leaders navigating turbulent change

Many people can sail the ship when the sea is calm. The real test is during fierce storms. Even mediocre managers can get by during calm times. Today’s massive storm calls for strong leadership.

The American Pulitzer Prize winning author, Willa Cather once observed, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” Lots of leadership learning opportunities these days!

I recently developed a webinar on Leading in Turbulent Times for Leadership Waterloo Region, an organization that works to provide leadership development opportunities supporting our community. This is a mission near and dear to our hearts, especially during this unprecedented crisis.

This presentation centered on leading from the inside out: strong leadership of others ripples out from strong self-leadership. My recent blog Bounce Back: 9 Ways to Strengthen Resilience drew from a key slide on leading ourselves.

I then moved on to a key slide with 13 approaches to lead others:

  1. Boost confidence with strengths and success — this is an especially important time to anchor your culture in a can-do spirit of how you’ve overcome past difficulties.
  2. Balance strengths and shifts — build on your heritage, desirable traditions, and core values as leverage to the outdated thinking, habits, mindsets, and behaviors that need to shift.
  3. Agree on limiting Pity Parties — some teams have agreed that short visits to Pity City to vent frustrations can be therapeutic as long as we don’t get stuck there.
  4. Start with accomplishments/recognition/celebration — begin meetings or conference calls with what’s gone right before you jump into what’s wrong and needs to be fixed.
  5. Share customer stories on how you’re making a difference — make emotional connections to the purpose of your organization with powerful examples of service during these tough times.
  6. Sweet Spot Coaching — help the people you lead align their strengths and passions to organizational needs. This will boost engagement and effectiveness.
  7. Use ‘Keep, Stop, Start’ exercise to boost effectiveness — this powerful approach can be used for feedback and reflection to increase effectiveness. It’s especially useful these days to maximize virtual meeting effectiveness.
  8. Foster courageous conversations and unfiltered feedback — use anonymous surveys or online tools to facilitate open discussions on key (often touchy) issues to be addressed, and improve your leadership effectiveness.
  9. Take Initiative — Don’t let a weak boss/senior management drag down your leadership. Practice upward leadership to lead your leader(s).
  10. Constant weeding, pruning, and prioritizing – now it’s especially vital to balance reactive and proactive use of our time. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up.
  11. Check Up from the Neck Up — Leading with Emotional Intelligence is especially vital these days. High EQ leaders recognize and control their own emotions while understanding and positively influencing the emotions of others.
  12. Servant Leadership — serve your servers and the teams you lead to energize, engage, and enable.
  13. Balance information and communication — don’t confuse electronic and verbal communication. Leadership is a two-way, interactive dialogue that engages and energizes.

Navigating stormy seas is a powerful and timeless metaphor to guide us through these ferocious times. As American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:

“One ship drives east and another drives west,
With the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tell them the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate,
As we voyage along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife.”