Pragmatic leadership for challenging
times and remote working teams
What happens when the initial shock passes and the many Linked In or Facebook platitudes give way to the reality of a long hard fight? Once the novelty of home working, showing people your cat and having virtual cups of coffee wear off; what then?
We all want to fight back to normality and it will need buckets of resilience to get there.
Optimism is a great enabler that cannot be ignored, it works, but it must be tempered with resilience and practicalities. Leadership and teamwork can fuel collective resilience, and without them no amount of optimism will work.
The initial reaction of “stay calm and make a cup of tea” (what some survival experts actually advise after a disaster) may help. The cup of tea may do little good, but the act of assembling the bits, boiling the water and having an end result builds esteem and confidence. Think of Arthur Dent’s pursuit of tea across time and space in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy (apologies if the geek reference is lost on non Si-Fi fans).
The feel good Zoom calls, gags and memes are akin to that comfort cup of tea. It’s what you actually do afterwards that matters for long-term survivability.
Courage, integrity and resilience will be big ingredients that you just cannot do without. People in fear of their health and employment prospects will crave genuinely character-based leadership that has those traits.
A useful informal Australian Army maxim states:
‘In a crisis you won’t rise to the occasion, you will fall to
your level of training and resilience.’
It’s a simple message about honestly knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, individually and collectively. That’s the bedrock you’ll have to work upwards from when the chips are down.
Teams are great mechanisms for allowing people to offset one another’s weaknesses whilst leveraging strengths under pressure. Effective teams provide the best bedrock. As Meredith Belbin says “nobody is perfect, but a good team can be”.
Honestly Appraise Strengths And Weaknesses
Sun Tzu said - “know yourself, know your enemy, and you need not fear the outcome of 100 battles.”
The unfolding drama of this pandemic is going to reveal a lot about the people that we know and work with. It will also reveal a great deal about you to them.
The sooner you better understand yourself and others at some depth the better. We have always relied upon Belbin profiles for our leadership development, mentoring and coaching. It offers a language to usefully deal with strengths and weaknesses quickly.
Questions must be asked, and evidence-based answers considered. What strengths can you best project into the team? What natural weaknesses are going to manifest, and how might you best manage them? Who has strengths to offset my blind spots? The same goes for the team as a whole and its behavioural chemistry.
We need to know ourselves and know the challenges that we face well. Openly discussing both, especially when working remotely, can help to build better capability and morale.
Be You - Just A Well Managed Version Of You.
In the coming months, as the reality of the situation becomes apparent, there will be no point masking your behaviour. This needs to be held in balance with not ‘losing it’ and showing undue fear or a lack of command presence. If you need to ‘have a moment’, that’s fine, just try to do it away from the troops.
Play to your natural strengths, yet beware of pretending that the weaknesses don’t exist. Your people know them anyway. Just be aware of them and manage their impact as best you can. Under pressure they’ll arise, just catch them faster and remedy them before they impact working relationships and decision-making.
Extend understanding and tolerance to others for their weaknesses as well (assuming that the impact is allowable in the circumstances).
Be open with one another, yet retain the required command structure, this can help build ‘psychological safety’ (an atmosphere where people can be themselves, express themselves and feel safe).
Ditch The Corporate Bullshit And Motivational Jargon
We are fast approaching the point (many will have crossed it already) where the tired buzzwords and corporate culture speak will become all too trite in the face of an unfolding reality.
Real people in times of fear and uncertainty crave plain talking honesty from leaders. Anything less leaves gaps for amygdala fuelled imaginations to fill with their own theories.
At a subconscious level people under pressure will sense insincerity, , weakness and mistruth. This can lead them to draw their own, possibly biased and unfounded conclusions about any given situation. Replace rumour with fact.
Lean On Each Other, But Don’t Look Through
Rose Coloured Glasses
Very sadly when the music stops playing, on this occasion not everyone is going to be left with a chair.
As in all instances of human challenge such as pandemics, wars and other catastrophes, optimism is an enabler that should not be ignored but it must be tempered with honesty and pragmatism.
During this crisis, leaders will have nowhere to hide. Any gaps in character, credibility or capability will become increasingly evident. It is time to deal with any strengths and weaknesses while you can, and to ‘talk straight’ with each other.
If leaders truly don’t possess the natural reservoirs of courage, integrity and resilience to top up those of others when under stress, now may not be their time to lead?
As a young Cavalry / Armoured Officer I recall working remotely with vehicles and troops frequently operating at distance and under their own pressures.
Often all we had at hand to motivate, re-assure and communicate with our young, tired and stressed soldiers was a radio. Clarity, honesty and sincerity was paramount. People under pressure can smell fear, bullshit, indecision and weakness a thousand miles away.
You need to lead by example and serve the team. You also need to ‘know your stuff’ to earn the confidence of others when they are in a fearful place.
The advice of being prepared to not necessarily rise to the occasion, but to “fall to your level of training and natural resilience”, is a reminder to sincerely understand yourself and others. Again, we find Belbin profiles one of the most pragmatic tools to help with truly understanding our own behaviours, and those of others.
A man that I had the privilege to once meet and work with, General ‘Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf had two simple rules for leadership:
1. When in Command – TAKE CHARGE.
2. Do what’s right.
Let’s be optimistic but importantly, we must address our individual and collective resilience to get to the other side.
To find out more about the tools we use to help teams understand how to identify and work with their strengths (online tools as well) call 1300 731 381 or email Admin@SabreHQ.com