The Single Most Important Thing That You Can Do to Lead Your Team Into A New Reality
The world as we know it has changed. Most of us are now working from home, separated from the people we usually work shoulder-to-shoulder with every day. Team members are missing for various reasons. Projects have slowed or ground to a halt. Clients have disappeared. Business, like life, is upside down. Now what? Where do you begin? How do you prioritize, when everything feels like it needs to be done at once? How do you lead your team through this?
If this sounds familiar, you are in very good company. Most businesses and organizations across the world are dealing with these very issues to one degree or another. Luckily there is no shortage of crisis-driven plans out there to guide you with step-by-step actions and approaches that are best practices during extraordinary times. As you dig into those, however, we’d like to suggest there is one critical behaviour that you as a leader must exhibit and will make all the difference in how your team is able to successfully move forward together into a new reality.
The number one most important thing a leader needs to do to help his team through times of change is to ‘listen’. Listen to your team. Listen to the experts who are bringing you the facts. And listen to your clients.
1. Begin by pulling your team together in whatever way you can- by video conference, phone, Zoom- it doesn’t really matter, as long as you can all hear and speak to one another. Being able to gather together goes a long way toward ensuring the group that you’re all still there to support one another, even if you’re physically separated. Remember there are many teams who work remotely with one another as a regular practice, so it can be done successfully. If you are not familiar with that environment though, it can be uncomfortable and a bit scary, at least initially.
2. The first part of these conversations should include a wellness check; literally ask how each member is doing. Sharing one another’s fears and challenges during times of change will connect you in a different and more important way than any of you may have experienced before. As a leader, this is a very important guidepost for you. The act of showing up, listening to their concerns and sharing your own, will help to ease anxiety and give you valuable insight as to how and where your team most needs your support.
3. Once the team has updated each other on their current status, it’s time for a reality check. As we all know by now, there is no shortage of information out there. We are inundated by the 24hr news cycle, along with a never-ending stream of stories via social media. As a leader, it is imperative that you identify the best source of factual information that you can find and stick to that. Listening to qualified sources and bringing those messages to your team will help them to focus on what is ‘real’.
4. As important as it is to listen to your team, it’s equally as important for that behaviour to be applied to your clients as well. In order to assess how you can help them, you need to understand where they’re at. The work you had been doing or intended to do with them may need to change or cease altogether, at least in the short-term, but asking if there are other ways you can assist them in the meantime may lead to opportunities you had never before considered. Even if work comes to a standstill, a regular and sincere check-in to say ‘Hi. How are you doing?’ will be appreciated. It not only keeps you on their radar, but it helps you understand the challenges they are experiencing, so you may be able to adjust your services to better assist them.
5. Now that you have come together as a team to understand the reality of your new situation, you can begin to formulate your plan. What are the most important things to do right now, and what can wait until later? Who will do what? What resources are available and what gaps of knowledge may yet need to be filled? Don’t forget the listening must continue and be purposefully built into the plan. As your team begins to implement, ensure that you have identified a way to check in with one another for regular updates. And equally as important, identify how you will decide if you need to meet sooner. If things go sideways, how can you access each other quickly to share information and adjust accordingly?
This way of working in our new version of the world may continue for some time, so we will all have the chance to practice the art of listening, whether with the teams we lead, the families we belong to or those friends who look to us for support and encouragement. The most valuable way to approach these days is to see them as an opportunity to strengthen this most important leadership skill.
"Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That's how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities."
— Peter Nulty National Business Hall of Fame Fortune Magazine