Peter Daland, former USC and Olympic swimming coach once said, “The secret to swimming is not how far you swim, and it’s not how hard you swim. The secret to swimming is how far you are willing to swim hard.”
The last eighteen months may have felt like we’ve been swimming hard, but the perspective we’d like to share, is that for those of us in leadership roles, the hard work isn’t over. In many respects, it may have just begun.
The shift in the world that we’ve all had to deal with has had us scrambling to adjust and accommodate. Don’t get us wrong- none of this has been easy. But while we’ve been focused on figuring out how to function and do our work in our new environments, some of the hard stuff that existed pre-pandemic has slipped to the back burner and may have become even more challenging and important in the meantime.
The thought of gritting our teeth and diving into more difficult conversations is not something anyone looks forward to. Especially when we’re already feeling worn down and raw. Here are four basic tactics that can help to support us.
1. SHOW UP
There are times when we’re feeling so exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally that we can’t even imagine being of use to anyone, much less leading a team to make hard decisions. The best advice we’ve ever received goes something like this, “Wash your face, brush your teeth, get dressed, and just show up. You’ll figure out the rest once you’re there.” The single most important message you can send is to face things head-on. The fact that you made the effort says, ‘this stuff is important, and we all need to make an effort’. Hiding and avoiding what you know will be challenging, says the opposite.
2. BE PRESENT
The second piece of showing up is to actually ‘be there’. You can bet your boots that those around you will know immediately if you’re distracted or preoccupied, and if that’s the case, you may as well have stayed home. There’s nothing more frustrating and discouraging than trying to connect with someone who isn’t focused. So, stop listening to those inner voices and stay on task and engaged with your team. All those distractions will still be there waiting after the meeting. You owe your attention to your people, especially when there’s hard work to be done.
3. FOCUS ON THE PRIORITIES
When things are busy, everything seems like a priority. But it’s precisely now that you need to hone in on what is most important. If there is chaos, look for the root cause. You need to find the disease below the symptoms, or precious resources may be wasted. Go back to your strategic directives. How does this situation support them, or not? That is the question that will help you cut through the noise to what the priority should be.
4. WALK YOUR TALK
This is a non-negotiable if you intend to be an effective leader, especially when times are challenging. Authentically modeling the behaviour you want to encourage is the most efficient way to move people in the right direction. You can lecture them ‘til the cows come home about why they should believe what you believe and do what you tell them to do. But if your actions say the opposite, you’ve wasted your breath and put your own credibility at risk, not to mention your organization’s.
The bottom line is avoiding what needs attention, even though it may not be screaming the loudest, will catch up to you. And not in a good way. Dealing with the difficult situations that are lurking in the shadows is our responsibility as leaders. The four tips we’ve talked about will help give you the strength you need. And strength is often the quietest thing in the room.
"A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent."
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing."