Leading Through Adversity to Emerge Strong from the Lockdown

Leading Through Adversity to Emerge Strong from the Lockdown

I love this article, which addresses a key question: How do we take action to lead, and emerge strongly, from something challenging that we (individually and collectively) have never experienced before?

The authors identify two specific challenges businesses are facing right now:

  1. The situation is unique, so no one has the experience to know how to handle it. This means that creativity and experimentation are required to identify solutions.
  2. The brain’s reactivity, which is triggered by escalating bad news and uncertainty about the future, inhibits us from accessing the mindset needed to be creative.

When we are stressed our brain automatically handles anything that appears threatening as though it’s a survival issue, exactly as it would if we were facing a predator. Clearly, that kind of situation is not the time to take a break, relax, and seek some creativity! Irrespective of what is actually driving the stress, our brain shifts all its resources to focus on what is happening RIGHT NOW, losing all interest in POSSIBILITY. Being survival-oriented, this impulse is incredibly powerful, and it has the impact of shifting us to a state of pure reactivity. Thus, stress forces us to focus on the problems of the moment and makes it unlikely, or even impossible, to come up with innovative solutions.

I consider this to be the central paradox of leadership, and especially decision-making, in ambiguous, volatile and challenging situations: our brain has evolved such that it naturally shuts down access to the mental resources required just when we most need them.

This needs to be born in mind as you consider the very practical and, I believe, useful measures suggested in this article. It suggests seven actions that can reduce people’s sense of unpredictability, lack of control, and unknown outcomes that are the root of much of today’s fear. As such, it gives leaders a means of encouraging the open and creative thinking that will maximise business results.

Read the Article: There is a Better Way to Weather the Downturn: What Post-Recession Winners Know and Do

My Advice

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, nearly 45% of adults reported that the pandemic was harming their mental health. Given we know that exposure to even mildly uncomfortable stressors will have a negative impact on our decision-making, it is more vital than ever to give attention to managing stress.

All is not lost, because we can learn to better handle stressors. I recommend ensuring that you commit time every day to doing something which enables you to unwind. There is such a temptation when the pressure is on, to hunker down, focus, and battle through the challenges. However, these situations are when we most need our recovery time.

There’s an old Buddhist saying which captures this idea perfectly: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, except when you’re too busy, then you’ll need the full hour”!

Our body and mind have evolved to handle world-class stress, as long as it is paired with world-class recovery. Even a few minutes of mindfulness/meditation practice has been scientifically proven to make a difference, and the benefits build over time. If you haven’t started such a practice yet, perhaps now would be a good time to start?

Leaders Who Give, Gain

Leaders Who Give, Gain

There’s no doubt that the people who work for you are much more likely to give their best if they, emotionally, choose you to lead them. One way of achieving this was highlighted by a fascinating study conducted at the University of Kent.

The research was based around a “cooperation game”, in which a group of participants were each given a small amount of money and invited to use it to make a contribution to a common fund. The fund was then doubled in value and shared equally between all members of the group.

This experiment cleverly confronted participants with a common dilemma:

  1. Cooperate with the collective interest by continually reinvesting their money, thereby maximising the overall gains, or…
  2. Act selfishly, by holding back some of their money, which maximises personal gain at the expense of others.

Thriving businesses need maximal cooperation, yet, as the experiment showed, there are always people who prefer option 2. It also demonstrated just how critical it is that leaders don’t fall into this trap! In the second phase of the experiment, participants were divided into teams and each was asked to elect a leader. They found that:

82% of the leaders elected were those who had given the most during the first phase.

The study showed that the act of giving is recognised as a leadership quality, and that this is true even if that person is a complete stranger.

This article provides helpful advice to anyone seeking to give more. It warns, for example, that while givers may be the best performers, they can also be the worst, and why this happens. It also identifies six different profiles of generosity, to help you to understand where your skills and interests may fit most naturally, and highlights the danger of going too far and giving too much of yourself!

Read the Article: The Power of Giving

My Advice

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we give, it says to others that we are seeking to serve; it shows that we are interested in placing their interests ahead of our own; it demonstrates that we are willing to invest in their world, not just our own. Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that when people witness us to be givers, they will see us as a leader.

Please remember that the power of generosity will not enhance your leadership if applied as a technique. If you fall into the trap of giving in order to get something, that is NOT influence, it is manipulation. To unlock the power of giving, it must be done authentically, without expectation of return. It is about being, not doing.

You Can Buy Hands, but Hearts Must be Won

You Can Buy Hands, but Hearts Must be Won

Employee engagement is much more than a simple buzz phrase or management fad – most would now readily accept that it’s a fundamental requirement for high performance. Yet, despite its critical importance, Gallup and others continue to report abysmal levels of positive engagement among employees (typically only 15-20%), and the UK is one of the poorest performers. Worse, these stats aren’t improving, even as awareness of the importance of this subject grows.

Why is this, and what can be done to improve matters?

A great starting point for building engagement is to ensure that your team feels valued and valuable. To this end, perhaps surprisingly, high-profile, public appearances in the work environment don’t help much. This goal is much better achieved through daily interactions, by taking opportunities to build trust and to affirm people in the small moments of their everyday lives. The more personal the connection, the more strongly it will convey that you care, and the deeper its impact will be.

