We are 6 months into the pandemic. So I guess we are due for a mid-year review. How has the landscape for managers and leaders changed over these 6 months? Yes, its been 6 months like no other in all our lives; VUCA caught us all unaware. But the great thing about humans is that we learn to adapt very quickly.
The ones who are thriving are the few who have decoded what are the new competencies that are now relevant in this new world. When we sat down to collect our thoughts, experiences and discussions with clients over the last few months, we were able to together as a neat little acronym:
Let me unpack this for you first, before I go on:
When we feel that we are part of the same group, tribe or family, we feel connected to each other. A key characteristic of groups that we feel connected to is also that we feel “safe” there. In the physical world, this connectedness was signalled through many physical cues: close physical proximity, lots of eye contact, physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs), high levels of interaction, lots of questions, active listening, humour, laughter and small, attentive courtesies.
One way is to be very cognizant of the pyramid of remote team communication. The higher we move up the pyramid, the more the social intimacy. That doesn’t of course imply that all your team interactions have to be through video conferencing only in these times. It just means that if you are always at the bottom tiers, you need to consciously clamber up the pyramid.
But hey, connectedness is not just about the mode you use. It is about the person behind the mode of communication. Specifically, in all your virtual communications – watch yourself.
How do you come across? Bored? Interested? Excited? Enthusiastic? Angry? Disinterested? Apathetic?
We humans are very good at picking up vibes. What vibes are you giving off as a ‘Leader’? Your vibes and moods as a leader are highly contagious. If you feel your team is low on energy, check back on yourself or better still have a conversation with a confidant who can show you the mirror. The key question to ponder over being:
Does your team feel connected to you? Are you doing anything to increase the connectedness amongst team members?
Even a simple thing like saying your ‘Thank-You’s – is a way of affirming the relationship. Perhaps most important of all: Embrace fun – it’s the most fundamental sign of safety and connection. It breaks barriers and builds connectedness like nothing else does.
Let’s now come to Agile.
When the pandemic struck, many leaders were caught in the glare of the headlights. To be fair, VUCA did catch most or maybe all of us in that state. But as Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book the Leadership Challenge say, “Leaders should always be asking ‘What’s new? What’s next? What’s better?’ That’s where the future is.” Especially when there is a crisis situation, all eyes are on the Leader. It is not as if all answers need to emanate from you – but you need to be the person facilitating answers for the most important question, “What’s next?”
Being Agile means knowing that there is no “one right answer” to a situation. It is about looking at a situation through different lenses. It is about being able to get many options onto the table and being decisive enough to put your stake on the ground and choosing one path to venture on. When in doubt, move, even if it is in the wrong direction. You can always course correct later. A leader who is not able to do this, risks paralysing his whole team.
One word that has soared in its popularity ratings since the pandemic, is the word Resilience. To put it in very simple words, resilience is the ability to bounce back.
As Sylvester Stallone taught us in Rocky:
And that calls for you as a leader to be resilient. Yes, VUCA got you down for the count, but did you stay down or did you get up, steady yourself and get ready for another round?
In non-metaphorical terms what it means on a daily basis is: consciously developing the skill of optimism, taking purposeful action in the face of difficulties, challenging thinking traps that may bog you down (like Mind Reading, The Me Trap, Them Trap, Catastrophizing, Over generalisation), combating anxiety with deliberate intent / action and leveraging character strengths to enhance resilience. While it may seem a long list, many leaders do much of this naturally. At these times, it is only important to be consciously doing the same.
That brings us to the last but perhaps most important attribute: Empathy. The quality of being able to put oneself in the shoes of another and think through a situation.
The age of the directive leader was long gone. The pandemic has only made this point crystal clear to everyone. Across companies and even countries, a vast majority of people are struggling, finding it extremely difficult to cope with the situation. Working from home full time is not the paradise that many assumed it would be. The reduced social contact is beginning to tell. Domestic violence and divorce rates have apparently gone up. People are putting in more hours than ever at their jobs. At such times, the prime role for leaders clearly is to lead with heart.
What it means in very practical terms is: to over-communicate and become extremely keen listeners. Spotlight your fallibility early on – you are not a superman or superwoman, don’t project you are one. Infact the other way round works better. Share your struggles authentically. It signals that you are in the same boat as everyone else. Create a safe space where everyone has a voice. Where the lines between work and home are getting blurred, dare to communicate that it is a pandemic, not a productivity contest. Look out for opportunities to make life a little easier for your team members – it is not so difficult when you start looking for it.
So there it is then – the new competencies that we should be looking for in our leaders.
It just so happens that, you can also ask: Do you C.A.R.E?