One of the big themes I’m already working on with my leader clients this year is how to keep their teams energized and engaged as we all push through this pandemic. There are a lot of things that teams need from their leaders these days but to keep it simple, I want to boil it down to three common denominators that almost any team is going to need from any leader in 2021.
My conclusions are drawn from observation, application and conversation with clients, colleagues and thought leaders I’ve had the opportunity to engage with lately. Here are the big three followed by some resource recommendations that can help you as a leader to give your team what it needs.
Connection: The longer the pandemic goes on, the more important the need for connection is. The way we’ve been working for the past year leads us to default to just getting the work done in a very transactional manner. When it’s just about getting the work done, connection suffers. That’s a longer-term problem because people need connection to be at their best.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to author Martin Lindstrom talk about his new book, The Ministry of Common Sense. In it, Martin makes the point that most nonsensical decisions or systems are the result of a lack of empathy for the person or group on the other side of the transaction. A lack of empathy flows from a lack of connection. From a biological standpoint, human beings feel a sense of connection when they get a shot of the neurochemical, oxytocin.
So, to follow the thread here, if you want your team to make great decisions this year, then they need empathy. To have empathy, they need connection. To feel connection, they need oxytocin. That’s where you come in. As the leader and the convenor of a lot of team meetings, you need to slow things down enough to build in time for an oxytocin hit. (That fun little tingle you felt when you saw the picture of the puppies at the top of this post? That’s what an oxytocin hit feels like.) While they’re not quite as effective as cuddling a new puppy, being intentional about creating space for smiles, laughter, praise, celebration, recognition, story-telling and sharing can do a lot to raise oxytocin levels in your team and, therefore, increase their sense of connection.
Optimism: Another leader I had the opportunity to hear from over the weekend was Dr. Jim Kim, the former president of the World Bank. In speaking to his online audience about the challenges we’re facing this year he encouraged us to remain optimistic because, as he said, “Optimism may not be the rational choice but it is the moral choice.” Intrigued and inspired by what Dr. Kim shared, I did a little Googling on his quote and found this further explanation of his position in an interview he gave when he started at the World Bank in 2012, “If you are a person who is privileged, has resources, and you go into a situation where you are working with people who are very poor, if you are cynical and pessimistic and negative, that is absolutely deadly for poor people.”
Prior to the pandemic, I regularly saw organizations where the norm was for leaders to go long on reality and short on hope. These leaders often focused on what was wrong and what needed to be fixed to the exclusion of talking about why the work mattered and their belief that, with the right resources and decisions, their team could create a better future. None of us can afford that approach anymore. As the pandemic drags on into a new year, it’s easy to understand how leaders can feel both fatigued and depleted. (See my post from last week for more on that.) And fatigue and depletion can quickly lead to the cynicism, pessimism and negativity that Dr. Kim described as being so deadly. So, leaders are going to have to pay a lot of attention to renewing their energy this year so they have the capacity to choose optimism. Optimism grounded in rational analysis and a belief that good people working together can solve problems is a big thing that all teams will need from their leaders this year.
Positive Perspective is the last of my big three because it reinforces the first two – connection and optimism. And, in case you’re wondering, positive perspective isn’t the same thing as optimism – it’s an approach that creates and reinforces optimism. One way to put positive perspective into action is to practice what leadership coaches call appreciative inquiry. Developed years ago by David Cooperrider, appreciative inquiry is an approach to coaching and leadership that encourages the team to identify and build on what’s going right rather than focusing exclusively on what’s going wrong. The core question in appreciative inquiry is what’s going right and how can we build on that? Asking the question immediately shifts the energy and attention from all the things that are going wrong and sparks the optimism that can lead to innovative approaches to leveraging existing strengths and solving problems.
Since you can’t give what you don’t have, practicing the three big things that your team will need from you this year, will require an intentional and grounded approach to your self-management this year. To help you with that, I want to wrap up with links to eight recent posts I’ve written with actionable ideas to deepen your reserves of connection, optimism and positive perspective.
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