LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: FOCUS ON CONNECTION AND CONTRIBUTION
In my last blog on leading in uncertain times, I encouraged you to lead yourself first. Namely, to double down on your wellbeing, shift from judgment to perception and ask better questions. If you missed that blog, you can get it here.
In this blog, we’ll discuss how you can lead others most effectively through their uncertainty and anxiety, by focusing on connection and contribution.
The idea of ‘social distancing’ amid a pandemic is of course vital; in fact, our very lives depend on it. I just wish they had called it ‘physical distancing’ instead. While we can’t be in close proximity to one another right now, we actually need to be more emotionally connected than ever.
Your team members and professional associates, never mind family and friends, are almost certainly feeling worried, anxious or worse. Many of them will not share the extent of their worries with you for a whole range of reasons; maybe they’re embarrassed, perhaps they’re concerned it will make them look weak, or it may be that they just don’t want to burden you any further.
The key word here is ‘feeling’. Whether we like to or not, we are human beings not human doings. There is a lot to get done right now, but you will only get through it with the commitment of your people. More than ever, they must feel that you care about them. The following actions can help;
- Increase your cadence of communication. As much as possible, speak to people directly, let them hear your tone of voice, make it personal, be fully present, listen intently.
- Rather than focus on what you want to say, think about how you want them to feel at the end; the right words will usually follow.
- Name and validate their likely emotions; it will take some of the weight out of them. For example; “I imagine you’re feeling fearful and worried right now…”
- Show some personal vulnerability. For example; “I’m concerned too, but we’ll figure it out together.”
- Reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while, even if it’s just a text. Ask them how they are, let them know you’re thinking of them.
Contribution is a bit like gratitude; it’s very difficult to be purposeful and fearful at the same time. The more you focus on yourself right now, the more anxious and worried you will feel, and the less effective you will be in leading others. The more you focus on serving others, the more confident you will feel and the more positive your impact will be.
The greater the crisis, the more your contribution matters. Your people and stakeholders have never needed you to make a difference more than they do right now. Whatever you are uniquely skilled to do, do it to the very best of your ability. Over the course of my 20-year obsession with leadership, I’ve done quite a bit of writing on the subject. I can tell you that last week’s blog, done on the spare of the moment, generated more positive feedback than every other blog I’ve ever written, combined.
If you’re focused on contribution while others are fighting for toilet paper, you will build enormous levels of trust and good will with those who matter. When things return to some level of normality, you will likely benefit from that good will disproportionately; be it increased commitment from your people, more business from your customers, greater career opportunities, among a whole host of other potential benefits.
Even better, if you can instil a sense of contribution in your whole organization at this time, then the scale of your potential impact is limitless. You can positively impact markets, industries and entire communities.
If you want to be more contribution focused, the following actions can help;
- Reflect on your values, purpose and passions. Think about the skills, attributes and experiences you have accumulated over your career and life to date. Given all of that, how can you best contribute to others at this time?
- Put yourself in the shoes of your key stakeholders; what do they really need from you right now? Even better, ask them.
- Seek feedback on your contribution, then respond, adapt and improve it over time.
- Detach from your outcomes. Contribute without expectation of receiving anything in return.
- Repeat all of the actions above, but at scale. Make contribution the most important standard in your team or organization right now.
I hope these two principles – connection and contribution – will help you to lead more effectively at this very challenging time.
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