LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: HELPING OTHERS EMBRACE A NEW NORMAL
In a conversation with an executive team earlier this week, a team member asked; “how do I help my team adapt to the ‘new normal’ and understand that the ‘old ways’ of doing things may no longer be relevant?” Of course, this is a challenge many leaders are dealing with right now. Having embraced the need to do things differently yourself, you now need to bring others along on that journey.
Any process of personal change goes through three broad phases; awareness, acceptance and action. Many people incorrectly believe that action is the difficult part; that the journey from acceptance to action takes a long time. In fact, when people cling on to the old ways and resist the new, they’re almost always stuck at acceptance; it’s the journey from awareness to acceptance that can take a long time.
Once people truly internalize the need to change, the actions generally follow very quickly. That’s why we can take three years to propose marriage (acceptance), and three hours to make countless decisions to enact that marriage (actions). If you need to help your team change and adapt to a new normal, then the three tactics below will help.
Start with the non-negotiables
This may sound counter-intuitive to typical notions of effective leadership, but the first and simplest thing you can do is to be crystal clear about what is NOT up for grabs. If government legislation or corporate policy on a specific issue is clear and rigid, such as when or how people can return to the workplace, then why pretend that everyone gets a vote?
In our attempt to lead constructively, we can sometimes indulge excess consultation and conversation; even when our expectation is compliance, speed is essential and the decision is ours to make. If you expect compliance, then be up front about it. Your team will respect your clarity and honesty. It also means that you can focus your collective attention on what IS up for grabs.
Speak to their emotions
When our team resists letting go of old ways and embracing the new, our instinct is to take their resistance literally, appeal to their logic, and focus on the “thing” that is in question. But their resistance is almost never about the thing itself; it’s almost always about what the thing represents to them.
As a consequence of COVID, you will almost certainly need to deprioritize some initiatives and shift team members to new priorities. At one level, this is just simple resource reallocation, supported by sound logic and analysis. For the team members being moved, however, it means something else entirely; it could represent the loss of autonomy, purpose, or community. Of course, it’s difficult for them to express their emotions openly, so they will argue with your logic, or question your analysis, or nod their head in compliance and then undermine you in the shadows.
A much better approach is to anticipate their emotions, and address them directly. Imagine you were in their shoes; what does this change really mean? What are you losing as a consequence? How does this make you feel?
Label their likely emotions and express empathy for their sense of loss; just doing this will greatly improve your chances of gaining their commitment to change. Even better, you can actively seek to create similar conditions in their new reality. If community is what they’re grieving, then help them to create a new community. If a loss of autonomy is their concern, give them some room to run, and so on.
Ideally, we want our team to embrace the new normal because THEY want to; this is the gold standard of leadership and the true source of sustainable commitment in team members. The challenge for most leaders is getting lost in “tell and sell.”
We’re highly motivated to embrace the new normal, so we share our enthusiasm with others in the belief that we will engender similar levels of commitment. We forget, however, that we’ve often spent countless hours analysing data, understanding the issues and debating alternatives in order to commit to a pathway forward. It’s at this moment we discover that people will tolerate our conclusions, but they will only truly act on their own conclusions.
When we tell someone what to do, even with the best of intentions, their response will likely be somewhere between passive compliance and open resistance. If we allow people to see what we see, they will often come to the same conclusions we have, only now they will take action because THEY want to.
So, don’t present your conclusions; share your logic and your thought processes. Allow your team to see how you’ve wrestled with the issues and come out on the other side with greater clarity, insight and commitment to the path ahead. Even better, ask them for any additional insights and ideas. The best tactic to influence others is to be open to their influence. Who knows, you might even improve your approach and gain greater commitment to its execution at the same time.
I hope these three tactics will help you, to help your team, to embrace the new normal, and chart an effective path forward.
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