One of the many challenges of leading during the pandemic is that the constant stream of changing circumstances can make work feel really episodic. When that happens, it’s natural that people feel some degree of disconnection from their work. One more day of logging into meetings from the office you set up in your basement can feel indistinguishable from the day before. It can all lead your people to ask, “What am I really doing here and does it really matter?”
If that sounds at all familiar, one of your tasks as a leader is to pull the thread through. What I mean by that is pulling the thread of the story about why you and your team are doing what you’re doing through everything you do. When you do that, leadership becomes longitudinal, not episodic. You want your people to feel like they’re participants in a journey that matters instead of random planets in random orbits.
So, how do you pull the thread through to keep your team energized and engaged? I began to write about that question in a pre-pandemic post I wrote back in 2019 on five principles for designing great leadership development programs. One of the principles in that post was to create a narrative thread for the leadership program and pull it through every element of the program. The same idea applies to leading the work of your team. You have to pull the thread through. Here are some suggestions for how to do it:
Answer Two Questions: Pulling the thread through begins with answering two questions for your team – What are we doing and why does it matter? Even if they haven’t asked it out loud, everyone on your team wants to know the answers to those questions. Have the conversation about what success looks like and why it matters early and often.
Reverse Engineer – Once you’ve painted the picture of what you’re there to do together and why it matters, work with your team to reverse engineer what has to happen along the way to get to that outcome. Engaging them in that conversation enables them to both contribute to the planning process and understand where they fit in. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to adjust the plan along the way, but co-creating a roadmap for how you’re going to get where you’re going can go a long way to keeping people on point and engaged.
State the “So That’s” – To continue pulling the thread through, be super intentional about regularly finishing this sentence for your team members – “We’re doing this particular thing, so that….” Filling in the blank after the so that links actions to the desired outcomes that are milestones on the way to the ultimate goal. Regularly using “so that…” sentences helps you pull the longitudinal thread through so your people don’t feel like they’re episodically working on a bunch of random stuff.
Take Time to Celebrate – Don’t wait until the end of the story to celebrate the big win with your team. Celebrate the small wins along the way. And when you do, be explicit about how the latest victory is contributing to the ultimate goal. That’s how you pull the thread through to keep people energized and engaged.
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