Leading Well In Challenging Times

Director of Health Services ALISON COULTER shares her thoughts.

Very few leaders have been through times as challenging as these – the word “unprecedented” might be overused at the moment, but I can’t think of another one to describe the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that we are experiencing globally.  

For Thrive and for our clients, business as usual has changed. Travel is inadvisable and often not possible, many people are working from home, with offices closed, and normal team work and interaction now taking place virtually.  It is difficult to know how and when the pandemic will spread and how long it will last.  For leaders, managing teams and managing the strategic direction of organisations at a time of global confusion and uncertainty, these are doubly challenging times.  So what does good leadership look like at this time and why is it important?  

Thrive is passionate about wellbeing, and we know that the wellbeing of individuals is helped or hindered by the wellbeing of the team and the organisation of which they are a part.  The most important driver of a culture of wellbeing for an organisation or a team is the leader.  The way we lead at this time will impact our people and their wellbeing, and ultimately our organisations and their effectiveness.  No pressure then!  

So what does good leadership look like?  It feels as if the whole world has fallen off a cliff, and we are just about working out how to pick ourselves up and make sense of what is happening to us, never mind thinking about how to lead well.  But this is a crucial time, and our organisations and our people need us to give them focus, direction and support, and they are looking to us and watching us.  

As leaders we may feel overwhelmed by the lack of certainty, an inability to plan or to know how to make decisions with so many unknowns.  I think there are three important priorities for us to focus on in order to lead well at this time: 

  1. Be calm. We are all experiencing a natural emotional reaction to the uncertainty, to the change, to the loss of control.  Sometimes this is expressed in surprising ways – difficult team meetings, people being upset about unimportant issues, normally easygoing people being less flexible.  And you will notice it in yourself too – becoming more obsessed with things that are not important, or feeling irritated about things that would not usually bother you.  Noticing this emotion, and making a deliberate decision to stay calm and to reduce the emotional temperature is important.  This will help your team to be calm as well.  No one can work effectively or make good decisions if they are upset.  Being calm is reassuring for your team and as leaders it is important in order to make good decisions and to work out the right thing to do.  
  2. Be positive. Even in these very difficult times, there are choices we can make, goals we can achieve together, things we can do which can make a difference.  We don’t know how long this situation will last, but it will end, and it’s important that leaders remain optimistic.  Not unrealistic, and not oblivious to the difficulties and pain, but positive for the future, positive about what is important and can be done now.  Work out new team goals, new priorities, agree what can be done, as well as what can’t be done.  Celebrate the good things when you can.  There’s nothing like a good Zoom celebration – how about Zoom drinks at the end of the week with your team? 
  3. Be communicative. In a crisis and in difficult times, we know how important communication is. Patrick Lencioni in ‘The Advantage’ suggests four priorities for leaders developing healthy organisations, and two of them are about communicating clarity.  “But we don’t have clarity”, I hear you say to the computer as you read this!  But we need to create as much clarity as we can, and communicate that – even if it’s what you want people to do for the next week, when you will review with them, and how you are going to connect with them.  Even if it’s when we will meet and when the leadership team will make decisions.  We can’t make certain plans for the next 6 months, but we can create options and we can ask people to contribute to these.  We can share how things are for us, we can create caring teams that listen, we can value each other by the way we communicate.  We can communicate what is important to us – our mission, our people, our values.  We can communicate compassion and understanding, that this time will pass and we can have hope for the future.  We can communicate that we are a team and that we value and care for each other.  

How we are as leaders is just as important as what we do.  How is your mindset?  Are you calm, positive and in the right frame of mind to communicate well?  Take time to reflect and to make sure you are resourced to lead well.  Thrive is here to support you and to help you to think through what is important at this time as you lead; please do get in touch if we can help you lead well.

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