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The Constants of Leadership and why they matter even more in Uncertain Times

Mark Nutt 20190521_064354333_iOS 1v2.jpgAs leaders, we’re lucky. We have the chance to make a positive impact on people’s lives. That’s a real honour. And in unusual or difficult times, this role becomes even more vital.

As I write, a global pandemic is forcing people to act in a very unhuman way: sacrificing our social instincts for distance. Clearly, this makes it harder to connect people. But connecting people – to each other, to a purpose, to changing reality – is at the heart of being an effective leader.

In this blog, I’m sharing my thoughts on what leadership is and how to do it well. So, if you manage a team or run an organisation, take a look. And let me know if you agree or add anything you think I’ve missed in the comments section below. Collectively, we can make a difference.

Lead with Structure

Inspiration is important—motivation matters (more on this below). But I instinctively look for structure first; like clear aims, defined roles, and measurable outcomes. It tells me where I’m going, how to get there, and how far I’ve got. I also like structure because it’s been central to every success I’ve achieved. And success, after all, is what a leader is there for.

There’s an article I read years ago that has stuck with me. A poll asked leaders from the companies that make up the FTSE 100, ‘what is the role of a leader?’. Almost all said to deliver success. Of course, success needs to be defined, which are where primary goals – like growth, market share, and even stability – come in. I call success the what of leadership, then next, is the how.

Mark Nutt Veritas_869.jpgShare the Vision

When delivering success, I have found talking about my vision with clarity and passion, so that my team understands and feels part of my vision and plan is key. Vision has the power to unite and focus people over time despite change.

I remember a chance conversation with someone who had held the image of an ice cream parlour described by his father in his mind for 20 years. It was described as the best ice cream parlour. And extra details had been lavished on the vision for two decades. Eventually, he went to visit the parlour and found it just as he had imagined. It works the same way for organisations—a single-minded destination, which you gradually attach more detail and significance to over time.

Support the Vision with Four Ps

Once I have my vision in place, I need to show my team how to achieve it. I use the four Ps that underpin my vision (I did warn you I like structure).

  1. Plan - this is how I will execute the vision. I include my priorities – but not too many and none in conflict with one another, and of course I adapt this plan over time. But without it, my vision will remain just that.
  1. Purpose - the combination of my vision and my plan shows my purpose. Not just to the organisation, but my team and to individuals.
  1. People - none of the above matters if I don’t have talent around me. And talented people will be wasted if it’s not clear what I want from them. I need to create role clarity. In this stage, I question; does my team understand their role and its priorities? Am I reviewing regularly? When everyone knows what they’re doing and why progress follows.
  1. Progress - I regularly chart progress and communicate it. This is a tremendous source of motivation for me. But it must be true progress. The key is being clear on what was important and the result. It is not about false praise or misinterpretation. It’s about honesty, which engenders trust.

So far, I have shared the leadership framework I’ve used successfully to help me lead. Below, I want to look a little more at the ability to adapt and adopt.

Mark Nutt and Deepak Mohan MicrosoftTeams-image (12)v2.jpgWork with Learners

I once worked for someone who believed there were essentially two types of employees: knowers and learners. Knowers often think they know everything. So, it’s tough to change or re-skill them. Learners have a high level of self-awareness and are open to new ideas. He urged me to work with learners because they are agents for change. If people need to see before they believe, change takes longer. If people believe before they see, they’re catalysts for change. And success only comes with change.  

Keep Learning

It’s human nature to rely on past experiences and learnings. That’s why habits form. But if something material changes in the marketsay, a financial crash, new technology, or new working practises due to a global pandemicI know I have to change too. I believe good leaders believe they need to keep learning. They also believe that they can learn from everyone, whether they work for you, or with you, or you work for them. With a desire to keep learning, I surround myself with learners, which helps me adapt.

Leading in Lockdown

I find the principles above hold true for me as a leader at any time. But the current situation also creates some particular difficulties. Teams are dispersed, and people have to readjust psychologically, as well as practically. So, I thought that I would leave you with four key areas I’m focusing on right now.

  • Be Visible - teams need support and motivation to offset isolation. I think about my presence in the organisation. How is my team hearing from me in verbal and written communications? And the frequency of this.
  • Be Clear - I check that I’m sending the right messages, not signals. That I’m fluid and not confusing; I want my team to see me as consistent. Even more so now, during this pandemic, my team will be looking for clarity from me more than ever.
  • Be Creative -Things aren’t the same as it was pre-pandemic, and nor will it be in the future. It is important to bring my team together remotely, using creativity to get my messages out.
  • Be Efficient - This is actually about protecting my team. The more structure I can put in place, the easier it will be for my team to do their jobs. For example, I aggregate enquiries to my team and deal with them once a week. Then send them off with actions to achieve in the ensuing days. This is important at a time of stress and when there’s pressure on my team’s working schedules.

I believe good leadership is always important even more so in times of change. I hope these observations can help you find your own system for leading positively – even in the face of uncertainty. If you’d like to share your own thoughts or insights, please add a comment below.