Authentic Leadership – the secret to thriving in tough times
Jun 12th, 2020
“I am proudly focused on empathy, because you can be both empathetic and strong”
A former client in the property industry contacted me during the lockdown and asked what I could offer online to enable them to be at their best, and create a competitive advantage post lockdown. That led to 7 Directors self-funding a 3-day virtual programme that I ran over a period of 30 days, in 4 modules and 4 progress reviews. I was impressed with their desire to be their personal best for their families, teams and business.
The programme was designed to generate income, motivate teams for high performance, build personal resilience, and build client loyalty. They wanted to be ready to hit the ground running when business resumed to make the most of the opportunities and challenges ahead.
A key success factor was developing a foundation of trust in order for the participants to have honest conversations and feel able to be vulnerable. When one of them shared a personal story of resilience and how they overcame a tough time in their life, it gave permission for all of them to get to know each other on a human level – and this was the beginning of a level of trust that enabled important conversations to happen.
What continued was a strong commitment to learn, challenge old thinking, provoke creative thought, share wisdom, and reconnect with simple practices they had forgotten. And most of all, they gave each other the support they needed to be their best.
Their investment was returned as there have been significant wins already in terms of income, team morale and forging relationships with clients, old and new.
But the most significant factor in the success of this team was the trust they built. They demonstrated that with deep trust, you get to the heart of an issue faster so that decisions can be made and commitment is gained to act.
Now leaders everywhere are having to make tough decisions and deliver messages that are tough to hear. How your messages are received depends on how much people trust you and how much they see you care.
A client was asked to make 70% of their team redundant, before negotiating down to 50%. Another client had to deliver a message of a 20% pay cut for everyone until further notice. In both these cases, the level of listening, the empathy conveyed, and the trust in each leader were key factors in how people responded.
I was particularly impressed to learn about the compassionate approach taken at AirBnB, which has had to let 25% of its people go. CEO Brian Chesky wrote a letter to all employees. First and foremost, he made it clear that those leaving had no reason to blame themselves and he showed real appreciation for their contribution, stressing that their next employers would be lucky to have them. He has also set up a dedicated website to help them find new jobs and allowed them to leave the company with their company laptop as a small helping hand.
No matter how it’s done, when people lose their job they will ask, “Why me”? So leaders have a fundamental responsibility to instil confidence at this time. I recall in the financial crisis of 2008, a client had to make significant redundancies for the first time in company history. As a leader, he worked hard to make sure that everyone walked out feeling bigger, not smaller. He told them they would be back in touch in better times and some of those same people decided to re-join the business 2 years later, thanks to the way their departure was handled. I have a feeling the same may happen at AirBnB.
And for those leaders who are faced with holding the pressure of making decisions and taking decisive action, I offer 3 insights:
- Listen and invest time in this
If you don’t listen you can’t hear and that could mean missing important information. A client was brought into a major corporation to grow the business – and then Covid 19 struck. She was given 3 months to recommend short-term measures that would impact this financial year and beyond. She was under great pressure and aware her positioning and profile depended on the quality of her recommendations. So, she decided to spend 2 months listening to diverse groups across the business, also reaching out externally using her market contacts of influencers who she knew well and who respected her. Just before her 3 month target she delivered a bold message of short, mid and long-term goals. She knew that people would buy into because she had listened, and she had the advantage of being an outsider able to give tough feedback backed by strong solutions. This won her recognition and a place on the global leadership team. Listening was a critical part of her success.
- Reward peoples’ commitment
Many people are going the extra mile – taking on expanded roles, accepting pay-cuts and adapting to remote or flexible working. Make sure their loyalty is recognised, even in small ways, for example by giving people Friday afternoons off during the summer months or writing to them personally to thank them for their commitment and loyalty. Small things like this can make a big difference.
- Build your own Support Team
Many leaders are delivering messages to build hope and confidence, but inside are feeling uncertain and anxious. They do not wish to share these concerns with their teams and so it is vital that they build their own ‘support team’ where they can process those thoughts in a safe environment. This could be their spouse, coach, peer, mentor or a group of fellow leaders.
As happened with the property team, realising you are not the only one experiencing uncertainty can give you new perspective, build personal resilience and spark creative thought. That in turn lets you feel calm, confident and ready to lead authentically, knowing you have a team of people that support you and who value the support you give them.
We are human and all the effective leaders I know value their ‘support team’ and see it as a priority that will accelerate success.
Are you looking for ways to thrive not just survive in today’s turbulent times? Do you need to find your focus and build resilience? If so consider our virtual team programme 30 Day Strategy to Future Proof your Business. It takes 100% commitment and it will get results. Begin the conversation by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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