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Leading strategically to sustain your team

Ever thought about your ability to anticipate as a strategic leadershp skill? Well believe it or not great leadershp isn't just about clarity, communication, trust, recognition and the ability to get a team to deliver on a product or outcome (although that is what I often focus on - those 'real skills' not 'soft skills' 😉). Great leadership is also about foresight, prediction and anticipation, trust, empathy and empowerment. And right now, being strategic in your leadership is more important than ever. So if you are ready to uplevel and lead here are the most important strategic leadership skills you need in your leadership toolkit.

The world is undergoing a first-of-a-kind stress test. Many countries pushed banks through stress testing after the 2008 recession. No one thought we would be doing it almost every business on planet earth 12 years later. 

And the stress test is manifesting in many ways:

  • Being nimble as a business and having the ability to pivot is more important than ever.
  • But so is holding your nerve on a strategy rather than over-pivoting too early in a reactionary manner.
  • Working from home has been normalised, but with it we are all realising that mental health has a huge part to play: yes we might have more time on our hands, but if we aren’t feeling good we can’t use it. The impact on the workforce of handling the overwhelm is directly impacting our business bottom lines.
  • Having your own children and your colleagues’ children come up to you mid-meeting to ask for something is now socially acceptable because we’ve realised it is necessary.

Clarity on business strategy, staff mental health, wellbeing, and a perception of clear direction are more important than ever for our companies to not just survive this crisis but to come out the other side thriving. 

But recent surveys are showing that most employees are not feeling clear on their organization’s policies, plans and strategies in response to the current crisis. They aren’t clear on their rights, how they will be treated, or where their organization plans to go in the coming months.  Leadership seems to be lacking at the time when it is most needed for us to have the ability to push through uncertainty, overwhelm and grief. 

If you are already a leader or you are ready to step up and lead your team, peers or a larger group, it is time to really uplevel your leadership skills like never before. The benefits are not just for you and your career, but for everyone around you. Remember, that when you lift up those around you, everyone benefits, including you!

Lift up everyone around you, share your optimism, your joy in what you do and your vision for the future. Everyone, including you will reap the benefits.

Here are some key tips to leade more strategically right now.

  1. Lead with compassion, empathy and awareness of the people around you.
    This is often the first thing to drop when we are stressed. Our empathy plummets, we start thinking about ourselves (yes personal survival is our first instinct!), and we forget to connect with those around us. But as many of us are feeling overwhelmed and lonely, if you want to lead, it is time to put on that leadership face and be compassionate, empathetic and look out for those that are struggling. If you haven’t already built strong connections with your team where they can be truly honest with you about their workload, their ability to perform and their overwhelm, now is the time. If you already have that, make sure they know that you are still listening and not judging. An open channel is a powerful channel for communication. But your team needs to know that channel is open and ready to receive without judgement.
  2. Develop your foresight. 
    So much about great leadership is about anticipating what is coming. No one (well very few!) anticipated the current pandemic. But the leaders who are currently excelling are anticipating what comes next. They are turning that anticipation into strategic pivoting (note that there is a difference between a pivot and a full-blown overreaction – not all companies should be pivoting right now). They use their foresight and anticipation to develop in new areas that have real potential. They avoid jumping on a dying bandwagon by bringing an idea to market after everyone else, just as it is drying up. And they also have the foresight to plan for how to push through the current times without panicking and reacting by retracting in crucial areas.
    Develop your foresight. Spend real, focused, creative time (not squeezed in between children’s bath time and making dinner!) thinking through what is coming and what that means for the short, medium and long term for your products/services/team/business. Don’t pivot late, pivot early. Don’t panic or overreact. Be strategic.
  3. Set out your vision with optimism. 
    You might not be feeling super optimistic right now. That is normal. But you do need to show up as a realistic optimist for your team. The anxiety, general panic, not knowing what is coming down the line means that everyone is anxious. And when we are anxious we don’t perform. You need your team to perform not just well but at their best right now. How else are we supposed to be able to homeschool, do all the housework and all-the-things that we used to outsource AND deliver at work? You need the time that you work to be extraordinary so you can make the most of it. The same is true for your team. Fewer hours doesn’t need to mean less quality output. The easiest and quickest way is to share with your team your vision with optimism. And bonus, if you show up as an optimist it will help you reset your brain too. 
  4. Challenge.
    Challenging the status quo and statements such as ‘we can’t do that – we tried it before’ is an essential leadership trait. And although stability is essential right now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be challenging. The entire world has been challenged by the need to work from home. We’ve had to point out that people really can work from home and have meaningful work output with children around and on the end of a video conference call. But there are more assumptions that need challenging. Unchallenged these assumptions can not just limit your team or business but can even be dangerous in the current environment. Be ready to challenge assumptions about how your team/business needs to get through the current situation. Challenge mindfully and with your full foresight turned up to max  – that is be equipped with your reasons for why the assumptions are wrong.
    But more than anything, be ready to challenge. That is where greatness happens.
  5. Manage your mindset.
    Your ability to lead effectively is directly related to your ability to turn up as your best, authentic, passionate and ambitious self right now. But many of us feel overwhelmed and will underperform. The first thing that tends to get dropped when we are stressed and pushed for time is our self-care. Now is not the time to drop self-care. Look after your brain and your mindset, and you will be a better leader. Take care of you, and you will take better care of your team, your products, services and the organization your run or work for. 

Above all, to be a strategic leader, you need to actively work on building these attributes into your leadership. They won’t just happen unless you plan to bring these steps into your leadership style and everyday routine. Embed them in your working practices and practice them every day.

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