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Be a Better Leader

Towards the end of December, we wrote about how, despite the widespread lust for a “back to normal”, businesses should strive for change instead – to learn and grow from the lessons of the painful nine months that preceded.

Today, I want to follow that up with something on a more personal (or personnel) level – how can we be better leaders than we were last year? I apologise that this isn’t in time for your personal new year’s resolutions; one of my resolutions is to better plan ahead for these blogs!

Here’s a Top Five Tips that we should all be able to embrace:

1. Communicate more

By the way, I’m not expecting to surprise you with the entries at the top end of this list!

Looking back at the unholy hell of the past nine months, did you really communicate as openly, effectively, compassionately and frequently as your people needed you to? Don’t beat yourself up about it – almost every business in the country buckled under previously-unknown pressures, faced unprecedented challenges, and had to adapt to working in ways they could not have expected or fully prepared for. Communicating with our newly dispersed or furloughed people was only one of the mammoth business tasks facing us all.

But, it’s during times of significant change that people need more reassurance, more information, more communication. And we should all have accepted by now that this period of great change is going to be with us for a while yet.

Commit now to improving your communications with your people. This may seem daunting given the current challenges, but revisiting and then sticking to your internal comms strategy now will pay handsomely as this situation rolls on. And beyond.

As with all communications (and this applies to everything from a short, engaging video to your entire workforce to a brief one-to-one chat with a direct report), you should be clear about the intended purpose of that comms. The chances are your communication is either to inform or persuade, to explain or to empower. Being clear about the objective or desired outcome will help you to shape it more effectively.

And remember that comms should always be two-way. Be a better listener. Again, this applies to the large-scale comms, where you need to give your audience the chance to interact, feedback and respond, or the more intimate. Knowledge is power. And no-one learned anything worth knowing with their ears closed. The more you know about your audience (of one, five or five hundred), about how they’re thinking, perceiving and feeling, the better you will connect and engage and the more confidence they will have in you.

2. Embrace change

OK, so this may seem a strange entry in a blog that’s already about embracing change! But successful businesses (and successful business-people) have always been about being agile. And that is never truer than now – a time when open-ended restrictions are enforced on our usual ways of living and working with almost no notice.

Embracing change is more than accepting it. Expect constant change (“change is the only constant” and all that!), strive to understand it and the reasons behind it, then act on it with conviction and sell it to everyone else. Then be ready and waiting to do it all over again.

Becoming weary of change is natural. It’s understandable. But it’s not helpful to you or your organisation. Communication and collaboration are key to fight that fatigue. (You can also find some tips on improving your personal resilience here.) The worst way to deal with change is alone. And that certainly applies to your team members, too. That brings us back to communication, and point one above!

3. Maintain a positive attitude

Feelings and attitudes are as contagious as the virus that’s causing us all so much pain right now! A leader who seems disheartened, demotivated, discouraged, beaten, or even just apathetic will spread that around a team like Glandular Fever at a snoggers’ convention.

Maintain a sense of optimism and hope even when things are tough, and regardless of your personal views or current mood! Be the role model you always wanted (to be) – inspire, encourage and be transformational in your dealings.

A word of caution, though – don’t appear removed or detached from what is going on. You’re not a robot, and you need to remain relatable throughout this. Remember that showing humanity, humility, and good humour is not showing weakness. Showing vulnerability can open up better connections with our people. Be open, be humble but be positive.

And, finally, share the love and spread the positivity by maintaining appreciation and recognition, through your personal interactions and via a suitable recognition platform. It’s more important now than ever.

4. Continuous Personal Development

As with truly embracing change, we should strive to learn something every day. There is no place for arrogance in an agile workforce. We all have plenty to learn.

This isn’t necessarily about structured learning or improving your specialist, professional knowledge (although these are worthy, too!). We can learn in, and from, our everyday interactions. Ask more questions and ask for more feedback. Make time every day to learn something new. Schedule a short timeslot at the end of each day to reflect on this. It can be a really positive way to wind-down and close off the working day.

5. Be empathic

Show your people you care… about their well-being, their current circumstances and challenges, and the issues affecting them. People are dealing (or not!) with more than ever before. Lead with transparency, prioritise engagement and connection, ask how you can support and be accessible.

Empathy doesn’t come naturally to all. It is a personality trait as well as a learned behaviour. If you are not naturally empathetic, then teach yourself to stop what you are doing and thinking, and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The more we understand the perspective of others, the better our exchanges will be. And, so, the better a leader we will be.

Let’s make 2021 the year we make concerted efforts to be better leaders, even (or especially) in the midst of this ongoing crisis. It’ll be nice to remember the year for something else, something positive.


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