Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations. And this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance. We’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in.

In our last episode, we reached double figures. For our Leadership and Chaos podcast and to celebrate for episode 11, we are going to record an omnibus edition, and we’re gonna give you a little bit more this time around. This is our third and final part of leadership in the remote world, and it’s gonna focus particularly on the whole idea of how to build commitment.

If you remember from our previous couple of episodes, the magic formula for being most effective as a leader in remote cases is the E, which stands for leadership effectiveness, is equal to the level of CL, which is clarity, times the level of commitment, CO. We spoke in the last episode extensively on the specifics of how to build clarity.

And actually, what’s emerging is a lot of evidence to suggest that the building of clarity not only is it easier than the building of commitment, but there’s evidence to suggest that, in some cases, it’s even more effective, and people are able to do this, a bit more easily and frequently than they would do in the face to face world.

So, this whole idea of building the mechanics, or the mechanical side of effectiveness, it seems out there that in the remote environment, many people through their remote meetings are experiencing less waste or less spillage, reduced inefficiency, quicker and better decision-making, meetings that are run more efficiently in a more timely manner, and better execution.

Well done if that’s happening out there. But the other side of the equation, which is the more difficult one, is built around the humanics and the question of how do we build commitment. Especially when we are handicapped by not being face-to-face. Let’s just check in on where we are now relative to where we were when we started this podcast series.

And one of the things that we’ve consistently done is throughout this period, we’ve continued to run webinars and stay connected to our clients. And it’s a means of pulse-checking what’s going on with them. And one of the consistent questions that we’ve been asking is the question around, Where do you feel we are in the change curve? And are you currently expecting that you will endure more pain in the future?

And what’s emerging very consistently is that in 95 per cent of the cases of clients that we’ve surveyed, there is an expectation that there’s more pain to come. So, in Churchill’s words, This feels somehow like the end of the beginning, but it really is still in the very early stages, in the fullness of this whole crisis.

So, given that, it’s not surprising that there are still extremely high levels of anxiety and high levels of uncertainty, and that how that trickles down to people is that their emotional cups are overflowing. And that brings us to the point of the leadership and the role of the leader in helping to do this is fundamentally more than just bill commitment, which is one aspect of it and what we’re going to focus on.

But it really is central to the role of the leader to enable people to have the capacity to be at their best at these times when things are at their worst. One of the other things is that it helps if we can calm the limbic system for ourselves and for other people because it gives people access to more of their thinking brain, which makes us our brilliant best.

And the final thing that it does from a leadership perspective is if we can help people create capacity and calm the limbic system. It also has us stepping into those moments of high anxiety, and if we do it skillfully enough, that’s where the payoff is in terms of building trust because that’s where trust gets built or gets broken.

So, how do we build commitment? Well, ironically, the first and easiest step to building commitment is what we’ve already talked about in the previous episode, is the more you create clarity for people, the higher the commitment that people experience.

It stands to reason that if I know exactly what’s expected, I know what the rule is, and I know what ways of working are, and it’s clear about what the role is and what the priorities are, the clearer I am around all of those things, the higher the level of commitment I’ll be able to bring. Ambiguity reduces commitment. The clearer we are, the higher commitment goes.

The second thing we need to do is we need to show up. We need to be present. We need to be accessible. We need to be available to people whenever they need us. Which is with more frequency than they would do when things are in a better place.

We talked about this. There’s a human inclination because we ourselves are experiencing uncertainty and anxiety to some degree. And the limbic system is also part of our makeup. So we’re naturally going to perhaps want to stay quiet or want to stay distant or want to stay away. This is the time when we need to be present.

We talked about this in an earlier episode around staying connected and being connected and helping to shape the story. So, building clarity, creating clarity, and also being present and available for people. There are two things we’ve already talked about, and both of them help with building connection.

So now that we are present, now that we are available for people, what are the sort of things that we need to do when we do show up? Well, there are four critical ingredients to building connection and commitment with people whenever we’re present with them.

The first is the ability for us to enquire and then to hear and then to acknowledge. And additionally the ability for us to communicate what it is we need to communicate once we’ve enquired and heard and acknowledged what’s on their side of the bridge. So let’s deal with enquire. What do I mean by enquire? Well, first of all, this enquire is spelt with a capital E, not a capital I. There are two ways in the English language to spell enquire.

The inquire with an I is like inquisition or inquest, and it is based on the idea that there is blame to be found and criticism to be apportioned in some direction. Somebody needs to take ownership of it, and somebody needs to be blamed.

That’s inquire, that’s not, that’s not what we mean. Enquire, the spirit of enquiry, is characterized by one word, which is curiosity. So when we turn up with people, we need to inquire. And in order to do that, we need to ask questions, but we need to do it in a way which is nonjudgmental. One of the other questions that we use as part of our ongoing pulse surveys with our clients is are people asking you, your people, for what they really need at this time?

