To Survive The Unexpected
Step 7: Lead from BESIDE
Environmental instability and health uncertainty, as we experience today, are stress factors that have had a disruptive effect on companies. How much confidence can we have in what has made us successful in the past when the disruptions and crisis we face challenge everything we thought was stable? How much confidence can we have in our view of the future when the impact of these disruptions makes it very difficult to get a clear picture of what the future will be like? People are experiencing burn-out, anxiety, suffering at work, depression and low morale, and it has become commonplace. It’s difficult to live in an anxiety-provoking context, with doubts about the past and no clear picture of the future. This makes the “traditional leadership speech” ineffective and inaudible.
Leaders need to acknowledge this level of distress. Otherwise they will lose the trust of their teams. People will lose their self-confidence or lose trust in the words of leaders or even in the collective purpose of the company.
In this case, an “Above” posture will only widen the gap created by lack of self-confidence. An “Ahead” posture may exhaust or paralyze even the best people. Leaders need a different posture here, i.e. “Beside”, and interact with their people in a way that restores confidence and helps regain capacity for action.
The first competence that contributes to this is coaching. Coaching has developed in large companies, with external professionals or by developing these skills in managers.
The objective is to support an individual who is paralyzed or stymied by a problem they cannot resolve and enable them to develop solutions to solve it themselves.
The coach’s position, and herein lies its value, is not to be overbearing and not to provide solutions. By using dialogue or some other well-managed process, the coach gets the “coachee” to formulate, test and apply solutions they are willing to commit to and act upon.
It is not always easy for a leader to adopt this posture, as it runs contrary to the hierarchical relationships so prevalent in everyday corporate life. The “above” or “ahead” position always seems more natural. So, refraining from intervening, from giving advice, from problem solving or issuing orders requires self-control. Accompanying an employee’s self-development is a way to guarantee their development and strengthen their self-confidence.
The coaching posture is not always possible or relevant, either because it does not meet the need of the person having a problem, because it’s a crisis situation that needs rapid action, or because the solution to the problem does not require such an approach.
In large organizations, mentoring appeared at the same time as coaching but it is based on a very different relationship. Unlike coaching, in mentoring the mentor’s “high” position is recognized and valued. The mentor is not in a hierarchical relationship with the person they are supporting, and acts as a “wise person” whose experience and advice will help the less experienced individual to move forward. The mentor does not seek to impose but to accompany, advise, guide and support. If it is well managed, harmonious and based on strong mutual trust, the mentor relationship can be maintained over a long period of time.
Many of us have experienced this special relationship. The mentor, when acting well, alleviates the mental load that oppresses us when we act outside our comfort zone. He is a source of psychological security and inspiration. The good mentor knows how to be beside and above at the same time.
Nothing very new here. Listening skills are at the heart of any management development program. But are they implemented? Most of the time we doubt it.
Listening to an individual, like listening to the market, is not simply about hearing what they are “saying”, or what you observe. In this period of major transformations, and at a time when uncertainty and complexity are important stress factors, what really counts are the weak, often non-verbal, signals and the music behind the words, the emotions underlying people’s reactions.
Leaders need empathy and observation skills to capture these, but they are often limited by lack of time, too much pressure or sometimes a downright refusal to hear. It is all the more difficult to listen successfully as people are not always able to identify and express the reasons for their discomfort. But being listened to allows us to better understand ourselves and to formulate the nature of our difficulties. We then gain in autonomy.
Keen observation will allow leaders to connect apparently uncorrelated events, that are hardly discernible, but are likely to shed light on the future if they are identified and interpreted at the right time. Before their move to France, we saw that experts considered that for cultural reasons McDonald’s had no future in France. But they were missing some key signals: the brand’s playful nature, the fascination young people had for the American model; the different ways in which the urban tertiary sector was evolving their food consumption habits. In all these areas, the brand’s potential was obvious. So much for gastronomy.
As we step into different world, after the crisis we are experiencing in 2020, these skills, already very much present in training program, will become even more essential.
In STEP 8: We’ll look at whet means leading from among. Sharing. Being part of the emotional dimensions that bind people together.
ICM Associates (Paris) is a member of the PAWLIK Consultants (Hamburg)
Have a look at Step 1 Leadership definition
Have a look at Step 2 The world as it goes
Have a look at Step 3 Facing dilemmas
Have a look at Step 4 Leader tomorrow
Have a look at Step 5 Leading from above
Have a look at Step 6 Leading from ahead
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