Proven Approaches in an Unproven Time
Everyday we seem to be facing a barrage of messages telling us we are in a new reality: Unprecedented. Uncertain. Uncharted.
To be sure, individuals and organizations are addressing challenges, change, and hardship at a pace and scale that is new. Leaders are also facing an unintended irony: to say that our current situation is uncertain implies we had certainty before. While the speed and magnitude of this change is new, the approach to leadership that is needed in these complex times is understood.
While there are many approaches to leading through complexity, two lessons stand out as highly relevant right now, and surprisingly simple:
In the face of complexity leaders should:
- Double-down on values
- Mobilize action through vision
1. Double-Down on Values
“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
Roy E. Disney
Our values answer the questions, ‘‘what matters most?’ and ‘what guides us?’ They are our most fundamental motivators of actions. Anchoring in values helps us move from wondering about being “right” to having confidence that we are acting for the right reasons. Explicitly contextualizing actions with values demonstrates the integrity of decisions even when they may turn out to be incorrect. In this time, the yardstick of perfection needs to be laid down in favor of the measure of purpose. To make this work, values can’t just be words on a poster or formalities to tick off at the beginning of a meeting. A value is only a value if it is reflected in actual behavior.
Leaders model behaviors with words backed up by public acts. Integrity depends on creating alignment between what is said and what is done. This is more important – and more difficult – right now. The current environment presents many polarities and dilemmas that put difficult decisions in seeming conflict with values. Take, for example, organizations with real commitments to employee welfare that are currently having to furlough or fire staff. Acting compassionately, leading from values, and communicating directly and with clarity, is fundamental for maintaining integrity during these tricky times.
2. Mobilize Action Through Vision
“The essence of leadership is reflecting on why are we here, where are we trying to go, and how is this guiding our day-to-day actions?”
Goals and strategies have been up-ended by this pandemic. Fundamental assumptions used for projections are no longer relevant. In the early days and weeks of this crisis, most organizations started by transitioning ways of working and triaging operations. Focusing on short-term planning such as rolling ‘30-day strategies’ has been necessary. With that said, a focus on the short-term alone presents unacceptable downside risks. Among them are loss of engagement and positive momentum. Engaging vision is one way to connect with a desired future and work backwards towards specific and meaningful activities.
At Nebo, we’ve been partnering with clients for years on creating strategic visions and planning how to make them real. (We’ve even adapted our vision work into the virtual environment!) Vision is needed now, more than ever.
A successful vision is a specific and detailed picture of a desired future, not a blue-sky statement of aspiration. Right now, every team should be revisiting their intentions to identify priorities that are still relevant, ones that need to be put on hold, and (once future) goals that may be more relevant now than they were before. In addition to uncovering relevant new strategies, your vision of the future will help motivate people during the turbulent present. It will remind your people that there is still a North Star to follow.
While these times are testing everyone, renewing focus on values and vision are timeless leadership tools.
On May 8, I will host the fourth webinar in our Smart Strategies for the Virtual Workplace series: Insider’s Guide to Leading in Uncertain Times. We’ll be discussing these ideas in more detail in addition to several other approaches that stand the test of time.