Right now we find ourselves as leaders, as people, in a situation that is not of our making. The situation is the situation. We can’t change it. In fact, there are many things that are being imposed on us. All for very good reasons in terms of minimising risk and making sure that people are well supported and protected around the world. We can’t as individuals take control of that. These are a set of circumstances that simply exist. That is challenging.
Last week I was having a conversation with Liz, an executive coaching client, about the challenges they were facing in her industry – tourism. There are huge impacts and implications of the current conditions. She was concerned with “How do I keep my team focused? How do I keep them motivated? Because everything is, ‘we can’t see clients, we can’t show people around premises. We can’t go and visit and have meetings with prospects.’
She said her team was getting really unfocused and a bit demoralised, and they were starting to get caught up in some of the current ‘panic’ responses. As a leader, she was really struggling to come up with a way forward. I reflected back to her all the can’t statements I had heard.
Then I asked, “What can you do?”
This question completely changed the conversation. Her shoulders went up, she sat up straighter, and she started to say, “Well, maybe we could go through some of our processes, or maybe we could do more online meetings with our existing clients to see how we could support them. Maybe we can clean our office, maybe we can sort out our own desks at home, and our email and basically declutter”.
And by the end of the conversation, she said, “You know, I feel really, really good about being able to go back and start to brainstorm with my team about what we can do to create some focus and purpose”. And of course, in doing that, what she’s doing is demonstrating leadership.
I believe leaders need to rise in response to this situation. They need to role model self-leadership and leadership for their teams. People are craving leadership right now. They are looking to people they know and trust for direction and focus.
They are looking to you.
This is how I see it. It’s really quite simple. There are two key factors in play.
1. The level of control you have over the situation and circumstances that exist right now and into the immediate future.
2. Secondly, there is how you respond to those circumstances.
If you look at the model below you will see on the horizontal axis, you have the first dimension. What is your level of control?
From control at one end of the spectrum to no control at the other end.
And that will include, for example, things like the borders have been closed or that everyone has been asked to work from home. There are some things that you simply cannot change. For example, you can’t go to large gatherings anymore. It’s all about managing risk and protecting people, and that is placing constraints on all of us.
The second dimension of course, is how you actually respond to those circumstances that you find yourself in. In this conversation, the focus was on can’t. ‘We can’t do it. We can’t see clients. We can’t host people in our offices. We can’t go to big meetings. We can’t go to a conference.’ There are lots of cant’s right now.
My question is ‘what can you do?’
Now is when leaders step up. The key here is that leaders will be operating above this horizontal line.
Between can’t and can, you have a choice.
Below the line, no-one has a can do mindset and that means they exercise no influence over the outcome for themselves, their team or the business. That is not leadership.
You need to operate above the line, where you can make a difference for yourself and your people. And then you need to focus on helping your people operate above the line as well.
To help you stay above the line you can use a reframing question that you can ask of yourself and ask of others. If you hear can’t: we can’t see customers; we can’t resolve problems; we can’t go to the meeting, then use a simple reframing question.
What can you do?
Given the constraints, what can you do?
As a leader you have an opportunity to role model and demonstrate this every day.
If you want to be leading a team that remains focused and able to operate then focus on ‘can’. Regardless of whether you have complete control or no control, you always have a ‘can’. Your ‘can’ is your response. You’re always in control and have influence over your own response. And when you step into the ‘can’ space, others go with you.
As a leader, that’s really your job right now – to demonstrate leadership.
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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