Leading in a storm.

Leaders are always needed. But none more so, than when conditions are bad.

Posted by Ian Ferguson, Leadership Coach on April 23, 2020

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Purpose. People. Pace.

Leading in a storm.

This is a time for leading from the front.

The leader must be the wind when there is calm.

And the calm when there is wind.

Leaders are always needed. But none more so, than when conditions are bad. Nothing is familiar. Everything changes constantly. The team are likely to be frightened and need re-assurance. They will be trying to do their jobs worried about the future, their own situation, the impacts on their family, their dreams and even their health.

"This is a time for leading from the front. It is situational leadership writ large."

Leaders are no different. They have the same fears and anxieties.

The difference is, it’s the leader’s responsibility and duty to be calm. To deal with fears and anxieties away from the team. To instil hope, courage and organisation and steer a careful path through the storm.

This is a time for leading from the front. It is situational leadership writ large. It is a time for being visible, for taking cool decisions and for communicating more clearly and authentically than ever before. It is now that even the most confident of the team need reassurance. They need help to steady their nerves and to maintain focus.

It is now that leaders show what they are really made of. In a crisis, the best leaders focus on customers, the team and short term priorities. I believe the best approach you can have to leading in a storm is:

1. Lead yourself and your family before you lead the team.

Ensure your own family and dependents are safe and prioritise your own health. Make time for this, even in extremis. This is the rock your calm will be built upon.

2. Focus on what you can do now to manage your own sphere.

Meditate, speak to mentors, partners, friends or bosses – face your fears. Name them and rationally turn fears into quantified risks. Decide if the risks are in or out of your sphere of influence? If the latter, trust that someone is working on them.

3. Focus on customers and organisational life support systems.

Be ruthlessly laser like in focusing on what is critically important. Stop the ship sinking before you consider future direction.

4. Make customer need the adrenaline in the organisation.

Put customers at the forefront of everything. Make it a full call to arms to help customers in a time of need. Paint pictures of life for your customers that inspire the team to go faster than they thought possible. Energetically inspire discretionary effort for the greater good.

"Trust the colleagues you have delegated to, to deliver and instead spend as much time as you can with the wider team."

5. Delegate responsibility to the most experienced and able colleagues.

Ensure customer need and organisational life support systems are first and last thing on these peoples’ mind. Ensure they are crystal clear on their accountability.

6. Focus your efforts on being visible and engage, engage, engage.

Trust the colleagues you have delegated to, to deliver and instead spend as much time as you can with the wider team. A call from the leader to bolster resolve or a note of thanks can brighten the darkest times and make key team members feel both appreciated and useful.

7. Be the Chief Hope Officer.

Not with platitudes and statements of “it will be OK”, but in an authentic and honest appraisal of what the team’s current actions will achieve. Focus on short term steps and celebrate delivery of them like never before. Treat the team as adults, don’t sugar coat risks but at all stages focus on the plan and the actions that will overcome them.

8. Focus on leading not doing.

Leaders need to lead. Check on your top team’s delivery of customer need and life support systems work every day and ensure a genuine interest in their personal well being. Be constructively impatient and demanding – everyone must be accountable and deliver more, faster. Be there to advise, but avoid doing their job unless you are genuinely the only one who could do it. If you are, maybe someone else should lead.

9. Again, lead yourself and your family before you lead the team.

Ensure your own family and dependents are safe and prioritise your own health. Make time for this, even in extremis. This is the rock your calm will be built upon.

10. Chart a course for calmer conditions.

When you are confident that the emergency has been managed and that the worst of the storm is over, start to think medium term and only then set direction for calmer conditions.

Game face on. You are needed now. Lead yourself first and then lead others the way you would want to be led yourself.

For part two of this blog click here.