Leadership in Times of Crisis: Vulnerability as a Strength

Leaders emerge during times of crisis, formal titles or not.  They provide support, strength, and vision for those around them.  And they give something else of themselves: vulnerability.

Our presence as leaders is not only about projections or manifestations of strength.  It is about being open to the concept of vulnerability – which, paradoxically, in and of itself is a strength.

Is there anyone in the world today who does not feel vulnerable?

In speaking with leaders in recent days, I find that many are struggling with their personal situations (working at home with young children, for instance), as well as their own insecurities and fears.  They confess to me that they are reluctant to tell others what they are experiencing, although they realize the emotions they feel are universal.  These leaders sometimes conclude that telling others what they are experiencing might be a sign of weakness.

I ask my clients “What do you feel vulnerable about now?” and “How would it serve you and your team by talking about it?”  Also, “How can you best establish a connection with your people during this crisis?”  Finally, “What do you think your people concerned about?”

What emerges from their answers?   That opening up on a personal level is what people need.  And a leader who speaks of his or her own challenges opens up the possibilities for others to speak about theirs.  That solidifies the connection – that human contact – which is so important to each of us. Read More…

Stepping Away From “Hurry Sickness”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my attempts to take a day off from being busy. Since that post, a lot has changed, and the challenge of unbusying is harder than ever for some.

Between the shift to remote work, increased responsibilities to care for the kids, a spouse/significant other, aging parents, etc, and the need to plan and adapt, I know for many of you, time is still a very scarce resource.

In fact, despite having fewer commitments due to physical distancing requirements, I’m still not doing a great job of being less busy. For all the really hard things this season is bringing, I’ve decided to commit finding some good by taking advantage of the opportunity to reset my schedule.  Here’s why I think, for me at least, now is a perfect time to make the shift to being less busy. Read More…

COVID-19 Change Leaders: Superheroes in Scrubs and Healthcare Allies

Across the globe, neighborhoods have been firing up with the sounds of banging pots and claps as tribute to the medical and healthcare workers who have been risking their lives and their families to serve at the frontlines of this pandemic. We have all seen videos and heard of very human stories about the fatigue, defeat yet enduring commitment these superheroes in scrubs are facing every day. I am sure I am not alone in feeling humbled, inspired, heartbroken and grateful for their change leadership, bravery and selflessness in healing our world.

The systems thinking approach encourages looking at the different parts of a system and how they interrelate. We need to look at the world as a global interconnected system. The medical and healthcare workers are at the epicenter of our system and as they are doing their part, every government, industry, community, organization, and individual is responsible for playing a part in repairing it.

We are seeing several laudable individual and grassroots initiatives supporting our healthcare superheroes. Aside from monetary donations, we are also seeing many organizations creatively leveraging their expertise, know-how, and resources to support our medical and healthcare workers in any way they can. So, we will now turn to a couple of examples of these organizations that are teaching us a thing or two about how true change leadership requires a systems thinking approach. Read More…

Leadership Lessons From Unlikely Authors

leadership lessons

I’m currently in the process of prepping my house to go on the market and our real estate agent has issued the edict that I have to box up some of the books in my office. So, I’ve been reluctantly working through the shelves, trying to decide which ones I can live without until we move sometime in the summer. Despite my initial resistance, the packing process has actually turned out to be a really good thing. In fact, I’ve discovered two really important things:

  1. I have a lot of books. In fact, I may have a problem. Even after donating a few to the local library, I’ve still got far too many, if I’m perfectly honest.
  2. Nearly each book on my shelf has been the source of a valuable piece of leadership insight that has helped me on my journey of continuous learning.

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Healthy Leadership Practices to Cure What Ails You

Healthy Leadership Practices

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months (and perhaps that’s where we all ought to be moving to right now!), I’m sure you’ve been inundated with updates, plans, and preparations for COVID-19. There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you know what to do as we move into a new way of working and leading. And there are plenty of experts out there with tips for building resilience and adaptability while leading under crisis. Folks like the Center for Creative Leadership and ProHabits have great resources available or on the way to help. But, I thought I’d share a few key practices that you may have overlooked in your efforts to lead your team through this current or any future crisis. Read More…

The Calm in the Center of the Storm

calm in the center of the storm

As we face today’s challenges and uncertainties, we are all experiencing emotions and thoughts that we have seldom, if ever, confronted before.

