Four Leadership Disciplines for Challenging Times

Many leaders are now grappling with a new reality that would have seemed fanciful only a few months ago – leading a virtual team.  In our conversations with leaders, it is clear that many are rising to the challenge and in fact, most are now being more purposeful about their leadership than they may have been in the past.  Following are four disciplines that are worth bearing in mind to ensure that you maximise your leadership effectiveness in these challenging times.

#1 Transparent communication

This is the challenge for all leaders – As you communicate with your teams sell success but don’t under-sell the genuine challenges.  Level with your team about the challenges that you will face, but not without a plan for addressing those defined challenges.  Explain why the following months will be tough but also support this with a strong ‘why the fight will be worth it’.  Speak with transparency, candor and gravity.

David Sacks recently wrote an article Happy Talk versus Hard Talk.  He defines ‘Happy talk’ as leaders’ invocations to stay calm, dismissals of the seriousness of the problem, empty reassurances that things will get better.  What people want is ‘Hard Talk’ – recognition of the problem and tangible steps to fight it.  Relying on calm happy talk actually achieves the very opposite of what leaders were targeting.  It causes a team to question the leaders credibility, which in turn heightens their anxiety and in affect makes them feel completely rudderless.

Winston Churchill is a perfect example of managing through crisis.  Upon election he acknowledged the crisis with clarity but without panic.  He made it clear what was at stake – the survival of not only the ‘British lifestyle’ but civilization. He laid out the tough plan and sacrifices required.  ‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.  We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.’ He also inspired Great Britain that the job could be done, the battle would be won, and it would be worth it.

Churchill was known for his orating skills, yet he never resorted to ‘happy talk’. He was inspirational whilst creating clarity around what needed to occur and supported it with a clear, tangible why.

#2 Ask Great Questions

We have moved into a virtual landscape where it is difficult to read body language.  Now more than ever before leaders need to develop the habit of asking great questions that explore people’s thinking and positions on points of discussion.  There is a danger that meetings become information sharing events with no true connection to the team.  Team members need to feel that their opinions are being sought and valued whilst hearing others’ perspectives to develop understanding and ‘buy in’ to the outcomes and targets agreed upon within the meeting.

#3 Leadership is a contact sport

Create the discipline as a leader to check in daily with your team.  This is the opportunity for you to let them know they are individually valuable and how they each make meaningful contributions to goals and targets you have set together.

It also allows you to take a moment to get to know what’s happening in their worlds and any support you or the organisation can provide them.  It allows you to clarify their understanding of their short term goals and whether any clarification is required around the agreed decisions.

Send out daily communications.  People are sitting at home hungry for connection.

#4 Leadership and management are completely different skills

Management is about keeping the trains running on time.   Creating stability and predictability.  Leadership, on the other hand is about identifying change opportunities to evolve, and inspiring people and giving them hope that the journey you’re taking together is going somewhere worthwhile.

Good leadership will allow an organisation to look back on this situation and say ‘we would never be as good as we are today if it hadn’t been for the pandemic that impacted the world’.  You can’t manage your way out of a crisis; you have to lead it.