First Response: What's the best way for leaders to respond when everything changes suddenly?
There are many things 2020 has taught and reminded us! We have had so many opportunities to learn and build our skills as leaders that at times they have seemed as overwhelming as the circumstances we have been facing! If you are listening to this episode in the week it’s published, you may well be feeling that again. It’s the week that the UK, along with much of Europe, is entering a second set of lockdowns, and that’s against the backdrop of the US Elections. Both of are adding to the uncertainty and pressure we are all feeling as human beings at the moment.
Rather than my planned episode I thought it might be helpful to press pause together for a moment and look at what our priorities are as leaders when we are faced with big and disruptive events.
So are you ready? It’s time to get curious about our leadership priorities when everything around us is thrown up in the air so we can make choices which keep us leading effectively.
Leadership Priority 1 - Start with yourself
Just like when any change is announced when the world around us is thrown into chaos, we are going to experience a huge range of emotions, possibly all at the same time. Our brains go into fight or flight more, and we may want to shut right down or we may find ourselves heading towards keeping really busy running round in circles. The thing that is consistent is that our brains going into a kind of frozen almost paralysed state a bit like when we eat too much ice cream too fast, it hurts and we almost literally can’t think about anything other than remembering to breathe.
When we are in this state our very first job is to get through it and be able to think again. Press pause, breathe, walk, rest what ever works for you. You need to do what it takes to look after yourself so that you can be in a position to help your team as soon as you can.
Your team will take their lead from you, and how you react will influence how they react. Showing them it’s OK to take a pause for themselves will remove some of the pressure on them.
If you want to know more about how people react to change check out this episode.
Leadership Priority 2 - Check in with your team
Once you are ready your next priority should be to check in with your team, see how they are doing and to make sure they know you are there for them.
Make sure you listen to really understand their concerns and don’t discount what they are feeling or worried about just because its not the same as you or you think its not important or even real. The fact that they are thinking it and telling you means it real for them. If you don’t have information to share with them that will allay those fears, acknowledge them, empathise and offer what reassurances you realistically can.
Taking this approach will make huge deposits in your relationship account with your team, it also gives you the information you need so you can work out what’s next.
Leadership Priority 3 - Working with your team
A common characteristic about situations like this is that we become very focused on what ever it is that has created the challenge and all the unknowns around it. Most of the conversations I have been having this week are around what does the new lockdown here in the UK mean for our businesses and lots of worst-case scenario thinking and feelings of helplessness. To move on from the initial panic and engage in what is happening we ask questions as we work it out, so as leaders we want to encourage that, but we want to avoid that feeling of helplessness. And we will come back to that in a moment.
If you and the team are spending time together you will need to remember that everyone may well be at a different stage of their journey to accepting what is happening around them. In some cases, you are going to need to remind the team too, and you may even need to remind the team that it is OK to disagree about certain things!
We know in the early stages of adapting to a change or when the team are understandably distracted by outside events that have a big impact on their life, we are going to see a dip in productivity. Their focus is naturally going to be split and that impacts their productivity, so demanding results or even the normal performance levels right now is not going to get you them and is probably going to delay how soon you do.
Instead, as leaders our role is to help people move through this stage as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.
Leadership Priority 4 - Focus on what you can control
So what can we do to get the team focused and feeling less helpless in the face of what is going on around them?
In short, by focusing on the things we can control, and then the things we have some influence over rather than the things we are concerned about but can’t change. For example with the latest lockdown we can’t control that it is happening and many businesses have been shut or asked to work from home again, but we can control how we as leaders and teams choose to react to that. This time we have the advantage of having been here before, we can focus on doing more of the things that worked well for us last time and improving those that didn’t. We can focus on the things we need to get done.
Interestingly when ever we take this approach of focusing on the things we can control we find over time the circle of things around us that we can control and influence grows, but when we focus on the things we are concerned about but can’t control, the scope of what we control gets smaller.
So working with your team to understand that they have a choice about how they react to things, are they going to abdicate that choice and become a victim of circumstance or are they going to get curious and make choices about the things they can control, will enable you to ease your team past the external distraction and pull together towards your goals.
If you want to find out more about what leaders need to do when leading change check out this episode
Summary & Taking Action
So in this episode we have covered the leadership first responses to an external crisis, starting with managing your own reactions, then empathetically checking in with your team. We have talked about how you can start to move from the initial panic and distraction back to being productive by showing them that they have a choice in how they react and focusing them on the things they can control.
The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience of over 30 years leading change and working with leaders who are making changes happen. Some of it will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business
So the question I would like to leave you with is
What things that are within your control are you going to focus on right now?
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If you would like to know more about my coaching and implementing these ideas please get in touch and let's talk about how you can become an even better leader, one curious choice at a time. Thank you for listening, and until the next time stay curious and I look forward to talking to you again soon.