This means that Strategic Leadership as we normally understand it is hard. If you cannot make assumptions and predictions on the future, you cannot really strategise. You have to be reactive, dealing with issues and opportunities as they come, rather than have concerted initiatives to push forward, the anathema of good strategy. During a recent conversation with Ken Kelly, owner of The Furniture Practice, one of the UK’s largest furniture dealers, he shared with me that they are taking things in three month timeframes, first getting everyone focussed, not losing money etc and then deciding how to continue – feelings I think many of us share.
Some leaders naturally gravitate towards this part of the job, but I’ve always found it the more challenging part of what I do (I once hired someone with the words ‘I do not consider myself at all responsible for your emotional well-being’ – it didn’t work out).
Right now, people that work for us are stressed – they’re scared, may be fearful of their jobs, their family & health, and uncomfortable with the level of uncertainty around them. Even just going to the shops at the moment, it’s tangible to see people’s levels of anxiety.
So, in this kind of situation, people need Leadership, someone to show them that it’s going to be OK, to listen to them, and provide a sense of certainly and security when they need it most.
Les Hayes and Scott Offerdahl at the Entrepreneurs Organisation put together this model several years ago, and I always think I never got the attention it deserved. It outlines nicely the distinction between Strategic (it uses the term ‘intellectual’) and Emotional parts both of self-management, and of Leadership (using the terms ‘Inner and ‘Outer’):
Take a look at the bottom-right hand corner – the skills of Emotional Leadership (how we deal with others emotionally). I always find it a helpful reference list.
One of my team members shared with me recently feelings of frustration at the situation we’re in. I couldn’t offer him a clear direction for the future, but I could listen, recognise his feelings, tell him ‘It’s OK to feel that at the moment’ and talk about acceptance, and how to personally approach this difficult time.
I realised that it’s OK to reassure people without knowing how the situation is going to be fixed. You don’t have to have a plan for people to follow you. You just have to have a belief that things will be OK (which they will), and an honesty to share your journey with one another.
So, here’s a helpful list of actions of good Emotional Leadership, drawn from a mix of experience, observation, and brainstorm:
It always feels a little trite to me saying it, but never ceases to amaze me how much people want / need to hear it.
Don’t let the fact of not knowing where you’re going at the moment prevent you from stepping up for the other key part of leadership – Emotional Leadership. Look at this crisis as an opportunity to grow and deepen as a person and forge closer ties with those around you.