Welcome to the 39th step, or the 39th episode of Leadership in Chaos. And this is the beginning episode of a mini series, which is called Leading Teams in Chaos, and we’ve chosen to do this for reasons I will explain very shortly.
One of the advantages of doing the podcast in real time, every week or 10 days, is that it, as the COVID story has written itself and has unfolded piece by piece, the podcast has been able to monitor what’s going on, and respond in real time. And if I look back over the past year or so, the COVID story reads a little bit like the hero’s journey. It’s written itself, and as far as I can see, we’ve had five chapters, and the fifth chapter is why we’re focusing on building teams and leading teams in chaos.
Chapter one, when we had the chaos, suddenly, like a trap door opened up underneath us, and thrust upon us, chapter one was about shock and denial. Instantly we froze. We quickly moved into chapter two, which was characterized by the need to survive. And as part of chapter two and our survival mechanism, it’s remarkable what some people, some organizations, were able to accomplish, by applying what’s possible thinking. Some organizations went from being, most organizations should I say, exclusively office-based to, within a very short space of time, exclusively remote.
Chapter three, then was the chapter of false hope. Where, as we got towards Christmas, we got towards the end of the year, we conned ourselves into believing that if we could make it just until Christmas, 2021 would be a whole new vista. Vaccines were on the way, there was the release of restrictions for Christmas for most people, and optimism was high.
This was followed by chapter four, which came from January until now, which was the relapse. And this was really characterized by depression. It was January, lock downs had been re-installed, numbers started to escalate all over the world, kids were forced to stay home, and the vaccine wasn’t the panacea that we all thought it was going to be.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve seen the starting of chapter five, which we could call green shoots. Our business at Flow and Greenline is characterized by helping leaders and managers, navigate their way through change.
But we’re a very good bellwether for the economy, generally, because we only get engaged or approached, whenever leaders and managers have time to consider. In the last two to three weeks, we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in activity across the globe, across our businesses. Where we’ve taken on between eight and ten new projects, in industries varying from packaging to investment banking, pharma, tech, government agencies, satellites, drinks companies. Irrespective of industry, they all have one thing in common. As a leader, they’re all left with a completely changed set of conditions and circumstances to manage. They’ve all been affected either by restructure, downsizing, merger, acquisition, creation of new divisions, or a change in business model. What’s common, is that leaders are now faced with a challenge of, rolling up their sleeves, with a new set of people, with a new world, and are asking the question, what next?
Many leaders are now working with, a very, very different looking team to the one that they did one year ago, or less. We can see the impact of when a team loses just one player, just look at Virgil van Dijk’s absence from the Liverpool team, and how that completely changed their performance this year. And many of us are dealing with the absence or the change of more than just one player.
So for the rest of this episode, I’m going to focus on, as a leader, with your team, rolling up your sleeves, where do you start, on day one, at ground zero, in building and leading your team? The North Star, ultimately, to leading a team, is built into an equation that I shared way way back, in a previous episode, which is, E = C L x C O. Where the E stands for the Effective leading of teams, is equal to, C L, which stands for Clarity, times C O, which stands for Commitment. And your role as a leader, in order to be most effective at leading a team, is to build clarity and generate commitment. And remember that 10 out of 10 Clarity, backed by zero Commitment, equals zero, where you have high levels of communication, but everybody ignoring it. Equally 10 out of 10 Commitment, to something that’s unclear, is still zero, it’s just like ignorance on fire.
So let’s start off with Clarity. Here’s your basic checklist for what you need to be clear about the most. You need to be clear about the Where, the What, the Who, and the How.
The Where being, where’s the destination? Where is the place, and what are the outcomes that will tell us that we are successful.
The What relates to strategy, from where we are now, to where that place is, the destination. What’s the road? What’s the route? What’s the strategy? And along there, what are the priorities, which are the milestones that are going to indicate that we get to there.
Third part of Clarity is Who does what? What are the roles, who does them, who’s responsible for what, and accountable for what, and where there are overlaps, how do we manage the overlaps.
