Will all the leaders please stand up?

We’re going through turbulent times in South Africa. More turbulent by the day, with shock waves of uncertainty and anxiety in every sphere of society – in particular, Business. Currency devaluation, downgrade to ‘junk’ investment grade status…it’s a mess! And leaders are needing to step up, in the midst of it all.

We’re expected to lead. To make decisions about a future that is so utterly uncertain. To guide people towards some kind of vision or outcome. Seriously?

Yes, seriously, really, absolutely. That is what I – and every other leader – must do right now. In the context of the possibly the greatest uncertainty about the future that any of us may have faced.

To survive, we are going to need to optimise productivity, whilst at the same time containing costs. We’re going to need to improve output, whilst getting as lean as possible.

And the only way to do this, is to earn the commitment and loyalty of the people we work with, to have them engaged and motivated to invest their energy in their work, more than ever before.

So leaders, are we ready to stand up? Because how well we lead now determines how well we emerge through the turbulence.

Here’s what I’m focusing on:

  1. Purpose and meaning.

More than ever before, people need to be able to answer the ‘why’ – and if the answer to ‘why show up every day and work hard’ is ‘to keep my job’ – well, that’s really not enough. Yes, of course business survival and profitability is essential, but that becomes a by-product of engaged people who are committed to what they do because they’re clear about the value that the work they do contributes – both to society, and to their personal lives.

So, my job is to help people get really clear about the purpose and value of their work, and answer their ‘why’.

  1. Trust and Authenticity

A foundation of commitment and engagement is trust. Obviously. People will not stretch themselves if they do not trust you. And they will not trust you if your words and actions are inconsistent. Or if you are inauthentic. In other words: I need to be honest and direct, own my mistakes, deliver on my promises (and if I can’t, because things have changed, explain why).

  1. Acknowledgement and appreciation

Now, more than ever, sincere acknowledgement of good work is essential. False flattery is a waste of time, but I’m on the lookout out for opportunities to let people know that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. (My team are superstars, so this shouldn’t be too tough a task.)

  1. Respect personal time

The tendency when business is under pressure is to drive oneself and ones teams harder and harder. To work longer hours, to take fewer breaks, to be ‘always on’. This will only lead to exhaustion and resentment. I’ll need to resist this temptation, and instead be clear about the expectations and boundaries around each individual’s personal and family time.

  1. Delivery and Flexibility

Note to self: Don’t remove or reduce flexible work options (such as working from home, or leaving the office early to avoid traffic). Instead, get really clear about delivery and productivity. It’s likely that the people who have earned flexible benefits are in any case hyper-aware of ensuring the quality and output of their work in order to retain their privileges. No need to change, unless delivery reduces.

  1. Connection

This is a reminder that each individual is going through their own anxieties and stresses. Fears about costs, investments, savings, their careers, their families….So, despite the pressures, it’s important to find the time to connect one on one with each person. And then listen to what they have to say. To find more ways for team members to connect, too. When people feel the positive energy and connection of those around them, they feel less alone, less afraid, more courageous.

This list is getting long. It’s time to stop here.

Time to step up.