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A Tale of Two Leadership Approaches

The stories people share of our leadership right now will continue to be shared around tables for a long time to come.

Over the last few weeks I've had the privilege of working a number of leadership groups as they steady themselves through an amazing rollercoaster time and look to the future. The stories of how they, with their teams have made swift and massive shifts always come with wonderful examples of leaders connecting, supporting and strategically leading. The whole of society is learning so much about how we individually deal with immense pressure and need for quick action and 'building the plane as it's flying'.
Not all leadership stories are that way.
As restrictions ease in the state I live, I grabbed the chance to hang out with a couple of my besties over the weekend. As we shared stories of what was happening in our lives I heard two very different leadership tales.
One of my friends works in a health network, with thousands of workers on the front line of CoVID19 - swiftly mobilised to be ready, both in terms of being armed for pandemic proportion health impacts if needed, and having a safe and functioning workforce. The other friend works in a small company that supports businesses. This company has a workforce of around 50 across a large geographical distance.

Here are the two scenarios (in no particular order - there's a hint):

Scenario 1
1. No acknowledgement from leaders as to the challenges people are dealing with at home, including children at-home learning, compromised immune systems and general stress and anxiety.
2. Little interaction from senior management in how to deal with the challenges of the new situation
3. No external display of support and compassion for the tough times for either the team or the clients
4. A requirement that all normally expected outcomes will be met during this time (!)
5. No regular check-ins or connection from the senior leader to team members
6. No special professional learning put in place to help people cope more effectively

How does my friend feel? Disconnected, unseen, undervalued, burnt out, angry, untrusted and untrusting.

Scenario 2
1. Planning from the outset as to how the pandemic would not only affect those they serve but also the workers
2. Twice weekly online forums with an open invitation to all
3. Executive present at both forums to answer questions
4. Feedback loops so that unanswered questions are responded to 
5. Next-level leaders maintaining high levels of communication with their teams
How does my friend feel? Connected, heard, in the loop, valued, able to contribute, committed, understanding and understood.
Which one is which? Scenario 1 is the smaller organisation. It could be easy to assume that the smaller the organisation, the greater the compassion, support and connection people would feel from the leadership team. The easier the direct contact should be, the greater insight into personal situations. My friend, a hard-working, effective member of that company is burnt out, under-valued and angry. It is distressing to see a friend who I know gives her all to her clients and works hard, feeling so disheartened and stressed.
While the large organisation will of course have it's challenges and missteps (don't we all), in general, the response to how the executive has led the organisation through the most major crisis to hit us in a couple of generations is one of positivity and appreciation. The complexity of the work being done in this organisation has been met by a leadership team willing to be as transparent and accessible as possible. Have they got it right all the time?  Probably not, and hopefully they'd see any missteps (trials, pilots, experiments...) as a learning, acknowledge it and shift to try another tack. Agility and flexibility have at their roots a deep learning foundation, one that takes on continuous feedback loops and shifts to respond. This is unchartered territory. We need leaders that are willing to let us sail into new waters and test out what works.
The other? Well - I'm wondering what is happening for the leadership of that business?  As leaders, our role is to support our people to be their best, not beat them into the ground with results at all cost approach - especially in times of extreme crisis that is challenging every person one way or another. While tough decisions need to be made at this time, there seems in this case to be little thought about the support people need from their leaders to manage as best as they can.
Chip and Dan Heath, in the book The Power Of Moments, say that groups bond when they struggle together. 'People will welcome a struggle when it's their choice to participate, when they're given autonomy to work, and when the mission is meaningful.'  Creating shared meaning and meaningful connections bond us together. We struggle together, celebrate together, feel validated, connected and warm.
I'd love to hear your stories about the leadership you've seen and experienced during this time. Including those leaders that popped up in the most unexpected places!
To all the leaders out there doing so many things to keep us all afloat, thank you. I encourage you to show your appreciation to leaders in your world that are making it easier for you to do your very best.  in my work, I interact a lot with leaders in education and health. These leaders are shouldering immense burden and acting with the greatest intentions. It is such a joy to hear their approaches to staying connected with the people they lead, as well as the innovation that is flourishing. And it's hard work. So many leaders helping people feel seen, valued and validated for the great work and transformation happening. Thank you.
Be well
Tracey
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