The resilient leader

Originally published on LinkedIn March 2020.

Jacqueline Heron on 17/12/20

Looking through the lens of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that we need the strengths of the resilient leader more than ever.

By that I mean a leader who has a capacity to adapt quickly to change and maintain high levels of energy and focus. They acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, yet provide a sense of calm and confidence that there is a way forward (even if they don’t have all the details yet). They offer perspective and see opportunity.

危机 - When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F Kennedy

Leaders can also have a direct impact on the resilience of their employees. By providing positive support, motivation and guidance, they can help them adapt positively to today’s challenging circumstances and develop coping strategies. They can role model the behaviours and actions that strengthen resilience (for example, not on email 24/7, taking time for exercise and self- care).

 You might not have a formal leadership title but this is a time each of us can demonstrate leadership behaviours. 

The reality of our current situation is that we’re likely to be in this new world for some time, perhaps months. Many leaders have done a great job in this initial phase, with a real focus on pastoral care, giving their people permission to prioritise the right things. Here’s an example from Daniel Shapero, Chief Business Officer at LinkedIn: 

‘It is no longer practical to expect undivided attention toward our work during the day given kids are home from school, friends and loved ones may be in need physically or emotionally, and we ourselves our managing the stresses of the current situation. Leaders, please demonstrate to your teams that it's ok to step out of a meeting because a child needs help or because we want to respond to a text from our family. It's ok. Don't apologize. We're all trying to be productive while caring for ourselves and for those around us.’

As we settle into this new way of working for the time being, it’s also an opportunity to provide perspective. It’s not about doing the same things differently, but about doing different things.

Here’s a good place to start: the World Economic Forum identified these as the top skills needed in the workplace in 2020:

1.    Complex problem solving

2.    Critical thinking

3.    Creativity

4.    People management

5.    Coordinating with others

What is your organisation doing to develop these skills in the workplace?

  • What are the problems your business wants to solve? Make time for deep work and encourage collaboration across teams to engage in critical thinking and creativity. In addition to positively impacting the business, this will actively engage and motivate employees.
  • Don’t succumb to ‘Zoom Doom’ – already I’m hearing from many clients that their calendars are just as busy as when they were in the office. In fact, in some cases it’s worse as they hang up on one call and immediately dial into another.
  • Let go of perfectionism – encourage teams to share their thinking and ideas as work in progress
  • Focus on the things that matter – do you really need performance reviews at this time?
  • Remote working can be a struggle for people who are prone to procrastination – a way round this is to give more frequent, shorter deadlines to break the work up (without micro-managing and checking in too frequently).
  • Provide boundaries, but trust your people and give them the autonomy to carry out their work in the way they think best. This is a terrific opportunity to reward results and outcomes.

 Some leaders have been struggling with the lack of control, feeling that they are making it up as they go along. And that’s absolutely fine. We’re all in the same boat. No one has the all the answers.

 As a resilient leader you can take a step back, look at what you can control, gain perspective, work with your teams to create and explore possibilities – and role model the behaviours that will help you and them successfully ride this storm.

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