Welcome to the fourth and concluding part of How Now From Here.
We’ve talked about the five C’s of how to be at our best when things are at their worst as leaders. And we’ve already explored in the previous episode, how to Be Calm and how to Be Clear. The third C is to Be Connected.
One of the most poignant remarks that I’ve heard in the last 12 months regarding this is a client who said, “Ian, we’ve never been more in touch and we’ve never felt so disconnected.” Because this need, this core human need for connection. Is very much at the center of our humanity. And this trauma that we’ve all experienced during the last year is multi-dimensional, but at its core, it’s a very human trauma.
We hosted an all CEO forum in the month of February, just gone. And in it, we invited 10 noncompeting CEOs from 10 different industries, 5 different geographies, 7 different nationalities, to discuss the question, “what is it that currently keeps you most awake at night?”.
In the 90 minute discussion there was one central and dominant theme. In 9 out of 10 cases, because there were 10 people involved in the conversation all bar one of them had exactly the same number 1 concern. And it wasn’t to do with profitability or revenue or supply chain or digitalization. It was simply that our people are struggling and we don’t know how to deal with it.
We need, as leaders, to stay and be connected to our people. And there are two reasons for this. The first is out of sheer compassion and the second is totally pragmatic. Let’s deal with them one at a time. There is none of us that haven’t experienced either personally, professionally, or very likely both someone who is desperately in need and who is really struggling.
It’s within our gift to be able to show up in a way that cares for or caters for the need that that person has. This is a conversation or a connection that doesn’t have at its purpose, a problem solve. It’s a different conversation entirely. Just simply showing up and holding the space for somebody is enough to help to empty their emotional cup when it’s overflowing. We do this simply by turning up firstly, and showing we care. And then when we’re there, just simply by asking questions out of curiosity, to understand what they’re experiencing. Giving them the floor and the space to be able to talk about it openly, safely, and without judgment. And to be able to help them to name it in their own way.
This is not about solving the problem. It’s simply about holding the space and enabling people in their 5% moment to know that there’s somebody or some means of decanting some of what’s going on for them that’s causing them to go into overload.
For leaders, there are two main obstacles and challenges that they typically run into in hosting these conversations. First is they’re not used to it very often. So the confidence that they have in being able to do this is straightaway an obstacle for even showing up. When people do turn up, the two things that they run into is we’re so used to solving problems as leaders and providing solutions that we jump into problem solving mind. It’s not a time for that.
And secondly, as the story is unfolding on the other side, we begin to relate it to our own story. And the temptation is to introduce our own story into their story. It’s not a time for that either.
Just make listening for their concerns, the purpose of your interaction, and you won’t go far wrong from there.
More pragmatically, if we’re to solve the conundrum of what the new world order is going to look like and what it means for our team, our business, and ourselves, then we don’t have a monopoly as leaders, particularly in this remote world where we’re not connected physically with people. So we are deprived of all of that serendipitous information we would otherwise find. So remaining connected with people to understand what their perspective is, what intelligence they’re picking up, what their view is, how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and collectively coming up with a solution that we can co fashion is the only way we’re going to create something that everybody understands, that everybody buys into, and that is the right way to move forward. So if we want the best new way being connected is about having many minds and tapping in often.
Item number 4 is be creative. I’ve thought many times of the Alice in Wonderland quote. Sometimes I believe in six impossible things before breakfast. Well, if there’s one thing that this one year old pandemic has told us, it is that ‘impossible is nothing’ to quote the advertising slogan. Because people have done and created things that this time last year, if you’d said it to them would have elicited the response, “don’t be ridiculous. That’s impossible.” Everybody’s got their own story in this department.
You know, the Chinese had it right with their characters that go to make up the word crisis. Two different characters. One says danger. The other says opportunity. And in spite of all the danger that surrounds this pandemic and the chaos, there was also an abundance of opportunity.
There were two main insights that clients have discovered through the last year in our experience. The first is that the old world itself wasn’t perfect. And the second is what they’re really capable of, when they need to be capable of it, in terms of learning, innovation, and creativity during crisis.
