25 years ago, we set out to understand what it took for someone to lead themselves and others through uncertainty, change and even crisis. Not the systems, infrastructure or processes needed, but rather the ‘human element’; those things that, if present would mean people choose to follow you through really difficult times. The resulting four Resilient leaders Elements have been helping leaders navigate an increasingly volatile and fast-changing world ever since. Whilst unprecedented, Covid 19 is just the latest in a long line of man-made and natural disasters that leaders have had to deal with since we first identified the Resilient Leaders Elements all those years ago.
At the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic we started a ‘Focus on Resilient leadership’ session that created a forum for advice centred around the RLE. This blog series shares the brilliant advice that came from these sessions. The following advice in the context of Clarity of Direction summarises what has helped people lead themselves and others at this time.
Advice from leaders, for leaders at a time of uncertainty
Creating some certainty in the midst of chaos - Clarity of Direction and how it helps us lead in uncertainty
Let’s start by imagining the perfect resilient leader, whose success comes partly from their Clarity of Direction: their ability to envision the future irrespective of the uncertainty around them. Our leader’s determination to succeed is tangible, their enthusiasm infectious and has inspired people around them. They combine imagination with pragmatism so that people understand where they are going and why change is needed. By taking the time to communicate frequently and in a variety of ways our leader has ensured people have been included, feel that they matter to the success of the vision and are committed to achieving it.
This description of a leader skilled in the Element of Clarity of Direction is the context for the advice that came from our Focus on Resilient Leadership sessions. Throughout we discussed ways of being and behaving that would help all of us move closer to the aspiration of that ‘perfect resilient leader’, specifically in the Element of Clarity of Direction.
1. At all times know the answers to the questions ‘why?’ and ‘what’ i.e. ‘why are we doing what we’re doing?’ and ‘what effect am I trying to create that will help us achieve our goal?’ If you, as the leader, cannot explain why you’re asking us to do something and what effect that will have on our overall goal then there is very little hope for the rest of us!
2. Creating some certainty even in the midst of chaos is the job of a resilient leader. An example came from school leaders in the midst of the Covid19 lockdown. A Chair of a multi academy trust explained how it had hugely helped people when he told them “Schools will reopen at some point in the future and this will all be ended” he added “ I can’t tell you when, but I can say that it will happen; in the meantime we will find ways to deliver what we do well to the children in a safe way.”
Whilst he wasn’t able to give a timeline, the aspiration and reassurance gave him confidence in his decision making and created a certainty that people could work towards.
3. Use the frame of ‘Stop, Start and Continue’ to help prioritisation, particularly as things become more chaotic. There’s a reason ‘Stop’ comes first; people in overwhelm need to let things go before they can be productive. Help people understand what has to end in order to begin new ways of working. Look out for people seemingly determined but in a way that might actually be unhelpful because it holds on to ‘the old way’.
4. Move at the speed of the incident, not the organisation. As urgency in the environment around you increases, shorten the timeframe for your goals to the next few days or weeks. As things start to calm, find the confidence and the space to lift the horizon of your strategic intent and lengthen the timeframe of your goals.
5. Communication is even more critical at times of change. Manage social media channels to your advantage. Anticipate how people will be communicating and use those medium to send out messages that dispel and minimize the damage of rumour.
6. 'Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’. Good enough is the right way to go when urgency is high. Give yourself and others permission to produce work that is ‘good enough’ so that the pace of activity can keep up with the changing environment.
7. Have confidence you are paying attention to Unifying Purpose, keep asking yourself “How can we maintain connection with everyone and what can we do differently to keep people engaged and committed?” Challenge the standard routes of communication in order to make sure you are connecting most effectively.
8. Know you will get through any immediate crisis. Be determined to show people they are valued and that they can do this.