I know of no role model whose example better conveys the transformative power of this approach than General Earl Hailston, the commander of Marine Forces Central Command during the second Gulf War. On 5th March 2003, less than 2 weeks before the invasion began, he and his troops were fully prepared for battle. That day, during an interview with Good Morning America, he was asked about his love of photography. He recounted that, as he travelled around, he would take photos of his men, then at night he’d email the photos with a brief note to their parents back in the USA. When asked if he had a sample of one of his letters, he turned on his computer and read the last letter he had sent. It said:

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I thought you might enjoy seeing this picture of your son. He is doing great. I also wanted you to know that you did a wonderful job raising him.

You must be very proud. I can certainly tell you that I’m honored to serve with him in the U.S. Marines.

Sincerely,

General Earl Hailston

Saddled with such enormous responsibility, many a leader becomes lost in the challenges of the task. General Hailston’s behaviour highlights something that all great leaders know: under the most pressured of circumstances, it is more important, not less, to remember the people. I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that every one of General Hailston’s men was committed to the cause in a way that money could never have achieved. That level of respect and caring gets noticed, and it wins hearts.

The personal, human touch makes all the difference…

This article demonstrates that this type of approach is equally valuable in business. Doug Conant was already among the food manufacturing industry elite before he became the CEO at Campbell Soup Company, having held senior executive positions at General Mills and Kraft, and been President of Nabisco Foods. When he took the reins at Campbell, the company was at rock bottom in terms of both market results and employee engagement. I love the story of how, armed with a pen, paper, walking shoes and a pedometer, he was able to change the former by working on the latter. Who said effective leadership needs to be complicated?

Read the Article: How Campbell’s Soup’s Former CEO Turned the Company Around

My Advice

To gain the discretionary effort of your team, a simple method is to seek to demonstrate that you are personally committed to making their lives better. This occurs in the moment to moment interactions you have with them, which build trust and engagement over time. In other words, the action is in the interaction.

I recommend that you try to see every interaction, including interruptions, as a golden opportunity to build human connections with others. Also, seek to recognise contributions on a regular basis, which adds to employees’ sense that they are valued. It is the stacking and layering of these small moments that strengthens communication, enhances collaboration, and cements commitment.

Home Working Lessons from Cockroaches

Home Working Lessons from Cockroaches

After weeks of lockdown, science suggests that significant numbers of those being forced to work in isolation could be finding it progressively harder to maintain their motivation. Part of the problem is the double-edged sword of a human trait described by a psychological theory called Social Facilitation Theory, which explains the well-known tendency for people’s performance to change when being watched by others.

One of my all-time favourite studies examined this phenomenon with cockroaches as the test subjects. It was led by professor Zajonc of Stanford University, and it demonstrated that behaviour modification in social settings is not a uniquely human occurrence. First, he created two different tunnels – one easy and the other much more difficult – for the cockroaches to run through. He then timed how long it took the cockroaches to get from start to finish under two conditions: 1) while being observed by other cockroaches, and 2) when on their own (I’d give him an award just for the creativity of it!).

Amazingly, the results showed that being observed affects cockroaches in the same way as it does human beings! Compared to their performance when on their own, the presence of observers caused them to do better at the easy task (running more quickly through the easy tunnel), but worse when challenged with the task of navigating the difficult tunnel. Similar studies have now found this trait in many other animals as well.

This illustrates the basis of social facilitation theory, which is that our natural dominant response is amplified in the presence of an audience. This term – natural dominant response – refers to anything that we do automatically as a result of instinctive human reactions or practiced behaviours and actions. For example, in the presence of observers or competitors, people are likely to:

  • Perform better if they are doing something that they are already good at. For example, athletes put in more effort and are much more likely to achieve a personal best in front of a crowd. Similarly, cyclists are faster riding against each other than against the clock.
  • Make errors when undertaking tasks they are not familiar with. For example, individuals taking their driving test are often much more prone to errors in front of the examiner.

The explanation for this change in behaviour is that the presence of others heightens arousal and thus increases our ability to perform habitual or well-learned tasks. However, the same arousal leads to stress and produces social inhibition, reducing performance in areas where we are not confident/competent.

Studies have found that people in groups tend to perform better than those who are alone, and that has significant implications in the current era where huge numbers of people are required to work from home. Quite simply, in areas of competence, we are motivated to work harder when people are watching us. This article explains this phenomenon in greater detail and provides some ideas about how its effect may be reduced.

Read the Article: We Work Harder When We Know Someone’s Watching

 My Advice

The essence of the recommendations in the article is that accountability needs to be maximised. An extremely powerful way of achieving this is to create a forum within which tasks and deliverables can be shared, which leverages a powerful psychological driver: that commitments made public become central motivators of behaviour.

More generally, maintaining an awareness of social facilitation theory can convey benefits at any time, not only during this pandemic. Whenever people are outside their comfort zone, I’d suggest making additional efforts to ensure they feel supported, which can do much to calm their evaluation anxiety.