There isn’t a leader anywhere in today’s world who isn’t making it up as they go along …

The last week has been one which most of us never imagined possible.

It seems we are all in the midst of a couple weeks of initial ‘shock’ (Animate certainly is) – needing to adapt, shift, and somehow remain hopeful in the face of this rapidly developing crisis. Even in our small team, people are responding differently – some are a bit caught in the headlights, some are really in touch with fear, and another manages the anxiety her fear produces by coming up with new ideas about what we might do in the face of such unpredictable and threatening conditions.

We know that many of our clients are working tirelessly to ease the impact of this crisis on our society – some at its very sharpest, life and death, edge. Many of them will need to be using leadership behaviours that are not their ‘usual’, as the circumstances demand…as this is an utterly new reality for us all.

You might be familiar with Daniel Goleman’s work on Six Leadership Styles, which we often include in our leadership development programmes. One of the styles he explores, which we often hear is ‘outdated’ in the modern leadership lexicon, is the Command and Control style. However, a crisis is exactly when this leadership style comes into its own – albeit to varying degrees, in relation to specific elements of the crisis.

In a crisis, people need their command/control leaders to be both realistic and hopeful. They need leaders who remain hopeful that we will find a way (or a range of ways!) to deliver what is essential, and maybe even go beyond.

Psychologists/therapists of all sorts talk about the importance of psychological ‘containment’ – providing a sense of boundaries/limits, a holding space…safety, in the storm. The command and control style is potentially very useful in providing containment – at least in the short term. It helps everyone when we have a clear vision and agreed actions to deliver; no more so than when it feels like the ground is crumbling beneath us.

Many of you will know Animate team members as coaches, as coaching individuals and teams is a significant strand of our work. Goleman also includes Coaching as one of his Six Styles – and we believe it also comes into its own during times of crisis.

When we are in uncharted territory, facing ‘wicked issues’, or so far out of our comfort zone that we feel waves of panic (cortisol preparing you for fight or flight), systems need to release all their available potential. They need all the ideas, perspectives, innovation and thinking power that can be made available. The command and control leader can’t possibly have all the answers – even though people might expect that they should. A coaching style, even when combined with command and control, can activate and engage these available resources.

Some useful questions might include:

  • Let’s go right out of the box…what could we try?
  • What activities do we need to create daily plans for – and how best to do so? 
  • Are there specific things we should be reviewing at the end of each day? 
  • What can support us to keep going, when it feels particularly hard?
  • What might tell us that we are struggling to manage? How can we notice the signs proactively, and plan accordingly?
  • How might people in our community help to ensure this service is delivered during the challenging months ahead? How can we let them know? 

The responsibilities of leadership during times like these can potentially overwhelm even the most experienced of us. It is ok, and potentially even important, to let those around you know that you are finding it hard; even while you remain hopeful. We are, each of us, only human.

“…great leaders humbly share their biggest challenges with their teams and ask them to help solve them.” (@rhettpower, Inc. Magazine, May 11, 2015) 

Animate plan to be blogging regularly for the next couple months – something that has remained on our ‘to do’ list for longer than we care to remind ourselves. One of the opportunities that this enforced down-time means for all of us is that we can finally get some of these long-standing items crossed off our list. We confess to being quite energised just thinking about some of the things we have held on ice, while our diaries were so full. This blog post is simply the first to thaw!

Take care of yourselves, and your people. We know our clients to be a smart, experienced, innovative, warm and committed group of leaders. We have confidence in your abilities to lead your teams and organisations through this crisis. Remember that there isn’t a leader anywhere in today’s world who isn’t making it up as they go along…