Change is about the old dying and the new wanting to be born. The new during crisis, will be born only if we expand and change our perspective and mindset. Is the present crisis the precursor to the shift to human-centred organizational cultures?
This is in continuation from my article last week Leading In The Post-Pandemic World. What leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan but behaviours and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting to developments and help them look ahead. In this article, I explore the change in perspective and accompanying mindsets that can help leaders respond to the crisis and fit the new world order.
Let me tell you a story that I recently heard……
This is about a mom who, when asked what brought her joy during lockdown, shared that it was sight of her children blowing the top off of a dandelion in their backyard. The mom, found herself lost in the pure enjoyment of her children as they watched the seeds spread in the wind. And, just for a moment, she was able to put aside the impacts social distancing and lockdown have had on her and her family.
In reflecting about the experience, she recalled that only a few days before, she was marvelling at her lovely, weed-free lawn. Now with their children spreading hundreds of dandelion seeds, she watched as the dream of a weed-free lawn drifted away and was struck by the contrast in perspectives. For her, the dandelions represented an intrusive weed but, for her child, those same weeds offered the promise of a wish.
My learning from the story: In crisis, evolving perspective and reactions thereof sets great leaders apart and define leadership character!
The idea of weeds and wishes really stood out to me in reflecting on my journey as a leader both at home and in the “office.” As we move beyond our current circumstances, I think the ability to see things from different perspectives will be the hallmark of successful leaders in the new world of work. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we often see only the weeds rather than the wishes of others. Leaders need to grow in some key areas to develop a larger perspective and change mindset to fit the new world order:
Empathy – Having the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and truly appreciate their perspective is critical to building an inclusive and engaging workplace. A crisis is when it is most important for leaders to uphold a vital aspect of their role: making a positive difference in people’s lives. Doing this requires leaders to acknowledge the personal and professional challenges that employees and their loved ones experience during a crisis.
Humility –Authentic humility is a necessary precursor for creating psychological safety that enables people to share different points of view and drive creativity. When leaders understand the limits of their expertise and are truly open to challenge, their teams are willing to risk sharing different perspectives. If you want to build a culture where people are willing to share when they have a different perspective, you’ll need to be genuinely humble and create and environment where they will share.
Listening – Mark Twain said, “We have two ears and one mouth because it’s twice as hard to listen.” Listening is the most important part of a leader’s job and it may also be the most difficult. You can easily fall into the trap of someone that hears but doesn‘t listen. The skill that needs to be developed can be called “Listening with the third ear.” This is where you listen for what is not being said; you listen for the feelings behind the words. This is where attention and intention, both good and bad, are obvious.
Ask for help – Successfully achieving things through stubborn self-reliance can easily become a form of pride. Relinquish the belief that a top-down response will engender stability. In crises characterized by uncertainty, leaders face problems that are unfamiliar and poorly understood. While it’s good to be confident in your ability to solve problems, asking for help demonstrates that you know the value others can add through their unique capabilities and a believer of shared leadership. Leaders can better mobilize their organizations by setting clear priorities for the response and empowering others to discover and implement solutions that serve those priorities.
Appreciation – there is a need to shift from recognition to authentic appreciation. Among other things, authentic appreciation focuses on performance plus the person’s intrinsic value. By expressing appreciation, leaders acknowledge the unique capabilities of each individual and the value that those capabilities create for the team and the organization. Practicing authentic appreciation requires leaders to look more closely at what their team members are accomplishing. And to validate the underlying capabilities each individual brings to the team. This careful examination leads to better understanding and an improved ability to recognize when someone may hold a differing point of view.
Self-mastery & Self-reflection– “Crises refine life. In them you discover what you are.” –Allan K. Chalmer. Self-mastery is self-development that starts with turning inward, introspecting, and building awareness of one’s behavior patterns, good and bad, and un-packing what causes them. Take time to critically review your interactions, the language you use, and how you approach working with others. On a foundation of self-awareness and understanding, new capabilities can emerge if we continue our self-mastery journey and learn how change our mental, emotional, and behavioural patterns. We can grow into the person we choose to be. We can become our best self over time. And this “best self” becomes the foundation of great transformational leadership.
Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” I couldn’t agree more. Titles, pedigree or organization charts do not make a leader. Rather, leaders must possess the necessary character to inspire others to follow. Leadership is character in action. And while the core remains the same, skills, perspective and approach has to evolve with changing times to inspire trust, loyalty, action and ensure organization’s continued vitality.
Being a great leader is work in progress. Every day, you can take steps to increase your odds of success the next time you and your team rally for battle. During a crisis, which is ruled by unfamiliarity and uncertainty, effective responses are largely improvised. The leaders have to overcome the return to normalcy bias and navigate through the storm by making decisions with agility, amidst all the uncertainty with deliberate calm with an optimistic mindset.
I’ve always believed being a leader, above anything else is about being human. And, what makes a great leader, is brain, vision, values and a heart that desires to truly see their employees and business thrive. It’s reassuring to hear hopeful predictions about the lasting effects of the pandemic on making work more human. And, I sincerely believe that we’re experiencing a shift in ways of leading that will continue to acknowledge the bottom-line benefits of human-centred organizational cultures.
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Shreya Bhardwaj Pilani
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