Communication and Engagement

We’ve focused already on uncertainty and how that can affect a leader’s mindset. A positive mindset is open to the ‘possibilities’ of the unknown. We don’t want to be people who miss opportunities because we’re not looking. It is often in adversity, when we are forced into doing things differently because our backs are against the wall, that opportunity presents. Be clear about the challenge, but also be clear that with challenge comes opportunity.

Where there is clarity, make it count…

There may not be much at present, but where there is clarity – around your intentions as a leader or employer – drive these messages home. What do we know to be true right now? Understand and embrace this, then use every channel at your disposal to communicate it. Your people need information. Where there is a communication void, they will fill it with (not always helpful) messages of their own.

…whilst continuing to embrace the unknown

We tend not to like the unknown. When we don’t have certainty, we may start to jump ahead to the worst possible outcome in our heads. As humans, we are wired to be aware of danger and to protect ourselves from this. It’s instinctive. When we lived in caves and were threatened by wild animals, it was necessary for our survival. The key is to recognise when this reaction is not serving us.

Consider: Where are we making unhelpful assumptions about the way things will be? How can we regain a sense of reality whilst so much remains uncertain?

The best communication is two-way. Amongst the uncertainty, help your team understand the communication channels open to them. When there is nothing to tell them – share that fact. Don’t leave people guessing and making assumptions. But remember, it is also ok not to know.

Be prepared to be vulnerable

As a leader, we may assume that it is down to us to make this right. But we’d be wrong. It is an old school of thought to expect leaders to have all the answers. How can they? The best leaders hold a developed awareness around their own strengths – and those of their team. They don’t try to be all things to all people.

Brené Brown talks about leaders needing to be prepared to be vulnerable – to create environments where people feel able to ask the difficult questions and to be able to lean into these. Answer honestly. Admit when you don’t know or when it is tough. This will encourage connection and trust.

Be prepared to ask, ‘what does support from me look like?’. Don’t assume. And listen. Yes, it’s unpredictable and ‘out of your control’ but it helps to establish a shared way forward. Where there is co-ownership, there is productivity.

Ask yourself: ‘what am I missing here’? We all have our individual strengths and our own lens on the world. Remember: your perspective is just one perspective.

To be clear, this isn’t about full disclosure and over-sharing; it’s contained. There are boundaries around how to demonstrate vulnerability effectively and in a way which fosters increased levels of connection and trust. Essentially, when you can’t control the situation or predict the outcome, this is about being prepared to show up, as you are. It’s as straightforward and as complex as that.

Consider how you may be able to create opportunities not only for people to come up with solutions to the challenge/question – but also whether you’ve asked the right questions in the first place.

Think beyond the obvious

We have spoken in previous insight pieces around your role as a leader not being to instinctively know what your team needs but to make it your business to find out. The same applies here. Have you taken the time to ask the question around what will help people stay motivated and engaged during this time? How do they want to be communicated with? And how often? Whilst the onus isn’t on you to motivate anyone else (after all, motivation is intrinsic, it comes from within), it is your job as a leader to create environments where people can thrive.

During times of such uncertainty, we will need to think outside the box in terms of how we ‘reward’ people. In a climate where financial recognition is somewhat out of reach, we need to reassess. How about making a charity donation in an employee’s name? Giving them their birthday off? A shout out on LinkedIn or in a company email? It is indeed the little things which make the biggest difference. The current situation is certainly reinforcing this notion.

See this as an opportunity. You are working in real time to think of ways in which you can ensure people feel valued and appreciated. As Seth Godin said in a recent blog: ‘Interact with care and insight’. Draw on what you already know about people and demonstrate curiosity to learn more. We should make a conscious effort to move away from purely focusing just on the stuff that we can quantify and measure to uncovering what lies beneath.

This is our opportunity. The time is right, right now!

It is true that we have lost a lot of what we considered to be our ‘normal’ life and are still perhaps thinking in terms of what’s been taken away.

Now is our opportunity to flip this on its head and ask: What have we gained through these enforced changes? What are the opportunities in this situation?

Time is certainly something most of us will have more of. For many, it will offer space to think properly for the first time in a long time.

The medium might be different but, ironically, in a time of lockdown, our levels of meaningful communication are increasing. This is a time where we can build connection.

For others, this has opened a new flexible and agile world of working that we hadn’t previously thought possible. What will the new ‘normal’ look like for your organisation once this is over?

Let’s be aware of the opportunities and benefits as they present. And let’s be aware that you and your people are in this together. Treat them as such and keep them in the loop. Have courage. The time is now. Above all, remain curious and open. Different might be better.

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