention is on what we’re going to do next to accomplish a specific goal rather than openness to what the other person is bringing to the moment, we have stepped into our left hemispheres and out of relationship- and the other person will feel that as a kind of subtle abandonment. This interchange will likely happen below the level of conscious awareness and yet lead the person to step back a bit internally.”
Though your actions and words may be forgotten but those same actions and words are what drives feelings and emotions in other people. As a leader you have a responsibility to be acutely aware of that.
Your leadership skills matter now more than they ever have before so now you have a choice. Lose those skills and you are adrift in a sea of mistrust and uncertainty…but enhance and develop those skills and you can make any future you choose.