And the How, is governance around, what are our expectations around behaviors and attitudes? What are our ways of working? What’s okay? What’s not okay? This is particularly acutely needed, in an environment, and at a time, when we’re all working remotely, and different organizations have different views and attitudes, to how to manage that particular ball of yarn.
So in summary, where are we going, what’s our destination? And why is it there? What’s our path towards getting there, and what are our priorities? Who does what? And what is okay, and not okay in terms of how we operate? Simply by ensuring Clarity on those items, as a leader, has a direct impact on Commitment, which is the other side of the equation.
There are many reasons why people will be uncommitted. Many factors influence that, but chief amongst them, very frequently, is the fact that people are unclear. After all, how can you commit to something, when it’s unclear what it is you’re committing to? And in general terms, in my experience, it’s the absence of Clarity that has the highest impact on people’s Commitment levels. For evidence of this, you’ve only got to look at the social obedience and how it’s been eroded, and the commitment to restrictions that have been imposed by government, because of their lack of clarity, in the last number of weeks. So leaders’ responsibility for creating Clarity, is simple in principle, based on what I’ve just described.
The fun starts of course, when you try to create it, with a team of people who are different, diverse, and human by definition. And the most common question that I get asked around this is, when you’re responsible for Clarity, and creating Clarity, do you ask, or do you tell? It’s a little like asking the question, when you’re playing golf, do you use a three iron or a pitching wedge, when you land on the fairway?
And the answer obviously is, well, it all depends on the location and the lie of the ball. The continuum between asking and telling, or put another way, as a leader being directive, versus being consultative, is exactly that. It’s like all the irons in the bag, as you’re going through your golf round, there’s a continuum from one end to the other. If you are too directive, you will sacrifice buy-in and Commitment, and if you are overly consultative, you won’t be effective, or you won’t get things done on time.
So as a rule of thumb, what I would recommend is that, when you’ve got a very strong view, that you err on the side of being directive. Because what many leaders, weak willed leaders, often miss, is that it is the mandate of the leader, and the responsibility of the leader, to make the judgments, to set the tone, to set the direction and to make the hard calls. However, when you do that, you need to check to determine the level of buy-in that you’ve got across the board.
The times to be extremely consultative, are on those occasions, and in this time of uncertainty there are many, many of these, where there is no clear right or wrong, and more views are better than less views. Make sure you have the right people in the room, not any more than you need, gather the opinions and views of everybody open and honestly, and then make a decision. The advantage to using the consultative, or the style of asking, is that the process of the conversation, is a way and a means of building the Commitment already intact.
Knowing when to direct, and when to consult, is a key strategy in building both Clarity and Commitment, and building an effective team. Of course, establishing Clarity around the where, the what, the who, and the how, can only be done through conversation with the team, and agreements reached through that conversation.
Be under no illusion, the outcome of the conversation, and the arrived at decision to create the Clarity, is less important, than the conversations that happened in order to get it there. Because it’s through the conversations themselves, that you build the buy-in and the Commitment to the final agreement, or you don’t.
Of course, building Clarity and Commitment to those decisions, is not a one-off event that takes place in an offsite, and is separated from the daily grind. The Clarity of these agreements, and the Commitment to those agreements, is dynamic, not static, particularly in a world that has never been as changing as it is now. So it requires constant reviewing, checking, and consultation, and that essentially, is the main definition of your role as a leader within the team. Getting to these agreements, maintaining them, and getting the buy-in and Commitment on a continuous basis, means that you become the CCO, the Chief Conversations Officer. And that’s not as easy as it sounds, as many of you are aware.
So in the next episode, or episodes, of our mini series around Leading Teams in Chaos, we’re going to talk about hosting those conversations skillfully, how to deal with resistance, resistance to change.
So Ill leave you, with a quote from Charles Handy, who describes a leader as someone who “shapes and shares a vision, that gives point to the work of others.”
Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.
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