This time last year I was looking forward to 2021. Many of the leaders I was working with were tired from the difficulties they had faced in 2020, and were hopeful that with Covid cases declining and a fresh start to the new year, 2021 would be more manageable, less disruptive, and good for business. How wrong we were.
2021 has certainly been a challenging year for many, but without changing your perspective on your current situation, and strategically planning how to adapt to future disruptions, you will never grow as a leader. If you’re looking for a way to navigate uncertainty, lead authentically, and successfully guide your team through the crisis, it’s time to make some changes.
Lead yourself before you lead others
One of the pillars of my practice in mindful leadership is leading yourself before you lead others. If you want to change your business results or personal impact as a leader, you need to change yourself. Too often leaders are focused on delivering good work and helping their team deliver outcomes, without ever stopping to reflect on why they’re in a leadership role, and what type of leader they wish to be.
If you want to truly connect with your team, experience joy in your role, and find meaning and purpose in your work, you must start with leading yourself. This requires deep reflection and the conscious decision to make changes in your life where needed. It also requires you to connect with your inner self and learn to observe your mind.
By making consciously courageous decisions with compassion, you transcend the busyness of your mind and chart a course that enables you to make an impact in your organisation, industry or community. But it starts with you.
Connect your team with their purpose
Ask a leadership team what their purpose is and you’ll often hear what I call “the corporate response”. Phrases that include cost reduction, profit elevation, customer satisfaction and shareholder value. While many businesses understand the importance of organisational purpose, implementing a shared sense of meaning and purpose beyond these measures is still missing in many companies. These organisations are failing to tap into a key motivator.
In a study by Harvard Business Review, executives from companies with a strong sense of organisational purpose had better performance, increased innovation, and a higher job satisfaction among employees.
Connecting your team with their purpose goes beyond you telling them what it is. Purpose is about engaging their hearts and minds. As the business landscape changes, include them in clarifying and articulating your team’s purpose and how it connects with your organisation’s purpose. Engage each individual and help them connect to what lights them up at work.
Choose how you respond to change
In a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, how you respond to change will determine how you lead your team through disruption. Often when we’re faced with the unexpected, we react rather than respond. Most reactions are habitual. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that past solutions may not work and new ways of working require innovative approaches.
Instead of becoming caught up in the events going on around you, consciously pause and reflect before you respond. In this way, you can ensure that your response is aligned with your goals and purpose, rather than simply doing what others are doing, or making a habitual decision. I love this quote by Victor Frankl – “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
When you pause to reflect and truly be in the moment, you can consciously choose your response and strategically lead your team through disruption, change, and uncertainty.
Be compassionate to yourself and others
Research shows that leaders who work empathically with their team are viewed more favourably by their own bosses, and have higher performance. In my experience, empathy is a great starting point – but compassion is what’s needed to truly elevate your leadership. Empathy is feeling what another person feels, but compassion is taking action to alleviate suffering (theirs and your own). This is crucial as a leader, both in how you relate to others, and in how you relate to yourself.
Compassion doesn’t mean being ‘soft’. It’s about being mindful (consciously seeing what is really happening and accepting the situation), being kind (rather than downgrading yourself or others) and taking action (holding yourself and others accountable and learning how to change). By using a compassionate model for mistakes, you increase trust and accountability in your team and curate a space in which mistakes are opportunities for growth and development, rather than something to hide.
Change is hard and requires courage. Not changing is potentially disastrous as the future leaves you behind (think of Kodak during the dawn of the smartphone). To grow authentically, reflect on your leadership over the past 18 months and consciously choose how you will change and prepare for the last quarter of this year.
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