The last seven months have felt about as steady as the Atlantic Ocean during hurricane season. Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the associated lockdowns and the economic and political uncertainties swirling around the landscape, things have been a little choppy.
During turbulent times, many organizational leaders default to a take-charge, authoritarian style of leadership. No time for questions or collaboration, the thinking goes. This is a crisis, and the goal is to take action ASAP.
In many ways, this approach is understandable. After all, you’ve gotten where you are precisely because you’re a results-oriented problem solver.
But other techniques are far more effective at coming through a crisis with your staff stronger and achieving better results, instead of being exhausted and disengaged.
Your team needs a cultivating style of leadership, a collaborative and interactive approach that empowers and motivates your team to want to help. Abandoning a hardline “command and control” tack can be the key to success during turbulent times.
Here are four ways to put this cultivating leadership approach into practice so your organization doesn’t just weather the storm but comes out stronger on the other side.
• Hear your people out. People are dealing with everything from the bothersome (“Why does my WiFi keep dropping during video calls?”) to the terrifying (“Will one of my family members catch Covid-19?”). The first thing they need from their leaders is to have these feelings heard and acknowledged.
When everyone was working in the office, you might’ve been able to stroll down the hallway and see that someone looked a little down or rattled and ask them how they were doing. Now that everyone’s working remotely, leaders need to create opportunities for this to happen. That means scheduling one-on-ones with your direct reports just to check in and listen. You could also schedule a recurring Zoom “office hours” session, where anybody can drop by and speak what’s on their mind.
• Paint the vision. The authoritarian leader hands out assignments and tells people to execute them. In the chaos of turbulent times, it’s easy to fall into this “let’s just get things done quickly” mode.
However, as Stephen R. Covey noted, “With people, fast is slow and slow is fast.” People need to understand the bigger picture before they jump into a task. That’s why the cultivating leader paints the vision so that everyone understands how each task contributes to that larger goal.
To be sure, things can and will change, especially in situations as fluid as the one in which we currently find ourselves. But as a leader, you need to tell your people, “This is where we’re at right now, and this is where we’re headed.” Otherwise, you have bunch of people in a boat, each of them rowing hard, but none of them knowing where they’re headed.
• Tap into the talent. If you’re the leader of a division with hundreds or even thousands of people, you can’t be everywhere at once, watching what’s going on. Your direct reports, however, can. They have their fingers on the pulse. Successful leaders are very good at listening to their people so they can understand what’s going on.
If you only make decisions based on what you know, you’ll miss out on the innovative ideas developing closer to the front line. Unleash your peoples’ creativity and let them participate in helping the organization navigate these stormy seas.
• Celebrate the wins. Every time you have a win, even if it’s small, make your people feel great about it so they’re eager to notch the next win. The cultivating leader understands the importance of pausing to celebrate victories.
The authoritarian leader, by contrast, keeps people marching through the mud and on to the next task, regardless of whatever success may have been achieved. How long do you think the morale on that team lasts?
While no leader wakes up in the morning hoping for extreme turbulence, these twisty times can help you develop leadership skills that increase resilience within your team. By embracing the suggestions above, leaders will cultivate a leadership style that will serve them well, not just now, but in the future, no matter how smooth or bumpy it may be.