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Topic: Leadership

An Opportunity to Become Better Leaders

By Gary Beckstrand, Vice President, O.C. Tanner Institute

Representing leadership
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For the past few weeks, the 2020 pandemic has caused me to feel like I’ve been living in a made-for-TV movie. I’m learning to accept what still seems somewhat surreal as my new reality for the foreseeable future. I imagine you’ve been feeling something similar. In some ways everything has changed, and in other ways nothing has changed. In this context, I’d like to share a few thoughts on how we, as leaders, can make the most out of our current situation and hopefully make some improvements along the way.

Our role as leaders hasn’t changed. In fact, the importance of getting leadership right has never been more important. We must continue to see our primary role as influencing work through motivating and inspiring others rather than doing the work ourselves. Our research indicates that too many of us are still stuck in a traditional-leadership mindset. This becomes especially apparent in times of uncertainty. We often fall into old habits of trying to control work by directing rather than coaching, evaluating rather than developing, and holding back information rather than trusting our teams with transparency. These actions unintentionally rob individuals and teams of the opportunity to execute their unique thinking skills and share responsibility. It also increases the risk of decision bias and reduced innovation.

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Spending the majority of our time coaching, developing, and connecting our teams to information and others creates an environment where our teams are encouraged to work autonomously and feel psychologically safe to be themselves and apply their unique talents and attributes to delivering great work. The effects on workplace culture and other critical outcomes is dramatic, as demonstrated by the following table:

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Sometimes a crisis like the current one provides us with the opportunity to reevaluate and try some new things. As many of us work remotely and navigate leading from a distance, how can we actually take advantage of the situation to better connect and interact with our people? I don’t know about you, but working from home has actually resulted in reducing the need to meet just to meet. My calendar is more open, and I have more time to think. I suggest rather than filling the void with reactive work, we should be intentional about coaching, developing, and connecting. How can we make every virtual interaction with our people count?

One-to-ones

The one-to-one meeting is not new. It’s been around for a while. Our research indicates that 56% of employees report having had regular one-to-one meetings. But 1 in 3 employees dread meeting with their leader, and 1 in every 5 one-to-ones are canceled. Not surprisingly, one-to-ones haven’t been very effective.

This is a huge missed opportunity. One-to-one meetings serve as a connection point between leaders and employees. They encourage authentic communication, meaningful development conversations, and opportunities to coach and collaborate. So how can we leverage our new situation to improve our one-to-ones? A few suggestions:

• Increase the frequency: Schedule weekly one-to-ones with your direct reports and follow up with one or two short conversations in between.
• Invite your people to co-create the agenda with you. Co-created conversations make the interaction more meaningful to both you and your employees.
• Honor the time. Don’t reschedule.
• Have a conversation. Rigid and formal one-to-ones are less meaningful to your team members.
• Leverage video conferencing technology to connect face-to-face.

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Recognition

Even in the best of times our research indicates that we don’t recognize others enough and when we do it’s often not done well. In times of challenge or uncertainty people generally fill any voids with worse-case scenarios. Recognition is a simple but powerful way to let people know that we care about them and appreciate not only the work they do but how they uniquely contribute. Here are a few suggestions:

• Pay closer attention to the work your team members are doing.
• Acknowledge those who go above and beyond but pay attention to the effort along the way. In turbulent times, the ability to carry on without a hitch in doing what’s expected is in a sense going above and beyond.
• Find ways to add recognition to your communication efforts. Quarantines and business disruptions demand that we frequently communicate and share information. Don’t let a communication opportunity go by without expressing appreciation through recognition.
• Leverage technology to include others in the recognition experience. The benefits of recognition apply to not only the receivers, but givers and observers as well.
• Recognize, recognize, recognize. When you think you’ve done enough, look for opportunities to do even more.

Communicating appreciation through purposeful and meaningful recognition will give your people solid footing during these uncertain times. When people feel acknowledged, valued, and connected they will find ways to overcome challenges and deliver great work. They will continue to do more with less and be better able to navigate these unprecedented times.

Our recent research on workplace challenges brought on by the COVID-19 virus tells the story. When someone has been recognized within 7 days, recipients are:

• 59.0% less fearful about COVID in the workplace
• 67.5% more engaged
• 47.9% more trusting that their leader has their safety and wellbeing in mind

I hope you’ll join me on this journey to take advantage of this change in circumstances to refocus our efforts and work with intention to become better leaders.

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