EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP - WHAT AM I SEEING RIGHT NOW
As a leader, hands up, who is having fun?
Everyone is looking to us right now - whether that’s customers, team members, Boards, private equity owners/ shareholders, with ever increasing expectations. It’s an exciting gig when times aren’t quite as turbulent but as a result of the pressures of ongoing lock downs, inconsistencies around government decisions, a tough labour market and financial markets headwinds, 2022 will definitely be a year where great leaders will need to be at the top of their game.
Given my exposure to senior teams on a weekly basis, it is startling to see how empty the resilience tanks are, regardless of whether their business is thriving or surviving.
Normally people’s energy levels start to wane this time of year with a summer break fast approaching, but this year it’s different. Some of the disconnects, disfunctions and disagreements I am seeing are not what I would expect to see within senior groups, and its clear the ongoing adrenaline rush caused by pandemic-related growth, or downsizing, has reached an unsustainable point. The result being, the impacts seen within individual leaders and teams.
Irrespective of where you are at as a business right now, here are five things I am seeing the most successful leaders doing in order to sustain themselves and their organisations.
Wellness – while this is a massive industry and focus right now in the media, on a day to day level too many leaders are still not looking after themselves. The successful ones are carving out time throughout the week to ensure they can get some exercise in, grab an opportunity to let the mind wander rather than focusing on the ‘to do’, get a meditation in during the day, etc. The best tip I ever received was to be pre-meditated on creating the space, locking in recurring wellness activities in the diary when it works best (e.g. morning energiser, middle of the day recharge) and then being militant about it staying protected so you can focus on you. Unless you can look after yourself, its tough to look after your business.
Self-Awareness – as a leader we can cast a big shadow over an organisation, and when busy it’s easy to forget this or the impact. It could be how you walk through the office (are you engaging with people or looking at your phone), providing the space for people to table thoughts and enable debate versus cutting over people to give your view of the answer so you can move on, sending emails late into the night and expecting responses immediately, etc. The great leaders I see are incredibly self-aware, they understand what is happening within themselves and the impact this is having in what others see. I am not saying these people are a cheerleader 100% of the time, but they are acutely aware of how they are feeling and how this may come across.
For example, if you are feeling frustrated, don’t bottle it up, as people will pick it a mile away. Either table it and be authentic about how you are feeling or sort it out so you can be the best version of yourself in front of the team. Then share your stories, appropriately, of how you have overcome a hurdle or looked after yourself, so others can take these steps for themselves (a segue into the below Empathy point).
Empathy – if self-awareness is the core to great Leadership EQ, then empathy is a close second. The more we can understand ourselves the better we are at understanding others. Right now, teams are burning out. As a leader, are you reading the room and either engaging individuals to check in on how they are doing and what support can be provided and/ or doing this at a team level? I get it, when you are hustling to meet demand or conversely save the business, you need everyone delivering to their max, but it can’t and won’t last. Whether you are in the room sitting next to your team or operating remotely, the great leaders know where their team members are at and ensure they feel supported.
Resilience – interestingly given what I tabled above this point, this could feel counter intuitive, but what is setting some leaders apart right now is the level of conviction for the desired outcome and their ability to stay the course. The balancing act is that they are also realists in relation to, for example, how far they can push their teams or their awareness of when they are getting to a point of being irresponsible around the finances. People want a leader to set a realistic direction, be clear on what the key things are to focus on, give them the tools/ support to make things happen and to then also play their part. Great leaders will stay the course but are astute enough to know when to call it (e.g. give the warehouse the afternoon off if demand has been crazy for months, or unfortunately when to call in the liquidator).
Gut vs. Facts - most of us have a mix of both, but a preference for one. Right now, some of the best leaders I enjoy seeing in action get the balance right between utilising their (or members of their team’s) gut instinct and intuition versus relying on robust/ logical decision making. There have been some awesome new business stories where the numbers weren’t looking great, but the instinct was to try a new market, product mix, etc. and it worked – allowing under pressure businesses to survive/ prosper. Knowing how to operate using insights, but also to trust your intuition, is an art but so many great success or redemption stories are based around the latter (coupled with the resilience point).
Clearly there are other skills, experiences and behaviours leaders are leveraging to meet the demands of their businesses right now. Every leader brings something different to their role. However, from my perspective I believe the above five areas are non-negotiable if you want to thrive and be a great leader in 2022.