Life indeed throws challenges our way.  And those challenges have varying degrees of uncertainty.  The end result is a sort of disorientation that, to most of us, can be downright scary.  It’s akin to being on a ship in the middle of a stormy sea, or an airplane experiencing severe turbulence.  Few of us have been in such situations and therefore cannot know either the duration or the outcomes that might occur.  Consequently, we can become lost in our own thoughts and emotions, filled with recurring worry about the future.

And we can feel alone.

These are the times that each of us needs to take a turn being the calm in the center of the storm.  And it is not just the leaders in organizations that can and should do it.  It is everyone. Read More…

Building Empathy To Address Critical Talent Gaps

organizational empathy

Talent challenges continue to be a priority for most agencies across the federal government. Frequent turnover, hard to fill roles, and shortages in mission-critical skill sets are all too common in most federal agencies.

There are countless strategies and approaches agency leaders can, and have, tried to address these complex challenges. But, building organizational empathy may be just the tool HR leaders need to make a near term impact.

Building organizational empathy is a strategic element for organizations trying to hire and retain top talent in an increasingly tight labor market. Research by the benefits technology firm, Business Solver in their State of Workplace Empathy report reveals that empathy is a key driver of retention, motivation, and productivity. More than 90% of employees surveyed indicated they were more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. In fact, respondents were even willing to trade off hours and pay in favor of increased empathy.

In an increasingly competitive talent environment, building a culture of empathy should be a key part of the people strategy in all organizations.

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Learning To Work In New Ways Amidst The COVID-19 Pandemic

remote work

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak an official pandemic. Subsequently, the U.S. stock market looks like a more epic roller-coaster than Space Mountain, Americans are making a run on toilet paper, and citizens are beginning to feel the pressure of cancellations of a wide variety of gatherings. While the situation is certainly dynamic and messaging around the situation seems to be constantly evolving, many business owners are coming to grips with a world of work that spans from mildly inconvenient to completely debilitating.

Businesses that rely on in-person customer purchases (restaurants, sports venues, concert halls, etc.) and their employees, many of whom do not have the benefit of being paid when they are not working, seem to be facing what could be a cataclysmic fate made worse by the fact that many large U.S. employers are forcing employees to work from home. Thankfully, my own two companies largely utilize remote work models so my teams are well-versed in working out of their homes. In situations like we face currently, I realize that we are the fortunate ones and that there are some lessons we have become accustomed to that may be of value to those of you who are struggling to adapt to a new, remote way of working together. Read More…

A Study in the Art of Servant Leadership

“Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.”

“Employ your Marines in accordance with their capabilities.”

These are two leadership principles the Marine Corps instills into its leaders at all levels, regardless of rank or seniority. These principles are taken seriously, as they can mean the difference between mission success and failure, life and death. Despite the stakes being different in the business world, these two concepts are vital to a leader’s success and, more importantly, that of their subordinates.

In our technologically infused, fast-paced world of business, the speed and amount of information available to us is unprecedented. Transactions now move faster, decisions are made quicker, and we’re able to collaborate and complete tasks more rapidly. However, leaders have largely missed one important side effect that can degrade the performance of their teams. Behavioral scientists call it the cognitive load, and it takes a toll on our teams more than we realize.

Simply put, the cognitive load is the mental “work” needed for any thought or action. Every task, conversation, email, project, meeting, etc. has a cognitive load price tag, and we all have a different capacity for what we can take on. This is why we spend hours refining our presentations to our leadership – there’s just too much information for them to consider and they want you to reduce the cognitive load required to make a decision.

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Are Your Employees Ready For The “Superjobs” Of The Future?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of David Epstein’s Range, his 2019 counter punch to the drive for specialization, often represented by the 10,000 hour rule, as the best path for achieving future success. In his book, Epstein pushes back against the idea that deeper and deeper specialization is the best way to achieve success, especially in rapidly changing and unpredictably complex environments. “We are often taught that the more competitive and complicated the world gets, the more specialized we must get,” Epstein notes, but according to his research, given that most business environments today are not governed by standard rules and predictable patterns, maintaining a competitive edge will require organizations to hire or train generalists who are often more willing and better able to find solutions to novel challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, many business leaders see the trend towards needing more employees who are capable of taking on diverse and varied job tasks. According to the report, a vast majority of respondents expect that the increased adoption and use of technology will mean that jobs in the future are far more multi-disciplinary than they have been. And that as artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotic process automation take hold, there will be a trend towards “superjobs”, or jobs that combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles – these jobs will span the hyper-specialized areas of expertise of many current workers. Read More…