In a time of extreme disruption, especially one as protracted as the current pandemic, it is a good idea to maintain routines and traditions when possible. That is the prevailing advice, but it shouldn’t be blindly followed. For example, year-end reviews of both a personal and professional nature need a different approach, this year. Typically, reviews end with an overall theme of “how to do better next year.” While it’s admirable and important to seek improvement, merely naming what needs to change can leave people feeling deflated in the best of times and these are not definitely the best of times.
This year it is especially important include strengths, capabilities, and the characteristics of individuals that support growth, flexibility, resilience, and success.
There are two things that leaders can resolve do to, right now, to support resilience and help people for the long haul.
First, change your approach. David, the CEO of a large medical institution realized that a key person on the team, Lisa, had begun to organize a very effective response to the pandemic, showed valuable skills as a communicator, and was especially adept at keeping her team working well together. David took a fresh look at what Lisa was doing and, importantly, how she was doing it. In a meeting, they both agreed that she was slightly miscast in her role but not because she wasn’t capable of fulfilling it. Rather, she was capable of doing something slightly different, especially as she’d shown herself to be an exceptional role model for her peers as well as her own team. David realized that he’d overlooked some of Lisa’s strengths. He also wondered why it took a pandemic to notice.
Even smart leaders have habits that can help and limit. Changes in routine can facilitate changes in what one sees, how it is interpreted, and relationships. It needn’t take a crisis to prompt new thoughts and insights, it can be done by changing one’s schedule and who is on the schedule.
Second, be inquisitive about the causes of success. Typically, much energy is given to dissecting mistakes and failures but understanding the causes of success are nearly always given short shrift. It is especially easy to name one or two things, then stop. However, successes often have multiple causes.
A conversation with Shawn, the COO, of a very successful financial institution, is typical. When asked why they were successful, he said, “discipline.” That was accurate but incomplete. When asked to deconstruct discipline as it applied to his business, Shawn balked but then began to think. Here’s what he named in the next five minutes – 1. Knowing the characteristics of the ideal customer, 2. Avoiding short cuts based on “gut feel”, 3. Pay attention to the “hard facts” and subtle signs that a customer is in trouble and using both to decide what to do, 4. Thirst for market knowledge.
Next, Shawn identified people who exemplified the qualities he named. Quickly, he realized that while he was effusive in praising success, he often stopped short of giving specific feedback about how individuals contributed beyond good execution. Shawn could see that adding his observations and insights would be rewarding for his team members and strengthen the connection he has with them.
While most leaders are encouraged to maintain routines and try to “steady the ship”, sometimes rocking the boat for a good reason is the best course of action. It is especially true when doing so is for the purpose of understanding people more deeply and making them feel seen and appreciated, even if they aren’t heroes. Small changes like, shifting one’s approach and becoming a student of good performance, can help create organizations where people can feel a sense of achievement and pride. Those are important to resilience of individuals, teams, and organizations of all kinds.