“For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. The question is, ‘What will normal look like?’ While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.” – from 2009, Ian Davis, managing partner, McKinsey

Ian recaps on the first 2 episodes.

This episode is about how we, as leaders, shape the story.
Storytelling is an essential human skill; it helps us make sense of the world.
Therefore, the stories we tell become vitally important.

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.

So. How are you doing so far? I’m going to start off this episode with a quote. For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, thinking about how to position themselves. Once the crisis has passed and things returned to normal.

The question is, what will normal look like? while no one can say how long the crisis will last. What we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years. This isn’t a quote from the last week or the last month. This is a quote from 2009, in the midst of the financial crash. And it’s come from the managing partner of McKinsey at the time.

It’s ironic, but from the ashes of the financial crash, we created a playbook from that for how to lead under chaos called Greenline conversations. And the reason I share that is just to say that whilst this situation that we’re currently in is totally unprecedented in the world, the means of dealing with it and the principles for dealing with it, we’ve been there before.

Why did we create a playbook for it back then? Well, because at the time we observed leaders and leadership at its worst and leaders in leadership at its best. It’s a little like Warren Buffet said: it’s only when the tide goes out. You see, who’s been swimming in the nude. And like we mentioned in previous episodes in the Rio Olympics, there are going to be personal bests and personal worst side of this crisis.

We’ve already established this in episode one. That people are going to judge you by the end of this, not by how you intended to show up, but the impact of how you showed up on them; at a time of high uncertainty and high fear, people are on high alert, and the spotlight is fully unintentionally on you more than ever before. So how you show up for them is going to determine your leadership reputation in the future.

In the second episode, we talked about the necessity to be calm, calm under pressure. Nobody needs a nervous pilot. We talked about how emotions, and the dominant emotion particularly is caught. It’s contagious. It’s caught and not taught. And how in less than 30 seconds, the dominant emotion can influence and change the mood of an entire room.

One question I have for you is do you create calm when you walk into a room or when you walk out of it. This episode is more focused on the most critical role that you play as a leader. Which could be easily termed as communication on how to communicate in chaos, but we know that communication chaos is a bit of a cliche.

I want to be more specific than that. This is about how we, as leaders, help to shape the story. Let’s begin by considering this: everything we do is determined in life by the stories that we tell ourselves. We think we see the world as it is, but actually, we see the world as we are. And how it works is something like this.

We’re surrounded by data all the time, but we don’t have the capacity to take in all the data. So, we are very selective about what we take in. In selecting the data from around us, we attributed meaning that meaning turns into an assumption, which becomes a conclusion, which manifests itself in a belief. And that determines the decisions, choices, and actions that we make. This is true at all times. But it has a particular twist in chaos. The number one criticism that is levelled at leadership, in chaos and in crisis is that it disappears. The impact of the absence of a leader is it makes people who are already feeling vulnerable feel even more vulnerable.

The absence of leadership, the absence of clarity, and the absence of community education means that they escalate up the ladder of inference, and they arrive at a conclusion and the conclusion they arrive at, and they fill the vacuum on the void with the worst outcome imaginable. So. In your very good intentions of trying to come up with the right solution and to take the time so that you don’t get it wrong. What’s happening whilst you’re doing that is that the absence of communication is creating the exact opposite impact on the other side.

So even if you don’t know the answer, even if you don’t have the right solution at the time, we need to be present to our people. We need to be able to communicate clearly that we’re actually working on it and we don’t have the right answers right now, but we’re working on it. At least it helps shape the story and calm any unnecessary escalation of tension that, otherwise, your good intentions could have avoided. There are five other ways in which we can help people through our communication to shape the story that is going to give us the best chance of evolving and do the best service as a leader.

We’ll explore these in the next episode and beyond, and in the meantime, stay safe. Stay sane, stay connected.


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