How Your Leadership Style Needs to Change

You already know that true leaders having willing followers. That means that they allow you to influence their behavior - to do what you ask them to do - because they want to. Not because of the consequences of failing to do so, but because they genuinely want desire to comply with your wishes. When people respond to your leadership like that, the possibilities are limitless.

Of course, this is an ideal situation. It doesn’t exist all the time or even in most places. And that’s because the opposite approach also works, at least in the short term. If people are threatened, then they’ll respond. They’ll do what you want them to do because they’re afraid of what might happen if they don’t. They’re afraid that they’ll be disciplined or lose their jobs.

The problem with threats is that over time they become ineffective, either because those who make them fail to follow through on their threats - the boy who cried wolf - or those who are threatened walk because they’re tired of the threats or can’t cope with the stress. And quite often, those who do stay end up with extended periods of sick time. So while threats may seem effective at first, they can ultimately backfire. You can end up with a stressed, worn out, emotionally depleted workforce that’s unproductive and demotivated, and that feels trapped in jobs that they feel that they can’t do.

The time when threats are most widely used is when the available labour pool is large or perceived to be so; when if you sacked one, then ten more would be eagerly awaiting a chance to get on your payroll. It’s easy to think that those times have returned. Up until the beginning of the pandemic, the shortage of skilled labor was beginning to bite. Companies were feeling it acutely. Maybe yours was one of them.

Following the lockdowns, however, job security once again has been threatened. It’s estimated that in the first five months of the pandemic, something like 695,000 jobs were lost, and the employment carnage isn’t over yet. Those losses, even if most of them are recovered, will have a ripple effect for years to come. And so there’s likely to be a considerable period of time during which managers will seem to have the upper hand; where they can once again return to their threatening behavior to get what they want out of their workers.

 

However, it’s a big mistake if you believe that this is in the best interests of your organization.

It’s when times are particularly tough that the true colours of individuals are seen. That’s because you’re being watched to see how you treat people when they’re powerless to defend themselves. And when jobs are at stake, that’s when they’re the most vulnerable.

In the new, predominantly work-from-home environment, how should your leadership need change so that you can get the job done while treating people with respect?

To answer that question, you really need to ask several others, all of which when taken together will help you to build a good answer.

 

The next few years

A good starting place is to ask yourself what the workplace will look like in a few years’ time.

There are three possibilities. One is that it will go back to the way it was. That seems highly unlikely.

The second is to assume that it will be completely different. That could happen, but it’s impossible to imagine because you don’t know what it will look like. Most people are notoriously bad at this. Even experts hardly know what’s going on from one week to the next.

The third, and most likely answer is that it will contain a mix of things you recognize now, and other things which haven’t yet been identified. And so when you think about how the workplace will look, you need to build in flexibility so that changes can be made quickly and easily.

That means loosening internal structures; not tightening them, which is what most people want to do in times of uncertainty. You must resist the inclination to do so because it’ll be counterproductive in the medium to longer term, the exact time period under consideration.

 

Hire the right people

It’s always important for you to hire the right people. But what’s right? Right according to whom? Right under what circumstances?

This is why you first have to think about what the workplace would look like in a few years, because the people you hire today will be the ones who are with you tomorrow. That’s obvious when you think about, but so much of the time, it is easy to forget about that when the very foundations of all that you take for granted have been shaken.

 

Who are the right people?

They are the ones who thrive in uncertain times. They aren’t what you’d call fair weather employees. The roll with the punches. The know how to cope with the ups and downs that life throws at them. They know how to be mentally tough and to do what’s necessary when it’s necessary.

The right people aren’t snowflakes. Their feathers don’t get ruffled over every little thing. They know what battles are worth fighting, and which ones don’t matter. And it’s remarkable just how difficult it is to find people like this. That means that you need to hire them when you see them, and not wait for a vacancy before you begin to look.

It also means that you need to train the ones you have to be like this. You can’t pander to the thin-skinned. You can’t cave to the lowest common denominator. Instead, you have to teach them how to pull up their socks; to be consummate professionals.

