Life, including work, can be complicated. The most effective leaders I have worked with understand this, and practice the art of making it ‘easy’ for people to do their job.
They do this by keeping things simple and sharing as much as practical. It’s that simple.
So how can you do this?
See yourself as an enabler. You are there to help your people get the job done in the best way possible. The best leaders I’ve worked with do this by sharing strategy, plans and key information up front. They seek to understand what will help their people get their job done in the most efficient way. They also know that a big part of their job is guiding energy and activity…not blocking it.
Make it easy for people to know who you are and what you stand for as their leader. Don’t play ‘mind games’, manipulate or take the grandiose route. Be real…be yourself. Let people see the direct line of sight from your values to your behaviour.
Don’t over complicate situations. Sometimes a complicated situation doesn’t need a large-scale plan that has many moving parts. Take a step back, look at the situation from all angles and see if there is just one part of the problem that needs addressing. An easy example is the situation we encounter when a team isn’t performing well due to the behaviour of one or two team members. Why decide to pull a whole team away from the job for one or two days of team building when a couple of conversations with the employees in question would likely address the issue?
Talk ‘with’ your people. For your work as a leader to be considered valuable, it is important for your people to understand where they are headed, what they will be doing, and why it is occurring in the way that it is. Involve them in decisions that affect them; or share key information with them as early as possible. Remember the previous article where I spoke about information being like oxygen?
Finally, keeping it simple doesn’t mean that you are simple, or that you are dumbing things down for your team. It is in fact the opposite; keeping things simple isn’t always easy, especially when there is so much activity to dilute into a simple message or, more importantly, when our pride gets in the way. Many people associate leadership with power. Yet the greatest respect you can show your people is that you are willing to drop the power and acknowledge the potency that comes with your role. And the most potent leaders are those who don’t see themselves as being anymore powerful than their people; rather they acknowledge that without their people being at their most potent, they are not succeeding as a leader.
I have learnt over time the importance of resilience, and being able to manage and lead a team during times of uncertainty. As much as it can be painful and works against our natural desire for structure in our daily lives, being able sit in the middle of ambiguity and lead a team effectively despite the unknown can reap great rewards for you and your people.
Before I talk a little on ambiguity, the first thing to understand is the idea of resilience. If you are able to develop a healthy level of resilience, you are in a better position to understand, or at least make some sense of the uncertainty that can sometimes surround you as a leader. Those times, for example, when there is a restructure or that period of uncertainty after a new manager or CEO commences. Even in smaller businesses when you are realizing that it is time to strengthen or adapt your product line to remain viable. Uncertainty knows no bounds and when you step into the role of leading a business or others, you suddenly start to realize just how much uncertainty tends to exist…especially when you are in the thick of it and expected to make decisions that affect others.
Some ideas on how you can start to develop resilience are covered in an earlier post “Effective Self-Management - the key to Resilience”. But what is the link between resilience and dealing with uncertainty?
The added value for a leader who can manage with, and through, periods of uncertainty is that they can
Now these aren't necessarily easy, particularly if you like to have higher levels of control and structure in your life. The reality is that you may not know what the exact outcome or future looks like. Yet for your people to remain productive and focused your job is to create a focus or direction. This is where resilience comes into play as you may be behaving in a way that is not natural. In other words, you are living the new way of being even though you still haven't figured out what it all really means. You are creating a structure for your team to operate in, even when you aren’t sure of the bigger picture yourself.
Some of the best leaders I have followed and worked with have been able to do this. Even when I knew they couldn’t be absolutely certain of what was happening around them, they had the courage to back themselves, and their ability to create a mini-structure and direction when the drive and energy of the wider company came to a stand still during a crisis.
An easy example of this are those leaders who, when there is a major restructure or leadership change at the top of the organisation, continue to ensure a productive and focused team. They choose a direction, steer the team in that direction, and provide stability and focus for their team. This can be as simple as heightened focus on team objectives and an increase in team meeting frequency to share what information is known. In a complex or matrix organisation, the ability toconduit manage is a critical skill in making this happen.
I’ve also seen the opposite occur; when the manager chooses to use this time to stop everything and wait. The problem with this is that the energy in the team builds as a result of the natural stressors and tensions in the organisation, especially if there is talk of lay-offs. But rather than providing an outlet for the energy through direction and focus, the manager harvests uncertainty and ambiguity, which is fuelled by gossip and misinformation.
To deal with uncertainty in the best possible way, keep things simple and follow these guidlines:
Over the next couple of weeks I will explore some of the key elements that I believe underpin an engaging leader. I have been fortunate to have experienced leadership in the military, small, medium and large sized businesses, government, non-profit, family owned and private sectors. When I reflect on all of these experiences, both as a leader and an employee, I believe that there are certain ingredients that underpin the quality of effective leaders:
- Being courageous
- Resilience and dealing with uncertainty
- Ability to keep things simple
- Sharing information
- Being eclectic
I will explore each of these ideas in brief over the next couple of weeks. Today though, here are my thoughts on the first point…
I remember the first time that I led a team, and the moment when I realised that the decisions I make will affect the lives of more than just me. Suddenly my decisions took on a new dimension. And it wasn’t just the person sitting opposite me that was affected by my decisions; it was their family as well. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made, and it isn’t easy knowing that the sphere of impact is greater than you and the person sitting opposite you. A good leader understands this and their decisions are respectful and respected as a result.
There is the courage to persevere when things get tough; especially in the face of adversity. Whether you are commanding troops in the field, asking someone to perform a hazardous task, or making the decision on which roles are to be made redundant when downsizing, being a strong leader in these situations takes strength of character and courage. The ability to keep your eye on the bigger picture will help you get through these times, and to lead in an assertive and empathic manner...especially when it counts.
Then there is the courage to be true to yourself and at the same time your people. For me this means being prepared to own up when I have made a mistake, not let my pride interfere with the building of an authentic working relationship. As a leader we want to get things right, and be seen to be doing the right thing – it’s only natural. But when working hard to be a strong leader it is easy to brush over our own imperfections, and easier to find fault with others. The best leaders get the idea of being authentic, and realise that one of the best ways to develop this is to increase their level of self-awareness. The more we understand about our values and the beliefs that can either get in the way of or enhance our style, the easier it is to lead in an authentic way.
These are three elements that underpin being courageous. The leaders I have enjoyed working for each demonstrated these qualities; and I hope that they are qualities I have inspired in the people I have led.
The next article will build on from this foundation and take a look at resilience and the ability to deal with uncertainty.