And this is the question amongst all the questions we ask that provokes the most hesitation on the part of leaders. So it seems that the distance creates a reluctance or a reticence on the part of people to communicate openly and naturally what it is that’s really going on for them. And it’s very understandable.

People are naturally proud. People naturally don’t want to seem to be weak or vulnerable. And you know, the Irish mentality, particularly locally, which is “sure it’ll be grand”. And what happens with leaders very often is we don’t stay long enough to get underneath the surface of what’s really going on because we just ask the basic question: how are things?

And you get an answer. The stock question gets the stock answer. All things are fine. And then we move on from that and we take that at face value. There’s a real opportunity to go further than that and to use the characteristic of enquiry or the tool of enquiry to find out more deeply what’s actually happening and what’s beneath the surface of what’s going on for people.

Many leaders choose not to go beyond that for one of two reasons. Some leaders just aren’t interested in other people, and they’re really not interested in other people’s state of affairs. If you’re a very task-oriented, autocratic, directive leader, then this is something that doesn’t come naturally because there isn’t really an interest there, and you can’t feign curiosity.

Have you been in the situation before where people have asked you a question, they’re not really interested in the answer? And this happens all the time. Do you know intrinsically, intuitively, whether people are genuinely interested in the answer or they’re not? This is something that you can’t technique.

You can’t feign or fake curiosity. It’s like one former president said: if you can fake sincerity, then you’ve got it made. Well, that’s tongue-in-cheek. And it’s the same with curiosity. And this is the limbic system. We talked about the limbic system coming out to play more frequently with more intensity during times of anxiety and uncertainty.

Well, this is the moment where people are judging whether you’re genuinely interested or you’re not. And if you’re genuinely curious, people will know. The second reason that managers and leaders tend to have a reluctance to go deeper around how people are really, really are, as opposed to how people say they are, is because there seems to be this tacit expectation that we will need to be able to solve their problem.

Because the interesting thing about modern life is that we are programmed to solve problems. And as human beings, we’re natural problem solvers. And people who are in leadership or management positions tend to be even more skilled at solving problems. But it’s only one tool in the drawer. And in this instance here, we’re not expected.

The art of enquiry is not to understand a problem so that we can solve it. It’s just to enable people to begin to unpack what’s going on for them, really, and be truly more themselves so that we can understand and they can understand what’s going on for them. So once we’ve enquired, and we go beneath the surface, and people begin to explain and explore, we need to be able to hear.

And hear isn’t just listening, because you can listen without hearing, but you can’t hear without listening. So it’s giving people the floor and encouraging them to elaborate and go deeper and go broader so that they feel heard at the end of the exchange. This helps them unpack and empty some of the cup that is overflowing with them in their own personal circumstances at home in the conditions that they’re working in.

The third aspect of it, then, is to acknowledge, and what we need to acknowledge is not just the situation because this whole mantra of the COVID crisis that we’re all in this together is patently untrue. The situation is exactly the same for everybody. Everybody is affected. But the implication of the situation is different for every single person. No two people are experiencing the same thing in the same way.

And the acknowledgement is, as people, as you’re exploring and enquiring, and your people are explaining what’s going on for them to be able to acknowledge what the implications are for them, what their fears are, what the risks are that they’re experiencing, what the conditions are, and the implications for those conditions for them at a fundamental level.

That’s where we begin to connect with our people. And that’s where commitment really does come. By enquiring and hearing, and acknowledging, that enables us to have a much broader, deeper, bigger picture of their situation and what’s going on for them. But it also opens up the opportunity for us to correct any misunderstanding, to give people more information that is lacking or that we thought that they had but they didn’t have.

To bridge any gaps in understanding between what we know and what they know, or to give them some information that might not be positive or might not be palatable for them to hear without sugarcoating it, because we have created the capacity for them to hear it because they’ve been able to empty their cups.

By being with our people in this way, it not only builds commitment, it also fosters connection. That connection is the root of building trust, and that trust is what is ultimately going to establish our reputation through this and at the end of this chaos. It’s a skill that is frequently lacking in the leadership toolbox, but it’s a skill that is of most value at this time in terms of building a reputation in the long term.

Those who are able to deploy it skillfully will build a greater level of connection that will build a greater discretionary level of effort amongst your people. Which in the short, medium, and long term is going to be of infinite advantage to us as we go forward.

So before I conclude this episode, one thing that has begun to happen is we have people who are asking us to explore certain topics that are of interest to them in the current chaos. If there’s something that you particularly like us to explore during the podcast series, please get in touch either by connecting with me on LinkedIn or by emailing [email protected].

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this omnibus edition, and until next time, stay safe, stay sane, and stay connected.

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