To look back on the first eight months of 2020 is to see one of the most uncertain and unexpected years in history. While the initial survival phase of the pandemic may have passed, we have to adjust our leadership to the long-term changes COVID will bring to business. Strong and proactive leadership is more important than ever.
Reactive leadership is a typical default for many because uncertainty makes it challenging to assert a direction. But if your days consist largely of meetings that were put on your calendar by others, and you fill in the cracks of your schedule responding to email (again – sent by others,) then you have to ask yourself, “who is driving your priorities?” Are you mostly reactive or proactive?
To guide a team through turbulent waters and identify opportunities for growth and innovation, leaders must be proactive.
1) Assess data, and do it quickly. When there is an abundance of information in a rapidly changing context, it’s easy to get stuck in analysis. Double down on your ability to recognize patterns, synthesize, and utilize information to steer your decisions. There will always be more analysis, another cut of the data, an additional study or survey. Make sure to balance the value of your effort by considering how you’ll use the information to drive decisions about organization and strategy moving forward. Arming yourself with accurate and current information is the equivalent to having an updated map when navigating new territory. Just do it efficiently.
2) Stay close to the pulse of your people. In a crisis or period of change, the first question in many people’s mind is “how does this affect me?” As a proactive leader, you’ll go out of your way to understand and acknowledge the concerns of your team, and work to bring a sense of calm and confidence, even in the face of uncertainty. You must rely on these emotional connections to effectively lead people through change. Create space for open dialogue – invite stakeholders to express their thoughts and perspectives. Remember, we aren’t task driven automatons so, it’s immensely important to listen attentively to others during times like these. Doing so will enable you to increase engagement on your team and throughout your organization.
3) Access the expertise of others. A leader should never expect to have all the answers, especially in a time of such uncertainty. You should be very clear about your objectives, but you can leverage the collective experience of your team to determine how to achieve them. Be intentional about reaching out to them as individuals and creating forums as a group to problem solve and innovate. Your team’s expertise is a resource you can proactively draw on, using their perspectives, skills, and ideas to determine solutions you may not have anticipated. Seek the expertise of external stakeholders, reach out to colleagues in the industry or SMEs, and gather feedback from internal and external stakeholders about how to improve everything from products and services to processes.
Of course, no leader I’ve met is 100% proactive. There are appropriate levels of reactivity built in to any job. The real question for you to ask yourself is “are you doing the necessary amount of proactive work to advance your objectives?” If not, you may find yourself feeling like you’re on a hamster wheel with a lot of movement but not enough progress.
Can You be a More Charismatic Leader:
When you think of leaders who inspire you, what leadership traits come to mind? For many people, charisma is at the top of the list. In fact, when I was analyzing 360 degree survey data on over 25,000 leaders for my first book The Inspiring Leader the term “charismatic” was frequent among top performers. Of course, telling someone to be more charismatic is about as helpful as saying “be more inspiring!” How does one become more charismatic as a leader? From my experience observing and coaching hundreds of leaders and analyzing data on thousands more, I have identified several qualities that contribute to charismatic leadership.
Focus on others. The best leaders understand that leadership effectiveness is contextual, what works for one group won’t work for the next. Effective and charismatic leaders are able to understand others and approach the situation in a way that is relatable for the audience. Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Charismatic people have a way of making people feel like they are the most important person in the room, even if they only have a brief encounter.
Communication that draws people in. I’ve always said there are two cardinal sins in communication, but people will generally forgive you for one. They are 1) being inaccurate and 2) being boring. As long as it’s not habitual or intentionally misleading, you’ll often be forgiven for some inaccuracy, but people will never forgive you for being boring. The punishment for being boring is that people won’t freely lend you their attention. Charismatic or inspiring leaders are especially skilled and expressive in their verbal communication. They may have interesting examples or metaphors that are illustrative of a key idea. They use stories to instantiate important points. They use concrete examples and share their feelings, and they build connections with the audience through words. Doing this well requires you to be thoughtful and intentional in how you communicate. Only the gifted few can wing it. Most of the leaders I’ve seen excel in this area put in the work to be great.
Empathy. A third critically important ingredient is genuine concern for others. Charismatic leaders care and people can tell. It’s what Aristotle called ethos, as it relates to your disposition or character. Leaders who are charismatic show interest in their employees, they encourage them and are supportive. The most charismatic leaders make a genuine emotional connection by using words and actions to demonstrate they are listening, they understand and have your best interest at heart. Few things are more inspiring than a leader who cares deeply.
The word charisma comes from the word Greek charis, meaning gift or grace. But it’s not so much a grace we’re born with as a skill that can be cultivated and, ultimately, a gift to be shared with others. If you found this useful, you may want to read my Harvard Business Review article on this topic titled Learn to Be Charismatic.
This article highlights strategies to increase idea generation and creativity – but maybe not in the ways you’d typically think. In a study of entrepreneurs, the researchers analyzed the impact of taking time to recover on the study participant’s creativity. They found that physiological and mental recovery significantly boosts an individual’s ability to generate ideas. The study looks at two specific elements of recovery: sleep and work-related problem solving after work (have you ever had a breakthrough on a problem during a bike ride?). After you read this article, you’ll want to prioritize a good night sleep and some time away from the computer.