Five Things You Need to Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An interview with Authority Magazine
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Authority Magazine. Here are some highlights on what I think are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times:
During uncertain and turbulent times, there should be a focus on “positive leadership.” For me, positive leadership leans on concepts from positive psychology, which is the scientific study of what makes individuals thrive. Positive psychology has now expanded beyond the individual into the field of positive organizational scholarship, which concerns itself with the factors that create positive work experiences and, by extension, positive institutions. A “positive leader” should:
Connect with Purpose
Finding a purpose that you believe in can bring meaning, happiness and fulfillment to any aspect of your life, particularly your professional work. As Daniel Pink states in Drive, his book explaining intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, corporate management is “finally realizing that we’re full-fledged human beings, not single-minded economic-robots,” and he argues that most employees are actually looking for “purpose maximizing” work.
For companies, a sense of purpose moves beyond a simple mission statement or set of goals that tend to prioritize purely financial motives. An authentic purpose connects a company to the world outside the office, and it connects everyone to each other — bosses, teammates, clients, and customers. It keeps employees engaged, enthusiastic and inspired, enabling them to perform their best work and be their best selves.
Positive leaders actively work to weave this purpose into every aspect of the company’s culture, from orientation training to C-suite decision-making. Leaders that connect with their purpose lead with both their head and heart. They aren’t sidelined by short-term challenges, because they maintain their long-term focus on the broader mission.
Uncertain and turbulent times can actually encourage critical reflection. This provides leaders with an opportunity to shift their perspectives and discover new purposes and values for their organizations — and for themselves as leaders.
2. Cultivate Positive Relationships
Positive psychology scholars have identified that relationships and social connections are crucial to our wellbeing at work. Our biology and history as a species support that we are social animals who are hardwired to bond and depend on each other. We thrive on positive personal and professional connections. In fact, organizational psychology scholarship has found that one of the biggest predictors of our wellbeing at work is our relationship with our colleagues. It is no surprise that one of the pivotal questions of Gallup’s employee engagement survey asks whether respondents have a best friend at work. A large body of research has found that having a friend at work significantly increases our wellbeing and productivity.
As a coach, I help leaders foster a more cohesive and collegial work environment. Often, my work requires expanding leaders’ emotional and social awareness and building their emotional vocabulary. This requires helping them to tap into the emotions of others and effectively manage their relationships by exhibiting empathy. This is especially true during uncertain and turbulent times, when emotions are running high for everyone and employees need to feel supported.
3. Cultivate Positivity and Optimism
Leaders must learn to be positive and optimistic, focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. The foundation of this approach is the belief that there is good in every person and every organization, and by focusing on that “good,” you can engage and inspire your teams and customers, as well as discover and expand upon business strengths and strategic advantages. (This is similar to the perspective shared by my former boss, Allan Gray, when he told me how he reframed his view of his work managing pension plans to focus on the “good,” or the positive impact on people’s everyday lives.) By focusing on a shared positive image, leaders can guide their organization out of uncertainty and turbulence.
4. Let Go of Perfectionism
Perfectionism has been associated with a fear of failure and can lead to an inability to take action or diverge from commonly established ways of doing things. During uncertain times, leaders can get sucked into a rigid intolerance for failure. It can be so extreme that it disables them from being capable of sound decision-making. If leaders can let go of their perfectionist tendencies and adopt a new perspective, they will be able to expand their worldview, transform their perceptions and reframe their level of understanding, enabling them to see solutions they might not have seen before.
5. Be Flexible and Inclusive
Leaders need to understand that their organization is comprised of distinct individuals, each with their own perspectives and personalities. Similar to the way that effective communication requires an awareness of people’s different styles of listening and interpretation, successful leadership adopts an inclusive approach to the diversity of viewpoints within a company. In order to enact meaningful change, a leader needs buy-in from all of these different stakeholders, and the only way that everyone will eagerly jump on board is if they all feel heard and included in the decision-making process.
When an organization is in crisis, employees are particularly anxious and likely to be dealing with their own personal challenges. (Think about the pandemic, which was an uncertain and turbulent time for companies, but was an even more difficult time for the people dealing with children suddenly at home, sick relatives, loss of income, etc.) A strong leader engages and supports their team through empathy, knowing that people need to feel like their best selves in order to produce their best work.