Leading in challenging times
While some scientists and thought leaders had predicted that a global pandemic might occur, few had anticipated the seismic impact that it would have on the way that we work. Our work environment has changed overnight and perhaps unwittingly we have all made a technological leap, embracing new communication tools, virtual platforms and applications. Whilst we may return to some form of office environment, I don’t believe that we will ever return to the same ways that we worked, even at the start of the year. Whilst we have embraced the technology, made a giant leap into the unknown and seemingly managed to cope with it, have we adapted our leadership style to best support our teams?
I was privileged to attend the Windsor Leadership Emerging Leaders programme in 2018 and had the opportunity to consider leadership styles, good and bad. Since then I have had an opportunity to pause and reflect on those elements of leadership that help optimise team performance, add maximum value to business and in turn bring fulfilment to our greatest asset – our people.
As leaders, we must adapt quickly to changing environments, to ensure that our people remain motivated, engaged, challenged and continue to develop. It seems like a good time to share and discuss 8 Fundamentals of Performance and Leadership, which I believe are key to getting the best out of our teams and delivering value to our organisations.
In terms of performance, our teams will look to us to:
1. Define and communicate the purpose….our ‘Why’? Leaders need to clearly articulate and contextualise the organisation’s strategy and purpose, so that team members understand their role in delivering its goals and fulfilling its potential.
2. Define goals and business outcomes – Teams need to understand what is expected of them and when. Given the right context, teams can very often define their own targets and outcomes, but it is leaders who will need to provide context, structure and prioritise the ‘wildly important’ from the day to day. Leaders then need to help teams to review and redefine those goals in an agile manner, because recent events have shown us that we need to be highly adaptable to changing circumstances.
3. Consistently manage performance and build a culture of accountability –Given the need for agility, the days of the annual Personal Development Review should be long-gone. Great examples of performance management involve weekly team meetings to review top priority team and organisational goals and key performance measures, together with regular discussions between line management and staff about personal goals.
4. Stakeholder analysis and engagement – Leaders must ensure that teams are adding value and meeting the expectations of customers, senior leadership teams and other stakeholders. I have always been fascinated to see how engaged teams become when identifying stakeholders and then analysing their power, influence and needs. It’s a great team exercise and teams often start to see where senior leadership can really add value after a bit of upward delegation!
Whilst performance often focuses on objective matters, it’s just as important to focus on the human side of leadership. I believe that leaders should:
5. Build the team culture – While the wider organisation will have a set of values and expected behaviours, it’s important that a team feels collective accountability and a drive to succeed. We need to build respect and trust among a team, so that they can share in success and help each other out when they face challenges. The collective result is more important than individual achievement! Very often it helps to build a team charter to describe ways of working, expected behaviour and a collective identity. Success should always be celebrated.
6. How can I help? – Our role is to enable a team to succeed. We should help identify and address blockers/constraints to progress, deal with politics, sponsor business cases for investment and other enablers to success. The power of a collective high performing team is greater than that of any one leader. Whilst a fictitious example, I particularly like the leadership style adopted by Hospital Director Dr Max Goodwin in the TV hit New Amsterdam, who’s catch-phrase is ‘How can I help?’
7. Embrace and foster change – High performing teams often operate in agile and fast-paced environments, such as sports teams, new business bid teams, military deployments and crisis management to name a few. As leaders, we should create an environment that welcomes and celebrates innovation and/or continuous improvement. We should help teams to streamline processes around an organisation’s value chain and ensure that waste is removed. We also have to recognise that change, especially transformational change, can be painful and face significant resistance – our job is to ease the pain of change and show what can be achieved.
8. Apply leadership fundamentals – Coming back to my reflections from the Emerging Leaders programme, I believe that we should lead by example and be the moral compass for the team. Leaders should listen and then communicate. We should be empathetic, provide support, have compassion and then have the courage to take the lead, particularly in difficult and challenging times.
For many, COVID-19 and ‘lockdown’ has provided an opportunity to reflect on the importance of family, home, pastimes and fulfilment. Given the significance of work on our daily lives, it seemed pertinent to reflect on what kind of leaders we want to be and how we want to respond. I hope these 8 Fundamentals of Performance and Leadership chime with you and I would relish the opportunity to discuss them further with you if you would like to get in touch.
Nathan is an experienced executive director who has held positions at Rolls-Royce, AirTanker and in his own business, Morton Business Consulting. He is now very excited to be joining BAE Systems’ Engineering & Digital Services business as the Head of Commercial & Procurement. Nathan is an alumnus of the Emerging Leaders Programme.