“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine
The end of 2021. Wow. The end of this year feels very different from last year. Is that true for you? What does the end of this year and a look into next year feel like for you?
For me, it is more hopeful. We made sufficient progress with the Pandemic to allow a little more freedom in terms of travel, gathering with friends and family, and going out. Next year is a little bit of a mixed bag of things. I am still hopeful about our continued progress, but with the Omicron variant lying on the horizon there continues to be an ‘unknown’ quality that must be dealt with. Truth is, we will be dealing with one variant or another for some time to come, not unlike what we go through with the flu variants.
I think about what leaders have been/are facing because of the Pandemic and what are the qualities that help them navigate uncertain times? There are all sorts of workforce issues – including working from home, supply chain issues, inflation, and a great deal of polarization that makes it hard to get things done.
Thank you for your comments about my piece on gratitude. I appreciate the encouragement as my writing can touch an edge that may make some uncomfortable. Your comments help me to think and expand my viewpoint, which I hope makes what you read better. I am always glad to hear from you.
Celebrate well, be well, and do your best work.
Leadership Attributes in Trying Times
Leaders have had to navigate a multiplicity of issues over the past two years, several challenges of which there were no ‘best practice’ solutions to follow. What allows leaders to persevere and even excel during tough times?
As I reflect on my own journey as a leader, I can’t help but wonder how I would have reacted to all the by-products of the Pandemic. What I have come to conclude is that many of the attributes of a good leaders’ success applies to this situation (Pandemic) and to other difficult challenges that arise.
My current thinking has me categorizing the following attributes as key to weathering the challenges that routinely show up on the leader’s doorstep: Character, Interpersonal Skills, Personal Competence. Are there others? Yes. For me these represent key building blocks of leadership. The first two represent the ‘inner work’ that good leaders do that allow them to excel.
The first level of the leadership building blocks is the broadest and deepest because it is the foundation from which everything else builds. This is Character. Within character I think about integrity, the presence of a strong moral and ethical center. Often people with high integrity also possess a high degree of self-awareness of who they are and want to be. They have learned how to leverage their strengths and minimize the effects of those things they don’t do as well, often by surrounding themselves with people who possess complimentary skills.
They are confident, but not arrogant. That sense of ‘self-assuredness’ enables them to be appropriately assertive and to have balance in their life. There is a corollary between their ability to manage their own life well – the stress of work, home, their personal well-being (physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy), and how they manage in the workplace. These leaders are also socially responsible (understanding that we are ‘all in this together’ and know the interrelatedness and contributions of individuals, communities, and the larger world community). They also tend to be optimistic.
The best leaders exhibit appropriate vulnerability and empathy, which makes them more approachable/human. This includes the ability to say, “I’m sorry” and to seek forgiveness. They also tend to be humble, never leveraging their position to the disadvantage of others. Often, they seek to serve. This ‘service’ mindset permeates much of how they view leading, which is to collaborate whenever possible.
They also have a high degree of alignment between what they believe and what they say and do. This congruity makes them more trustworthy. This alignment allows them to be very consistent and calm, particularly under pressure.
As I reflect on the area of character what emerges is that I started from a knowledge of what my values and beliefs were and who I wanted to become. I have been building my capacity to become that person for most of my life. Achieving ‘alignment’ is a long road of steps and missteps; of succeeding only to fail; making the choices that aligned with who I wanted to become, only to fall off that path because I didn’t have enough courage or discipline at a given moment. In my experience, the emergence and fine tuning of ‘character’ is rarely easy and often takes years and many ‘do overs.’ I didn’t talk much about it, but ‘repentance’ and ‘forgiveness’ are two things that have been instrumental in my growth in the ‘character’ realm.
The second building block is Interpersonal Skills – a by-product of the work we did on Character. Good leaders understand that their job involves getting things done through and with others. At the core of their ability to create an environment where that can happen is their ability to create influence, which comes from their ability to build strong, positive relationships. This is not done in a manipulative way, but through a genuine desire to know and help others.
Good leaders tend to be good communicators, helping those around them to understand purpose and direction, and how their work contributes to the broader business objectives. Their optimism and overall positive energy inspire others to do more, often more than they thought they could accomplish. Within this framework they are good at building the skills and capacities of others. They recognize and reward people, so they feel valued, further boosting the engagement of others.
They are an effective team member, responding well to feedback of all kinds as well as resolving conflict within their department and with others. These skills enable them to create influence up the organization as well as with their peers and subordinates. These skills are often where we see their Emotional Intelligence emerge and are skills that are pivotal in separating leaders from good leaders.
The third building block is Personal Competence The good leaders started by demonstrating a high degree of credibility based on their ability to be competent in their job. Outside of who we are, competence is the first thing we demonstrate. It is how we are recognized; we come to be known as ‘person with potential.’ Often, problem-analysis and problem-solving skills are part of what is recognized first. Over time, these leaders make good decisions based on a mixture of analysis, wisdom, discernment, experience, and judgment. They work to build their capacity in these areas.
Many of these leaders tend to write and speak well, organize their work efficiently, and can create clarity. They tend to be innovative, encouraging and developing multiple approaches and innovation. They show an elevated level of initiative, seeking ideas and input from others, looking for developmental opportunities. These skills have been invaluable when dealing with a lot of unknown (i.e., Pandemic and the assorted demands placed on the people and the business).
Their ability to make good decisions can contribute to being considered decisive. They also have a strong capability and desire to focus on results. They do this while building strong relationships. Their leadership is earmarked by always taking personal responsibility for the outcomes of the group. They provide on-going feedback and coaching to their people.
They focus on the greater good, with an eye on the organizational goals, and the organization’s contributions to their community. They ‘champion’ the needs of the customer and move with speed and a certain ‘intensity’ which often demonstrates their passion for the work.
While I/we talk about these attributes independently, they are at work interdependently and in tandem. As stated, the last two years have been full of unknown. Leaders who ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’ help produce an environment that is calmer. They create the ‘pause’ as the unknown is emerging before they respond, allowing the leader to understand more, enlist more people to participate in forming solutions, and communicate more about the status of what is going on to others.
These leaders are honest about what they know, don’t know, and the impact of the situation. During the most challenging times this is a great asset. Too often I have observed leaders ‘sugar coating’ the truth so as not to cause ‘panic,’ or so they thought. What people need in moments that are generating fear is sufficient truth to feel comfortable that those in charge have a plan or are formulating a plan. They understand that maintaining trustworthiness requires honesty and the ability to use information (what we know/don’t know) to talk genuinely about the ‘way forward.’
To a better you…