It’s no surprise. Because if there’s one thing that forced reflection plus chaos produces it is pure innovation. And I don’t mean innovation in the paying lip service sense that used to prevail in the old world as it was.
History is littered with examples. In the 17th century, during the height of the black death, Sir Isaac Newton was furloughed. Literally sent home from the University of Cambridge. And during the time, as he sat in his garden, an apple fell on his head and well, the rest is history. We got the law of gravity, which without the furlough, without the forced reflection, would never have happened.
Basketball, for example, was an invention that happened as a result of lockdown during the depression in the 1880s in America. The iPod came some two to three weeks after the 9 11 disaster. And so on and so on. So as leaders, we need to spearhead the focus on not just acknowledging the dirt, but also mining for gold. And there are many examples to date and we need to continue to do the same.
The second aspect of it, which is around the old world and the imperfection of the old world. Many organizations have discovered that what was their was their legacy that just continued to be, in spite of it having already outlived its usefulness. This has been the opportunity to revaluate it. Some examples like the segway, for example, which was going to revolutionize upright mobility for the human species over the last 20 years. Well, they manufactured their last segway because it’s been overtaken by e-skates and the like and it no longer exists. Olympus hived off their camera division. And probably most significantly, and historically general electric abandoned their light bulb division, which dates back to the Edison General Light Bulb company in 1892.
Never wasting a crisis is always underpinned by the idea of systematic abandonment. The idea that we ask ourselves the question, and this is the key question around a line of business or a system or a process or a person, “if we didn’t already do this, knowing what we know now, would we still choose to do it?” It’s a very powerful zero-based question. That we have the opportunity and have had the opportunity to address. It’s a question that we can equally apply to our personal lives. What are the things that we had been doing that were just things we did because we always did them, that are worthy of revaluation. This is like doing a Marie Kondo on your personal life, doing a spring clean.
Personally, this time last year, I was engaged with a microchip client based on the west coast of America. And in a six week period, I traveled from Dublin to San Francisco on three consecutive occasions. Two days to get there, two days to get back, for a face-to-face that lasted maximum of one day at a time. And in one case for just half a day.
This wasn’t good for me, for my family, for the business, for their business, or for the planet. Yet, it was just what we did.
Finally. Number five. Be Caring to self. The first four principles are all related to other people primarily. But your number one asset, without question as a leader, is yourself. And very often you’re the last person that gets thought of in the piece.
Be Caring for self is about the idea of putting your own oxygen mask on first, putting your own PPE on, so that you at least are protected. Because the speed of the group is the speed of the leader. And the strength of the group is the strength of the leader. So, if you don’t tidy up your own backyard, it’s very hard to look after the overall company yard. It’s all right to say leaders eat last, but you got to eat.
There’s much literature and media content in this space. So I’m just going to briefly identify a couple of key guiders that I’ve found very, very useful and clients find very useful, to keep their output capacity, at least in company with their output.
The first thing is if chaos is the problem, then order is the solution. Or at least the creation of the illusion of order. And this plays into, again, the primal idea or the fear of lack of, or loss of, control. What I mean by this is a few things.
Firstly, it’s mostly connected to routine and boundaries. We need a routine around some of the core things that nourish us and nurture us as human beings so that our machine can work mentally and physically. And what I mean by that is exercise, diet, sleep.
Secondly, creating meaningful boundaries around or between, work and home. Finding the balance between working from home and parenting from work, if that’s your situation. Creating a schedule, knowing what you’re doing for the day ahead or the week ahead, or both ideally, and having a balance of everything that you need to be operational, functional, and sane within that schedule. And knowing what it is and what it looks like. A list, having a list of tasks that, you know, you’re going to need to do and having a priority on those tasks and knowing what’s more important so that if things go the wrong way, which they typically, routinely do nowadays, that at least you’re doing the things that are highest priority.
