Stepping up to the challenge of leadership requires a shift in mindset and a continuous broadening of specific critical skills – at the best of times. Unfortunately, as we start to emerge slowly into something approximating a post-Covid economy, leadership just got all the more complex.
Being effective as a leader in the new normal is contingent more than ever on getting your workplace relationships right. It’s about understanding their role in influencing, empowering, aligning and mobilising your single most important resource: your people. The pandemic revealed even more of the nature of the indomitable human spirit. Resilience, adaptability, perseverance, the sheer capacity for creativity and self-reinvention are the finest qualities that human beings possess.
But in its wake, leaders also need to be aware and sensitive to its fallout – the seismic shifts in the way we work, the blurring of boundaries between home and professional life and the ongoing uncertainty that teams and colleagues continue to grapple with every day. Embracing new ways of working, building or rebuilding the future and navigating the challenges ahead also mean embracing new – perhaps more human – ways of leading. These include prioritising relationships, fomenting trust and psychological safety, and empowering other people to deliver their best.
Leaders can use several core principles to ensure their people are engaged, self-motivated and disposed to give their discretionary effort to deliver exceptional results at this time when they are needed more than ever.
Here are three.
1. Balance relationships with tasks.
Covid-19 has delivered many lessons.
For leaders, perhaps one of the most important is the need to prioritise their relationships with the people in their teams. During the pandemic, those leaders whose teams performed well and showed the most resilience were the leaders who focused on maintaining and nurturing their relationships first before moving on to the many pressing tasks facing the team.
They found that genuine human interaction – however seemingly small or insignificant – had a catalysing effect, boosting people’s wellbeing and sense of engagement when times were tough and profoundly uncertain. And this is an insight that can and should endure beyond the pandemic. Simply put, when we put relationships first, performance and execution improve.
Try this for yourself. In your next team meeting or one-to-one, ask your people how they are. Please find out more about their challenges and how well they are coping. There’s no need to have advice or all the answers to hand – the simple act of listening will give you deeper insight and understanding of your team members while simultaneously ensuring that they feel heard, valued, and respected.
And that’s good for morale, for team engagement, and for your business.
2. Build psychological contracts, trust and safety
Good relationships are undergirded by trust. Where there is trust, there is also space for communication, for information sharing, for learning and growing, and for the kind of innovation and creativity to occur that are the fabric of any successful team and organisation.
Trust results from purposeful contractual psychological interchanges and your capacity as a leader to create a sense of safety. That means modelling transparency, authenticity, openness and even your own vulnerability, where appropriate.
Make it a clear objective to think about your team’s working agreement. Think about how you set expectations and understand how you all get the best from each other. And try to ensure that your team members feel empowered to fail – to ideate, experiment, make mistakes and learn from them. Then, as a leader, it’s down to you to find the ways to make your people feel safe enough to give their best and discretionary effort.
Why not find the right way to ask your team members the following kinds of questions:
- How can we be even more effective while working remotely?
- How do I get the best from you?
- How should I communicate effectively with you?
- What support do you need from me?
3. Make the expansion from managing to leading
Ask most people, and they will tell you the same thing: most of us prefer to feel inspired, stretched, trusted and appreciated than managed, controlled, or simply told what to do when it comes down to it. Giving other people enough autonomy is the key to empowering them to learn, grow, and develop new skills and aptitudes – to have agency, make their own decisions, and contribute more to the team’s success.
This is one of the essential precepts of effective leadership, and it marks the distinction between a manager and a leader of people. It is a shift in mindset – the transition from thinking about yourself as the principal player who makes everything happen to a leader who can multiply your impact through others.
Leadership is about giving other people the context, the culture and the environment to shine and bring their best selves to their work. And that means being courageous about building the bench strength around you for the whole team – and the broader organisation to succeed.
This might feel scary. You might wonder what might happen to your role as a leader if you focus on empowering others – what if they leapfrog you within the organisation? But in reality, what happens is quite different. As the tide rises, all ships rise with it.