Leadership Matters

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Stepping Up: 3 Things a Leader can do Today


Let's face it.  These are unprecedented times.  And, if you are a team leader, there is no exact road map to follow. 

People are overwhelmed and stressed out.  Many are struggling to make it in a work from home world, where spouses are also working from home and kids may be home at school, needing oversight.

Then there's the pandemic.  With all the conflicting information out there, people don't know what to believe or what to do.  Every headache and sore throat and suspect symptom adds to the worry and concern.  There doesn't seem to be any end in sight.  Things get better for awhile and then, worse again.  And, we've all given up a lot in this time - get togethers with family and friends, sporting events and concerts, street markets and fairs.  There is an overriding sense of loss - of freedom, of connection, of routine, of normal.

For anyone who has been paying attention, the progress we made over the past 50 years against social injustice is clearly at risk.  Life has changed in large and small ways, and emotions are high, tempers are more volatile than ever.

Finally, today is election day in the U.S.  Many have been waiting for this for a long time with a hope that things will return to "normal," whatever that is.  And it doesn't matter who's side you're on, it's been contentious.  Families have been pulled apart, friends have been unfriended, violence has erupted as people defend their positions.

It seems like an ugly time.  So many have expressed a need for 2020 to be over, the sooner, the better.

What's a leader to do?

The test of true leadership is the ability to guide oneself and one's team through crisis and uncertainty with courage, confidence and a sense of purpose.  There is no better time for leaders to step up to that challenge.  So how do you do that?  Here are three ways to support your team right now.

  1. Express and demonstrate empathy. Know that not everyone is in the same place experiencing the same thing.  Try to be even more fair and flexible and understanding, and less judgmental than you usually are.  Ask how people are doing, and be sincere about hearing the answer; listen attentively to what is being said and what is not being said.  Ask what you can do to support the team and individuals on the team.  Make it clear that you care about the answers.
  2. Help people to focus on their tasks. Working can be a wonderful distraction from everything else that may be going on in one's life, especially if people are confident about how to perform.  It's reinforcing to complete tasks when the world around you has so much uncertainty.  If your team is working on a big project, it is helpful to chunk the tasks down into smaller steps, so everyone can see and feel progress.  And be sure to celebrate that progress.  Don't be afraid to be corny.
  3. Encourage civil dialogue. Acknowledge that there are differences of opinion and differences in what matters most to people.  Open and honest discussion can go a long way toward understanding, which is a first step in the process of accepting, appreciating and valuing differences.  Set some ground rules to keep it civil:  The use of "I" statements rather than more accusatory "you" statements.  Avoid talking over other people and give everyone a chance to be heard.  Criticize or challenge ideas and issues, not people -- keep it from getting too personal.  If things get too hot, take a break or cooling off period. 

A good leader can make a big difference in people's lives right now.  It's a good time to be thoughtful and deliberate about how you are leading, and what messages you are sending. 

When I look back at my own leadership journey, I feel that some of the most rewarding experiences were those when I helped people navigate through times of great ambiguity and uncertainty because I could offer perspective in the form of a bigger picture or longer-term view. 

I encourage you to take a step back and look at your own situation, your team's situation, and see where your opportunities are to be encouraging and supportive.  You may be the only bright light in someone else's day today or this week, as we continue to struggle with a world that is different from anything we've seen before.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.