- Jess Ponce III
Taking the Leap: Four steps every leader needs to act on right now
Shift happens, and often when you least expect it.
It might begin with an inconvenient adjustment or a tiny tremor to the status quo--something small and temporary that you can find a way to adjust to for a while. But, then, without much warning, you may discover that underneath the cracks of some temporary problems is a fault line ready to snap and disrupt absolutely everything about the way you live, think, and work.
It’s not small changes that are rattling our world. The types of changes we’re experiencing right now are bigger than big; they’re huge paradigm shifts. Every industry is being impacted in unforeseen ways, whether it is dealing with the effects of the current pandemic, addressing social injustice with customers and employees, or reexamining what equality in the workplace needs to look like from now on. Every CEO, business owner, and executive must sort through the heightened emotions and confusion that are emanating as a result of a multitude of crises.
It is a challenging time to lead. But, now more than ever, true leaders are needed.
The best leaders communicate with empathy and certainty. They listen with a discerning ear to what their teams say and what they do not say, because true leaders know unspoken emotions and thoughts can have as much, if not more, impact as those that are expressed verbally.
Right now, you may wonder how your team is dealing with everything that’s happening in our world. In what ways have their lives turned upside-down because they are working from home? How are they impacted by Black Lives Matter? What concerns do they have about the increasing COVID-19 cases? Are they struggling with employment uncertainty and financial insecurity?
Asking these questions, initiating conversation, and expanding further dialogue requires work. It is a leap of faith: a process where you stop, listen, and then move forward with a plan. There are four steps you can take to help you with your leadership communication.
1. Listen to yourself.
First thing—and this is really important—take a moment at the start of each day to be still and present with your own thoughts and emotions. The very first dialogue you must have every day is with a party of one – yourself. Ask yourself: What am I honestly feeling and thinking?
You can no longer compartmentalize, or try to compartmentalize, your professional life from your personal life. They are blurred. They have been intermixed for a while, but now it’s more real; what impacts you personally also impacts you professionally. If you can identify that for yourself, you will better be able to understand your team members.
It’s very true that you cannot be good for anyone else, unless you are good to yourself. So, it’s important to honor your feelings. Empathy starts within. Do not judge your feelings as good or bad.
Quite often the same things you are saying to yourself, your employees are saying to themselves. If you are in touch with your own feelings, you can better hear others and empathize with their experiences.
Here are some honest comments I’ve heard from team leaders:
“It’s a very saddening time.”
“I get teary-eyed when I think about what’s happening.”
“I am angry. What’s my part in this failed system?”
All of these are very real and very raw thoughts and emotions. Once you acknowledge your own experience, you can honor the experience of others. You are not immune from what’s happening around us all.
Be a person first, a boss or executive second. Part of being a good leader is looking at things holistically.
2. Initiate dialogue.
Once you have truly listened to yourself, it’s time to listen to your team. An invitation for a one-on-one conversation with individual team members is always a great start, but it can be intimidating to an employee. Still, make the offer, but also initiate dialogue in a public setting. For example, when you have a public meeting, allow time at the top of the meeting -- it can be five minutes, ten minutes, or even longer-- to discuss what’s going on. Make sure to share a few of your own emotions and how you’re experiencing things. Then encourage others to do the same.
Yes, I am asking you to be a little self-revealing, but that doesn’t necessarily include going into great detail. Kept it real and straight-forward. For example, you might say something like, “I am facing some difficult challenges myself, helping my kids with schooling at home, dealing with corporate deadlines, and being supportive to my friends right now who are hurting. This has left me feeling tired and very emotional.”
Then invite others to share their thoughts and feelings. What’s really important when you do this, or for any meeting, is to make sure you create structure. Establish ground rules. The rules might include the amount of time people can talk, no cross talk or accusing other people, and an agreement to listen to one another.
Establish a safe space for everyone. Allow people to be heard. Provide the opportunity to support and relate to one another in a new work environment. While people are expressing their thoughts and emotions you have to ensure there is no shaming, political discourse, and/or criticism. This framework begins with you.
Also, remember to be flexible and present. That means be in the moment and allow the greater good to unfold. For example, if more time is needed for sharing, then find a way to allow it. Get buy-in from your team. This may include making yourself available at other times for follow-up conversations, whether it is a personal matter or professional question.
3. Get Informed.
The third thing is to give yourself a break. You don’t know everything – and honestly no human does. You are a leader because you can connect with your team and motivate them toward a common goal. One great way to inspire them is to let them know you are educating yourself.
For example, when the pandemic first emerged, some executives sought to get a better understanding of video conferencing, new mediums of communication, and how to streamline business operations remotely. Then, as businesses started to reopen their doors and offices, they began to explore how to implement new practices for social distancing, overall safety, and comfort measures for staff.
As social change continues to evolve, your own education may also include becoming more informed on issues that might be impacting your staff, clients, and customers such as Black Lives Matter, Trans rights, and inequality in the workplace. You might also explore how chronic stress influences organizations.
There are many educational resources available online right now. Colleges and universities are offering short terms courses, as well as Udemy and other online learning sites. Whatever it is you need to do right now, let education and data gathering help you make the transition into the rest of 2020. The fact is change is happening and as we all know the best way to deal with it is to be a part of it. The call to leadership is so much different now than it’s ever been before. What worked at the beginning of 2020 will no longer work the same way to keep your business running in the future.
4. Create an Ongoing Conversation.
A fourth thing you can do is create this structure across the board. While every conversation is important, one dialogue or one meeting is not going to be enough. What we are all going through right now is not going away tomorrow – whether it is dealing with the pandemic, being a part of social change, or wading through all the cultural debates we currently face.
These issues are going to be here for days, weeks, and months to come. So, what structure are you providing to your team that will support them? Some large organizations are instituting weekly town halls. Others are creating tasks forces. Some companies are just offering weekly check-ins, for both groups and individuals.
Whatever resources you can allocate to put people first in the equation of business, now is the time to do it. This applies not only to your staff, but also to your clients and customers. Hear them out. Be there for them. Help initiate lasting opportunities for the shift that is taking place.
As a leader, acknowledge that change is happening and help others be a part of it with you. Keep your business moving forward. Break through uncertainty and provide opportunities for your team to flourish. Be the change you want to see. Ready or not, it is your time to shine.