Well, that’s 2020 done and dusted and what a year it was!
I, for one, am glad to see the back of it. Although I must admit that I haven’t actually been adversely affected like so many people, in fact professionally it’s been the best year that I have had and more than ever organisations are looking at companies like mine to support them on their leadership development journeys. Hindsight Leadership and Resilience, which is my main business, is going well. We’ve developed a leadership diagnostic to measure a team’s leadership strengths and development areas. We then use this output to construct specific training that is impactful and translates to corporate mission success.
We want to share a few things with you from a leadership and business perspective that we learnt in 2020 while conducting training with some great and iconic businesses.
Lessons in Leadership Development
The pace of change
Organisational change has forced businesses and industries to radically adapt their operating methods. But despite the challenges presented by 2020, both junior and senior leaders fundamentally faced the same challenges that they did prior to this year. For senior leaders, the issue around constant organisational change, the lack of adequate resourcing or shared resourcing is problematic, and for some, insurmountable. Junior leaders are eager to deliver results but feel insecure and, with some exceptions, feel somewhat “unled”. The pace of change, and the impression that there is insufficient time to land proposed changes, impacts on their ability to prioritise and achieve their mission.
The culture of inclusion, safe place and room to be creative is well understood within organisations but has perhaps leaned a little too far in that direction. Leaders can struggle with the concept that their role is to make decisions, be assertive (not aggressive) and be direct when required, particularly at junior levels.
Varying commitment to leadership development
Approximately 10-20% of the attendees on our courses are either not interested/not available to commit to leadership development. They start one or two sessions and then don’t return — roughly 60% miss at least one session. However, there is always a select cadre of attendees deeply invested in their development and progressing their own leadership experience.
A lack of usable time
The overwhelming absence of useable and useful time impacts attendees’ ability to commit to meaningful planning and consideration time. Leaders find it challenging to ensure that team members have adequate time to meet and deliver on required tasks. Prioritisation concerns appear to be largely responsible. There’s a trend to simply accept and then push down or delegate every task to the lower echelons, rather than pushing back up, saying no or de-prioritising extant tasks.
The concept of developing a leadership narrative and improving one’s ability to reflect on their team’s and their own performance was generally very well accepted at the junior levels, but less so at the senior levels. In some cases, senior leaders are less receptive to the concept that their methods may require an alternative perspective.
Lessons in Business Operations
Agility is vital
The business didn’t stop with the pandemic. Our clients, and us as well, had to pivot fast to continue to operate and be relevant. I had to move my business almost entirely online and offer interactive, impactful, and collaborative solutions – just like our face-to-face training was, but now online. We needed to innovate to use subscription models for some parts of our offering and free offerings for others. The solutions implemented were based on effectiveness, not necessarily efficiency. We become experts in technology delivery, the use of Mentimeter, Slack, Basecamp, WEBEx and Zoom. And not in months, but days.
Output Vs Outcome
An interesting observation was how many leaders needed to change their mindset to become more focused on outcome over output. The output being sitting at a desk from 8-5 and providing deliverables (most of them just busy-work). Working from home meant that leaders were compelled to learn how to explain their projects or missions better. They needed to develop a way to articulate the definition of completion to their team to ensure that they understood and achieved the outcome – rather than just providing output. Team members became better at managing their time, working remotely and around family schedules, eating when they wanted, exercising when they wanted, and sleeping in line with their bodies’ natural requirements while delivering the outcomes required, rather than just producing output.
Working with remote teams is not all roses…
A few of the senior leaders we worked with identified that they worked longer and harder during the lockdown – more stress, more meetings, more to explain and more time invested in guiding remote teams. Leadership is an energy transference, and you need a vast amount of energy to guide a remote team.
There are systems to maintain, processes to go through, definition’s of Done to articulate, clear authority rails to be ascertained and explained, and leadership as an energy transference is the only solution – you can’t escape the fact that a leader needs to put in the work. Suddenly leaders needed to actually have conversations with team members – 1:1s and manage their expectations and provide direction, purpose and motivation.
As leaders are coming around to not micromanaging and being more focused on outcomes over pure output, accountability is an old skill that has become new again. Accountability of the team member to receive the message, interpret it, ask questions of fact and then be held accountable for the resources needed and delivery of the outcome. My favourite lesson of 2020 – accountability is an amazing tool.
Not communicating enough
There is an old saying that ‘an assumption is always an assumption until you turn it into a fact‘. Leaders who don’t create a safe environment for team members to ask questions run the risk of their projects being derailed by these said team members’ assumptions. “I assumed” – how often do you hear that as an excuse for something going wrong? I go so far as to tell leaders to ask your team members – “do you have any assumptions?”
Communicating too much
If a leader communicates clearly, accurately and early (that’s the catch), they run the risk of setting in motion a chain of events that’s hard to stop when more accurate information comes to hand.
The invisible backpack
We’ve used the invisible backpack concept to help many leaders change their approach to leadership. Imagine that each person carries an invisible backpack, this backpack contains those profound life experiences that are never far from the surface, the things that have impacted them in the last 24 hours and all of the emotional and physical “baggage” that might stop them from being 100% present.
We ask leaders to visualise that their team members, and themselves, have invisible backpacks on. A leader’s superpower is that they can see the contents of these backpacks and that by unpacking the contents, and understanding that not everything is visible on the surface, they can form an empathetic standpoint.