There have been many quotes from leaders during this crisis. Some memorable and others, thankfully, forgettable. One of the most profound belongs to Deborah Birx. Dr Birx, a leading immunologist, army colonel and the co-ordinator of the White House task force on Coronavirus declared, “There’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic vaccine or therapy, just behaviours”.
Leadership of late has become a more digital affair. Unable to get to the office, let alone travel overseas, we commute to cyber space, working on Zoom, Hangout or MS Teams; other platforms are available. I wonder how many of us have adopted the news anchor strategy, wearing formal attire above the desk and fluffy slippers and pyjamas beneath (mine are only slightly fluffy!). While we can get away with inconsistency in our dress, where our behaviours are concerned, there is no such luxury. At times like these, good leadership is good behaviours.
To this end, here are a few important behaviours to think about in these challenging and uncertain times.
Fear Management: This competency is hugely important in the current context. Research shows that we all have a different appetite for, and tolerance of, fear or risk. If we are not careful, fear can become the unwelcome additional member of your board or leadership team, seated firmly around the table but rarely identified or called out. In times when anxieties run high, it is vital that we acknowledge the presence of our fears. By naming and sharing our anxieties out loud, we remove the shame that we feel inside and begin to strip fear of much of its power.
As a Policeman I remember how different colleagues reacted to anxiety and fear when confronted with violence. Some stood up and confronted it, others froze and some occasionally ran away. What was clear was that different individuals have a different capacity to deal with anxiety and fear. The best leaders I have served under, recognised this and personalised their leadership and management accordingly. As leaders, our job is to help others to acknowledge and own their fears, support them and ensure that these fears do not grow into anything bigger.
Pause: Many of us get things done by answering quickly, acting expediently and moving swiftly. While this may be a secret of our success, many leaders I work with need to learn to pause more. Pressing pause gives way to better listening, deeper enquiry and greater curiosity. In times of crisis, time speeds up and it becomes more difficult to press pause. However, the truth is not every issue we face is a matter of crisis and adopting a more reflective posture will allow us to ask deeper, richer questions and ultimately find better solutions.
Tone: The numbers are well known. 50% of our communication is body language, 40% is tone of voice and only 10% comes down to words. On a video conference, tone is often all defining. As we lean into our screens, a slightly aggressive statement, a rolling of the eyes, a dismissive comment or off-the-cuff remark can be really damaging. Relaxation and informality are great but must not lead to lazy thinking and bad habits. We need to be mindful about how we come across in a medium which often dulls our people skills and may amplify some of our weaknesses. Choose your tone and hold it.
Self Care: A friend of mine is fond of saying that. “If you are preaching measles but carrying mumps, people will catch the mumps”. What we model to those we lead is of profound importance — positivity, calmness, openness, hope, generosity etc. In the same vein, if we want to care well for others, we have to take care of ourselves. I recently heard of a leader who opened a meeting by talking openly about how they were managing their own anxieties and fear of recent days. Managed the right way this is excellent leadership. At this time, we need leaders who are self-aware, have the courage to embrace vulnerability, disclose struggle and embody the empathy to stand alongside others. Remember to be kind to yourself and let it be known that you are.
What is happening in the outside world is beyond our control and this will probably be a long haul journey for leaders. So, remember when it comes to leading in a waist up world, there’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic vaccine or therapy, just behaviours. So behave!