That may seem like a daunting thing to do, especially if you’re not like that yourself; but no one popped out of the womb, so to speak, mentally tough and with high emotional intelligence. They all had to be taught. And if they can learn how to do it, so can you or anyone else.

That leads nicely to the next thing.

 

What training is needed?

The third question is what training is needed to help people to be more flexible?

The best training always begins with the desired outcome. A good question to ask is, “What will people be able to do differently after this training?” If you can’t think of a good answer, then don’t send them on it, and don’t bring someone in to teach them either. You’re wasting your money and their time if you do.

It’s that old question about traveling. “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” And you need to have a discernible and describable destination.

You need to figure out what your employees will need to be able to do to thrive in a workplace that’s filled with uncertainty. That’s the reality today, and people need to be shown how to work and to be productive in that environment.

Maybe you’re not used to leading in times like this. If that’s the case, then you, too, need to be trained.

The need for training isn’t an admission of weakness, by the way. Instead, it’s a recognition of where improvements can be made.

And don’t expect to learn this overnight. The workplace has changed in a few months, but you’ve been leading in the way you have for years. It will take time for you to adjust. You’ll be disappointed if you think it will happen quickly.

 

Protect your employees

The fourth question has been mentioned earlier but is worth further comment.

You must resist the temptation to treat your employees as if they’re expendable. Notwithstanding the fact that they’re human beings who deserve dignity and respect, they’re also not unimportant, at least not to the extent that you can replace them at the drop of a hat. The skills shortage still exists. It’s just that temporarily it’s been camouflaged by the effects of the lockdown. But once the dust at work settles, it will become apparent again.

You need to think very carefully about how you’re going to retain the employees you have, because as things improve, they will be considering their options, and that may mean that they’ll leave you for someone else or even start their own business. Irrespective of any non-compete clauses, you can’t stop them from moving out of the local area. In any case, a clause like that can seem like a kind of threat, which hearkens back to the older, traditional behaviours that you need to get away from anyway.

It’s much easier to make the conscious decision to hold onto the people you have than to threaten them if they leave.

 

Protect their personal time

The fifth question is, “How are you helping people to protect their personal time?”

In the work-from-home environment, it’s easy to assume that you can email people whenever you’re awake, or because you know they’re at home extend their work day will-nilly far into the evening or start it even earlier in the day than you used to. It behooves you, however, to help them to protect their personal time by limiting the hours you expect them to work.

Well-rested and relaxed employees get more done.

Never lose sight of this goal. The goal is to accomplish the work; not to fill a certain number of hours to do it. It’s a well-known fact that when people work at home they can accomplish more in less time; so let them work fewer hours. Don’t drive them into the ground because they can’t go anywhere.

 

Find out how the lives of employees have changed

It’s easy to assume that you know how the lives of people have changed, after all, you can see into their sitting rooms or bedrooms on Zoom. But that only tells you part of the story. There will be things that they don’t want you to see, just as there are things in your house that you don’t want others to see. And just as it would be wrong for them to draw conclusions about you from what they do see, it would be equally wrong for you to do the same thing to them.

That means that you need to get to know people better than you know them now.

It seems as though it shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but it’s all about relationships. It always has been that way. It’s just that under the current circumstances, the strength of those relationships has been tested. And the situation today is so different from the way it used to be that you may need to practically start over with some people.

It’s difficult to care about people whom you don’t know.

You need to learn what their daily responsibilities are at home, and how working from home has changed what they do.

For instance, when they came to the office, perhaps they arranged child care. But now that they’re working from home, they have to work around their kids who are home for some or all of their work day.

 

How does that affect their ability to work?

These are just six questions for you to ask yourself, and there are others. The main thing is to recognize that your leadership style has to change with the times.

As the book title says, what got you here won’t get you there. You have to think about where there is, and then adapt yourself to it.

Don’t just assume that people will get it. You have to lead them to it.

You have to show them the way.

 

Want to know more about how your leadership style needs to change? Contact me here

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