Leading through COVID-19: Let’s forget about being right and focus on progress
One of the great privileges of my work as a coach is that I often get a front-row seat to the self-reflection of some amazing leaders — and the way they translate the resulting insights into action. During a recent conversation (that I share with permission) I listened to an incredibly thoughtful and articulate leader outline some of the questions that he and his Executive Team have been pondering as part of their response to the COVID crisis.
While hearing about some of the conversations they’ve been having, I noticed a common theme. The use of the word “right” featured in many of their questions…
- Are we (as an Exec Team) doing the right things to maintain our culture as the pandemic changes the way we work?
- Am I doing the right things to support our team?
- Am I doing enough of the right things?
Hearing this confident, purposeful leader, question his actions in that way really made me pause. I wondered, had self-reflection morphed into self-doubt? As our conversation progressed it became clear that I needn’t have worried. His line of thinking reflected a balance between recognition of the progress they had made and a tenacious, positive intent to expand their impact.
This idea that there is a “right” way to approach leadership is an interesting one under any circumstances, let alone under the ever-changing COVID-19 scenario.
Given the current levels of complexity, it’s natural to want to simplify our leadership responses into right and wrong — but I wonder what we miss if we frame our thinking that way.
What if, instead of judging ourselves for getting it “right” (or not), we focus on creating an intent, a feeling of progress for ourselves and for our teams.
As it turns out, that’s exactly what the Executive Team in the example above had been doing. They stayed resolutely committed to their “North Star” and were able to implement some tangible, regular interactions to guide and support their broader teams. Some of their initiatives included holding weekly town halls, sending weekly personal reflections from the senior leaders, encouraging teams to come together for walks or coffees (where restrictions allow for that) and creating opportunities for team members to work together on solving some of their COVID-related challenges.
If your team is already doing some or all of those things and you’re wondering what to do next, here are some questions you can use to prime your ideation…
- What did we do to reinforce our “North Star” this week?
- What have we (as an Exec Team) learned about our team and our situation over the last week that is likely to strengthen our culture? What did we learn that might challenge our culture?
- What are my personal experiences and reflections over the last week that might be important for my team to understand? How will I share them?
- What have we noticed in the team this week? How is that different from previous weeks? How well do we understand why these differences exist?
- What changes could we introduce to make things better? What would better look and feel like?
While hopefully, these questions are helpful on their own, their effectiveness does rely on 3 critical inputs — listening, reflecting and effecting.
Without exaggeration, every leader I’ve spoken to over the last 6 months has reported a significant increase in their efforts to listen to their teams. While this has been appreciated, it has also produced a corresponding increase in fatigue for everyone involved. As the COVID crisis continues to affect us, listening efficiency and effectiveness are paramount to protecting everyone in the team from this fatigue.
To do this I encourage you to ask yourself…
- How well am I creating opportunities to really listen? (Not just to go through the motions or tick the box)
- What are the different types of conversations that we need to be having (and not having)? What should I be listening for?
- Which questions in my tool kit tend to create the most open conversations?
- What are my people telling me? What are they not saying?
Given I’ve already talked about self-reflection, I don’t want to labour the point. Having said that I do want to call out the role of self-reflection as an important partner to listening. It’s the opportunity to step back, to process what you’re hearing and to recognise patterns and changes over time. When pairing listening and reflection, having a pre-determined rhythm and set of questions can be helpful.
- What is my process or technique for recognising, analysing and tracking the themes I’m hearing? How well am I adhering to my process?
- Of the things we’ve been doing, what is working? What isn’t working? How do I know?
- (In what I’m feeling and hearing) What is different today? This week? This month?
- Who or what might need some more of my focus this <week>?
- Who should I ask for help? Why them? What should I ask of them?
I was going to call this 3rd element “Doing”, then changed it to “Effecting” to reflect the fact that most leadership roles are more likely to be focused on designing and effecting a particular outcome rather than doing the work to realise it.
If you’re not sure how to strike the right balance between doing and effecting, try asking yourself these questions…
- Considering the themes that emerged from my reflection, what are the most important opportunities and challenges we need to respond to? Who is best placed to lead the response? What sense of urgency do I need to create?
- How can I best demonstrate my support and care for the team? How do I need to adapt this over time?
- Who else needs to be part of the support + care solution?
- What is the one thing I can do that would make a real difference to my team today?
The process is a continuous, interactive and iterative cycle of listening to, reflecting with and having an effect upon the people around you. It takes focus, energy and practice — but it’s worth it when you see and feel the reactions from your team.