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Leading into the unknown – 4 tips for leading during times of constant change

When we first started writing Leading in Pajamas posts, early on in the pandemic, everything was a new challenge, a new experience in leading our teams. We, like many, thought it would be short lived and these were thoughts, ideas and tips for managing through this time. We covered numerous topics through the blog: Empathy in Leadership, the Importance of Communication, Providing Meaningful and Constructive Feedback, just to name a few.

Now here we are two plus years later and many of us are still leading in pajamas, and it’s been a lot. So much has changed and so much continues to change. Our teams have likely changed and will continue to change. The way we work, where we work and possibly the type of work we deliver has changed. We’ve said it before, but it seems in the last few years the only constant is ongoing change.

So how do you, as a leader, lead when you don’t know what’s ahead?

Well spoiler alert – I don’t have the answers, but here are four things I’ve been thinking about lately that I think are important in navigating leadership in the unknown, and I would love to hear what you are focussing on.

1. Having a plan

As the saying goes, “if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time” (author unknown)

As leaders, we know we need to be clear on what it is that we’re aiming for, and we need to be able to articulate that to our teams in ways that will not only guide them but also motivate them. But how do you set goals and create a plan to achieve them, while leading your team and inspiring them, if you’re not clear on what the future holds?

Well here’s what I’ve come to accept during the pandemic; goals are just that – goals. And your plans to achieve those goals can change, and evolve, and they should! The important thing is to have a goal in the first place to help lead you and your team. In fact a study by Psychology Professor, Dr. Gail Matthews, found that you are 42X’s more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.

Even better, developing and writing them down together with your team will create commitment and ownership.

Plus having an overall plan or goal(s) and then breaking them down into bite sized, achievable chunks can actually help to reduce stress for you and your team! We can all think of those times when we feel overwhelmed by too many competing requirements. Those feelings of, ‘How will I ever get this done?’ ‘Where do I even start?’

When you have a plan of what needs to get done and the steps to achieve it, it makes it much easier to focus on one task at a time. And as an added bonus you get those positive feelings of accomplishment each time you complete a task (no matter how small).

2. Communicate

I’m sure we’ve all read a lot about effective communication, so I don’t need to share any of the numerous statistics and facts about the importance of communication in the workplace. When it comes down to it, they all say one thing – effective communication increases productivity, employee engagement and collaboration. There is a previous Leading in Pajamas post, about how we’ve looked at communication with some tips that you can find here, but the one thing i want you to think about today is, what are you not saying?

Virtual and hybrid working provides a whole new way of communicating and more so miscommunicating. If you only see your team members via online meetings, what are your facial expressions saying? Are you making eye contact? Are you fully engaging in the conversation and paying attention?

And what about emails and instant messaging? How has that effected your communication and relationships?  In Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World author, Nick Morgan, shared that, “people think others understand their messages 90 percent of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50 percent.” I’m sure we can all think of a time we wrote a message in a joking tone, only to find that you offended someone and had to do damage control. Email, text and even video calls leave a lot to interpretation.

We are still sorting through this ourselves, 2+ years later, and it is okay if you don’t have the answers. But what is important, is to be open and honest with your team. If you aren’t they will see right through it. What works best for your team? What works best for your organization? Set expectations, but also give yourself, and others, grace. We are all navigating through what the ‘new normal’ looks like, and it is okay if you still are a bit unsure.

3. Authenticity Matters

We talk a lot about the importance of authenticity in leadership normally, but it’s even more crucial during difficult times. A study by Susan M Jensen and Fred Luthans on Authentic Leadership found that, ‘employees’ perception of authentic leadership served as the strongest single predictor of employee job satisfaction, organizational commitment and work happiness.’

Authentic Leadership encompasses a number of aspects but three that come to mind for me are transparency, awareness and great communication.

  • Transparency is key to building trust with your team; communicating clearly, while being genuine and honest will go a large way to building trust and a strong relationship with team members.
  • Both self-awareness and general awareness are key to authentic leadership. Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader and being willing and open to improve can go a long way to your growth as a leader. Equally as important, as a leader you must be aware of what’s going on in your organization, and your team. You can’t lead if you are completely unaware of the culture or the challenges your team faces.
  • Great communication will help you with both of the previous two mentioned. Whether it be how you communicate with your team or how you actively listen and absorb, great communication is key to being an authentic leader.

The key take-away for me is to be honest, be yourself and encourage your employees to be themselves as well!

4. Cut yourself some slack, you’ve got this.

The 4th thing I think everyone needs to do is just know that whatever you’re doing, however you’re doing it – you are enough and you’ve got this.

If we look back to the message about authenticity, being authentic means being ourselves, flaws and all, and that means accepting that we don’t need to be perfect. While we strive to be the best leaders, and managers we can be, sometimes there are misses or tough days, and that’s okay. These last few years have been a lot, and the final thing that I think everyone needs to do is cut themselves some slack.

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had around leading during times of change. I would love to hear what you’ve been thinking about and focussing on too. The more we can share strategies for success, the better off we and our teams will be.