Posts Tagged leadership

Successful leadership during uncertain times

Current economic conditions are exascerbating the difficulty of already daunting leadership challenges.  We are already struggling with change as the structure of organisations shifts to a more open and collaborative management model; keeping a team engaged and productive during periods of uncertainty takes additional flexibility and skill.

It seems counter-intuitive; you would think that when the economy is bad and the supply of jobs is contracting people would be working harder in order to ensure their continued employment.   Well, perhaps some are, but uncertainty creates instability, and the manager who ignores that added ingredient does so at her own peril.  Why?  Because the uncertainty creates a disconnect in the normal process of employee motivation that can make it harder to keep teams focused on organisational goals.

Maslow’s theories illustrate that people focus on their personal needs in a distinct order.  Physiological needs such as food, water and shelter are the most critical, followed closely by security and safety.  Farther down the list are social, ego and self-actualisation.  So far so good; people will work harder to preserve their jobs because the job provides for their sustenance and security, right?

Well, yes, but that’s where the fun starts.  Most employee motivation is about more than just retaining the workers, it’s about keeping them engaged in the pursuit of organisational goals.  Great leaders attract and inspire talented contributors who successfully aspire as a group to achieve the purpose of the organisation through strategic process.

Uncertainty and unrest in the economy creates a dangerous feedback loop at the most basic levels of human needs.  While it is true that the health of the organisation as a whole is critical to the viability of individual jobs, employees who are being constantly bombarded by external messages that question the security of their job find it hard to look beyond their personal needs to those of the organisation.  In some organisations this can quickly morph into a toxic environment where selfishness interferes with reason.

Here are a few examples.  Corporate product teams can disregard external input when prioritising programs, sales leaders can implement flawed incentive plans that sacrifice strategic goals in favor of the tactical in order to drive quarterly numbers, partner programs can be modified to shift the focus to internal not collaborative success metrics.

It takes a strong and insightful leader to recognise and overcome the potential impacts of economic uncertainty.

Don’t lie to your employees; rather than attemting to avoid or downplay the challenges, remind them that periods of uncertainty provide the greatest opportunities for innovation and impact.

Validate the vision of the organisation and trumpet its potential.  Increase the transparency of the strategic planning processes so that the importance of the vision is clear and selfish activities are quickly identified and corrected.

Redouble the recognition afforded to employees and teams who are at the vanguard of innovation and show how their contributions are helping to move the vision forward.

Instead of avoiding the challenges such as layoffs and cutbacks, face them head on and remind the team that even though the overall economic challenges might be out of their control they are temporary, and that their continued efforts will pay larger dividends down the road.

Are concerns about the economy impacting your organisation?  How are you dealing with it?

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What’s your view of collaboration?

Practically every executive I meet with these days wants to talk about collaboration.  The interesting thing is, in most cases it quickly becomes clear that what they really want to discuss is optimising delegation.

While moving from “command and control” to “communicate and collaborate” is the stated goal of many leaders, you don’t see very many of these actually relinquishing command.  Most think they are collaborating when in fact all they are doing is spreading the responsibility more widely.  And in that case, to quote an old expression, “Unless you’re the lead dog the view never changes.”

One of the potential benefits of improved organisational communication is the power of democratising the business. Today’s use of collaboration as a buzzword is eerily reminiscent of the “empowering the worker” jargon of the 80s.  A lot of companies talked about it, but only a few led the transformation and capitalised on the benefits.  To those few the strategic advantage became huge.

So it’s interesting to talk to business leaders today and hear them talk about change, and it’s fascinating to discuss new technologies and innovative business process, but at the end of the day, more often than not, the real transformation of their organisations will only occur through a careful self-analysis by these executives, and an actual commitment to personal transformation.  Because unless they are truly willing to trust the team they’ve built, and distribute not only responsibility but authority, it’s all just academic.

What does collaboration look like to you?

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