The reason for having this structure, routine, and boundaries, and schedules plays into what’s called the Zeigarnik effect. The reason to have them isn’t because you love them. It’s because when you have them, it creates this illusion in the mind that that item is taken care of. What many people find is they wake up in the middle of the night and they think of something and they get woken up in the night because they’re thinking of something or their mind is wandering throughout the day about the things that they’re not doing. By having structure, routine, boundaries, and schedules, what it does is it gives the illusion that we’ve got a place for everything. And just simply because we’ve put things in a place and we’ve put that order and structure on things, what it does is it plays into your mental energy positively.
We think about energy and we know that physical energy is finite. We accept that. What is less obvious is that your mental energy is also a finite resource. And the more you can do the former in terms of routine and structure and order and scheduling, and creating lists, the more your mind is duped into believing that that’s taken care of and it’s done. All you’ve got to do is put it on a list and your mind doesn’t need to worry about it anymore.
So that mental energy that you’re dedicating to worrying about it and trying to retain it in your mind, which you can’t do in your conscious mind by the way, is taken away and it gives you then that mental energy to focus on doing what it is you need to do or being focused and not being distracted. That’s the real pay off here.
The second suggestion is that you create around you easy access to what I call in this period your war cabinet. In the good times, ordinary times, this would be called your personal board of directors. The purpose here is, in the same way as you need to stay connected to others for their benefit as a leader, you need to be connected to others for your benefit so that you can sustain yourself. After all who is there to empty your emotional cup?
Think of the people that you know, that are your go-to people in all dimensions of need for you. Whether it’s financial, whether it’s commercial, whether it’s spiritual, whether it’s physical, whether it’s emotional, who are your conciliaries? Who are your trusted friends and advisors? Who is your “phone a friend”, when you’re in your moment of need in whatever dimension you need it? Know who those people are and have them available to you on speed dial.
And connect with them regularly because it’s just a means of refilling yourself and offloading your own emotional stuff at a time when you most need it with people that you know, can provide that for you. Who is in your war cabinet?
And the third thing is to create a recipe menu to keep you sane. What do I mean by that? Each of us understands the idea of KPIs in a business. Key performance indicators that are a shorthand dashboard to, at a glance, give us an in the moment indication of the welfare and health of our business.
Imagine that for yourself personally, but instead of KPIs, call them KSI’s what are your key sanity indicators? In the same way as you have to, if you were starting off with your business, think about what the performance indicators are, the first part of this is to identify and think about the things that keep you sane. What are the sanity indicators? What are the elements or the ingredients that when they’re together and they’re all being fulfilled are enough to know that you’re going to stay sane in spite of the chaos that’s on the outside? I have in the corner of what my kids call affectionately dad’s war room posted section with the KSI’s and my own sanity indicators.
And some of them might be connected to hobbies and interests that kind of keep you in a state of flow and take you out of yourself. It may be physical and something to do with routine of exercise. It may be financial to know that you’re financially okay if that’s a key thing to keep you sane. But imagine it like a stool and the more legs you have on it, the more stable it’s going to be.
And for everybody it’s different. It may be just knowing that your main personal relationship is intact and is doing well. For everybody it’s different. But if you identify and think about what are the things that are most critical, that when they go wrong, cause you the most grief emotionally, physically, mentally. And if they’re right, you know, that you’re going to be in a position to thrive even more than survive. Knowing what they are and having them in a visible space so that you can at a glance check-in and see how you’re doing and all those dimensions. And when you get all of those ingredients and they’re all working well, that’s enough.
The very final thing that I’ll sign off on is to be kind to yourself because we tend to be our own worst inner critics. Each of us has that voice inside our heads, sitting on our shoulders that tells us consistently that we’re not good enough and we’re not doing a good enough job. It’s time to furlough the inner critic.
And I’ll sign off with a Roosevelt quote, which says, as a leader, just simply do what you can with what you have, right where you are.
Life is lived one moment at a time. And the only certainty we have is the moment that we’re in. And in that moment, The one thing you always have, no matter how bad things are on the outside, you always have choice. Remember that.
Until next time, stay sane, stay safe, stay connected.
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