This is the first post in a three-part series. (See the second: Lesson #2 of Leading through a Crisis: Be Persistent and third post: Lesson #3 of Leading through a Crisis: Be Creative.)
Leading during normal times is challenging enough. Throw in a world-wide crisis and the stress to be effective and do what is right increases exponentially. People depend on their leader to take the necessary actions that are quick but thoughtful and strategic.
When our world turned topsy-turvy on us back in mid-March, it left us all scrambling to get our footing and gain some type of orientation, both personally and professionally. As is true during any perilous time, we lean on those around us to provide guidance, clarity, and assurance. Our friends and families are our support network at home and while at work, we need to prioritize being that for each other.
While I would argue these leadership lessons hold true in any situation, Patrick Lencioni (3 Thoughts for Leaders In a Perilous Time) offers three simple rules especially important for leading during perilous times:
- Be human.
- Be persistent.
- Be creative.
Leaders aren’t robots, void of feelings or emotion. Leaders ARE humans. The sooner leaders shake the idea that you must never let those in your charge see the real you, the sooner you can begin to build trust. This is a solid truth during any time, but in the midst of a crisis, this is vitally important.
Putting the human element into leadership is about knowing that being personal is not at the sacrifice of being professional. The ability and willingness to be vulnerable, creating the safety where others are, as well, along with valuing each other as people, together is at the core of a strong team. Like anything else, the leader sets the tone and paves the way along the journey.
How does a leader “be human?” Here are some ideas on how you might follow this simple rule:
Adjusting your communication, whether it be the method or frequency, is important as circumstances change. While some modes of our communication, like our weekly staff newsletter or Voxer groups, have remained a constant, other needs have required a different take. As soon as we knew teachers would be working from home, we created a daily updates google doc and a collaborative google sheet with tabs for collecting ideas, Q&A, and resources to share. I also began to use video more frequently, filming reflections and updates, then posting to my YouTube channel.
Since communication is two-way, I tried to be more intentional about creating varied opportunities for connection, keeping in mind the communication preferences of our team members. Whether it was shooting a quick text to a teacher or creating a Zoom room for office pop-ins, knowing that people have different preferences, both in type and frequency, is key to ensuring strong communication.
As a leader, I take pride in protecting those I serve and, in turn, the mission of our school, but that is not to be mistaken for a lack of sharing both the facts of and our emotions attached to the situation. As things around us change quickly, it is reassuring to know your leader is not hiding information and is also riding the emotional roller coaster that comes along with a crisis. While there is a bit of a balancing act that requires knowing what need to be shared versus what is inconsequential, I am honest about what I know and, more importantly, what I don’t know and the real “be human” part comes when I’m also open in regards to how I’m processing the situation.
Give an A
The concept of “Give an A” comes from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. During a crisis when we are all thrust into uncharted territory, it becomes more important than ever to reassure people that you value them. Period. No strings attached. “The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibilities,” the Zanders explain.
I let our team know on a regular basis that their value to me is not dependent on some relative success or failure, but that they already have their A from me just by being the awesome humans they are. That coveted A, associated with great pride and achievement, comes from knowing we each have genius and are all committed to being the best version of ourselves, making unique and positive contributions to our common mission.
Ultimately, giving an A means giving grace, speaking truth to belief and freeing others (and yourself, for that matter) from the fear of failure.
Self-care is not selfish. Taking care of ourselves and knowing what replenishes our energy is necessary for us be at our best and, to be human, leaders must prioritize wellness for themselves and those they serve.
To support this priority, we created self-care plans that included specific, personalized plans for stress management, healthy eating, getting regular sleep and exercising. After sharing ideas for each of these components, we touched base with our stretch partners and discussed what support would look like. We also regularly share ideas and resources for wellness, whether it be through our shared Google sheet that has a tab dedicated to this where team members can describe and link various ways or during our morning huddles when we identify how we’ll be practicing self-care over a weekend.
Check In & Connect
Communicating information and next steps is important, but don’t forget about the human side of communication. I try to ensure that I’m regularly checking in on our people by asking how they’re doing, what they need and having non-work related conversations.
Some ways I’ve found valuable to check in:
- Two-Word Check-In by Brene Brown – We start some of our meetings using this valuable and quick way to help process emotions, some of which may seemingly be conflicting.
- Google Form Weekly Checks – These are efficient ways to let people check in with you. Here are two examples we’ve used recently: Monday TM Leader Check-In and Weekly TM Leader Check-In.
- What’s it like to be you right now? – Another way to start a meeting is to go around and allow everyone, in a couple of sentences, to answer this question. It builds empathy and gives you a peek into how everyone is doing.
- Be authentically curious – As leaders we can get focused on our goals at work. Build connections by asking about people’s lives outside of work. Not only do people like sharing what their world is like, it’s fun to hear about what they value.
When I do this, I’m putting actions behind the words “I care about you” and want to help give you what you need.
What’s Your Purpose?
Challenges call us to be courageous. And courage requires us to be driven by a larger purpose. Humans crave being a part of something larger than themselves, so as a leader, I want to remind our team of our WHY.
Whether it be a video to share, like this one we watched recently at a morning huddle:
or a song like this that I put on a shared playlist:
it is important that we do not lose sight of our larger purpose and why we need to persevere.
Be a Dealer of Hope
Above all, being human as a leader requires us to keep a positive attitude, be confident that our team will not only get through this but be better off because of it, and know that this too shall pass. Staying inspirational and painting a vivid picture of how we’ll be moving forward together on our path to greatness, despite obstacles, is a leader’s job.
Being human while being a leader sounds and is, in reality, simple enough but ignored by far too many who hold positions of influence. People need leaders who value and feed connections that speak belief, build trust and inspire greatness.
How do you add humanity into your leadership? Together we are brilliant, so I’d love to connect! Tweet and tag me (@me1odystacy) or feel free to start a conversation by commenting below.