The ABCs of Leadership: For times of uncertainty and change
Life in 2021 is starting to resemble the opening of the Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness”.
We are experiencing a triad of rapid change with digital transformation, the skills gaps, and COVID-19. The onslaught of daily changes has created incredible amounts of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty, which can leave us feeling like it’s the “worst of times”. At the same time, these changes present lessons to learn from and great opportunity for those who successfully adapt, making us also feel like it could become the “best of times”.
Triad of Change
A tsunami of new technology is reaching the shore. The amazing and sometimes complex technologies of cloud, mobile CMMS, connected sensors, robotics, machine learning, AR, VR, AI, digital twins, and more, are creating excitement and anxiety in equal measure.
Many companies are rushing to adopt new technologies either out of excitement or from fear of being ‘late to the game’. Regardless of the motivation, the rush to transform can result in ineffective use of the new tech, selecting the wrong technology for the need, and bringing internal frustrations and confusion to a boiling point.
Although I think digital transformation will be slower than what others may predict, I am confident that industry will continue down this path of an ever-increasing digital ecosystem. So, this is something we must come to terms with and learn how to appropriately select the right tech, offering the needed benefits, which supports the goals of the business. Alternatively, we must have the patience and courage to wait. Not every cut requires a ‘digital bandage’.
Technical Skills Gap
Although the skills gap has been talked about for 20 years now, it unfortunately remains a significant issue. Many companies (especially in the United States) are short on the skilled technical talent. This issue raises its ugly head each shift for some departments. Underskilled labor is contributing to unsafe work and working conditions, over-worked and overburdened skilled staff, higher turnover, lower quality work, lower productivity, greater expense for quick training and upskilling, and may more issues.
The deficiency in technical skills is being exacerbated by both the impact of COVID-19 and the pressure digital transformation is putting on the need for newer types of skills like programming, cyber security, and data science to name just a few.
We can’t forget the global villain, COVID-19, as much as we may try. It continues to hurt our health, commercial activity, work practices, and our feeling of normality. This pernicious virus has impacted work and job availability, work schedules, work locations, and more. Social and corporate policies are shifting daily, which has the feeling of being stopped at traffic lights on the highway. The constant commercial stop-start stutter is aggravating and seriously interrupting our momentum.
Add the worry and uncertainty of COVID, with the challenges and frustrations of the skills gap and corporate ‘arms race’ for digital transformation, we truly are finding ourselves in a triad of constant and complex change.
How can leadership show us the way to better times?
Change can be scary at the best of times. With the coming together of the dramatic change that’s taking place currently it can be downright terrifying. We are experiencing incredible levels of overwhelming, complex, and uncertain change in our lives. So, what can we do?
This is a time for real leadership to step up.
Real leadership is the behavior directed at providing service to others. I am not referring to those with higher ranking positions or titles, although I expect their support here too. True leadership is by the people for the people, and I truly believe that it’s our own choice to lead.
As the world gets faster, more complex, and more anxious, the appropriate response is to slow down and to simplify. It’s time to go back to basics, as foundational as the ABCs. These three powerful concepts will help to refocus our leadership mindset, actions, and contribution.
The Leadership ABCs
Being aware of how the events and situations affect you and the people around you is an extremely important foundation for leadership. It’s essential to be aware of how you are doing in order to lead and support others. Being aware of how your team is feeling and reacting to events and situations is essential to helping them survive and grow through challenges.
It’s important to be aware of our feelings and emotions. Psychologist Susan David explains, “emotions are data, not directives”. Just because we are feeling anxious doesn’t mean we have to become anxious for prolonged periods. Paying attention to our feelings gives us data on how we are biologically and psychologically reacting to situations. When we are aware, we choose how we move forward.
Be aware of what you can control and can’t control. This is important for managing anxiety and stress. In so many cases all that we control is how we choose to respond to any given situation.
Be aware and acknowledge the people and things you should be truly grateful for. Being able to sincerely experience gratitude helps to buffer us from negative effects of change and challenge. Do you express gratitude regularly for your health, your family, your job, your home, and the likely many things you are blessed with? If you find this notion cheesy, I implore you to give it a sincere try. It’s positively game-changing to your outlook and experience.
Are you behaving in a way that supports those around you, and your shared mission? How are you helping others grow through these challenges and change?
Now more than ever we need to be kind to each other. Leadership by nature is supportive. True leaders are understanding to what others are going through and supportive with what they’re trying to accomplish. True leadership is compassionate to other people’s struggles. Leaders show love.
Do your best to anticipate upcoming changes and shifts, or at least be prepared for the effects of known changes. Accept that which you did not anticipate and adapt as you need to make the most out of the situation. Remember Napoleon Hill’s inspiring statement that “every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. It is up to you to be ready to find, plant, and water that seed of opportunity.
Feeling overwhelmed in a time of great change and crisis is normal. We can feel lonely and terrified, and sometimes this can be debilitating. The remedy is community.
Community built around a common struggle or shared mission creates sincere togetherness. Connection with others destroys fear and anxiety. Use your leadership awareness and behavior to build or contribute to a community.
We need sincere connection focused on a common mission, sustained by respectful and compassionate communication and collaboration.
In times of crisis, real leadership amplifies the importance of community and fosters the spirit of meaningful connection and togetherness. Look for ways to provide those around you with the community they need and the connection they desire.
Put the ABCs into Practice
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl exemplified that the last of human freedoms is to choose our own attitude in any given set of circumstances. Although we may not love what’s happening in the world today, it is our choice how to think, feel, and respond to the uncontrollables that surround us.
As life gets overwhelming and complex, leaders simplify. As life becomes uncertain, leaders gain awareness. As rapid change negatively impacts people’s feelings and attitudes, leaders intentionally support others through understanding, care, and compassion. As life feels disconnected and lonely, leaders grow community and connection. And as life becomes more digital, let’s remember the importance of being human.
Awareness, Behavior, and Community are three ways to provide comfort, direction, hope, and growth to those you are officially and unofficially responsible for. The better we use our leadership ABCs, the greater the chance in making this the best of times, or at least prevent it from feeling like the worst of times.
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