What is the biggest challenge facing boardroom executives as we move into 2023? This was a question I posed to our team during our team development day earlier this month. The answers all echoed the same theme. How can leaders best navigate the uncertainty that lies ahead and lead their team through this with focus, clarity, and optimism?
In this article, the last of our Boardroom Series for 2022, we are going to explore this topic and give leaders three simple tips to turn challenges into opportunities so you, your team and your business not only survive but thrive in the year ahead.
Are We Living in a VUCA World?
You may have heard the phrase “we are living in a VUCA world”, referring to the idea that the current climate is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. While executives and academics debate whether the marketplace is indeed any more VUCA than it ever has been, it is clear from the work we do that senior leaders are feeling the pressure of a predicted recession, social challenges, new ways of working, and the pressure of meeting employee needs.
In this article, we are going to share three practical ways that you, as leaders, can reduce the stress felt by your teams, enhance engagement as you work through challenges, and boost staff loyalty in the long run. In turn, these can not only save you time and money but will reduce the stress you feel and enable you to be at your best.
Three Ways to Lead Teams Through Challenging Times
1. Prioritise Consistent Communication
The human imagination is a wonderful thing, enabling us to dream up ideas and in turn realise the unimaginable. While it is the foundation of innovation, it also brings risks. The reason is that when we don’t have information, our brains fill in the gaps, and usually with a negative and mistrusting filter. In the workplace, when communication from senior leaders slows down (or stops), the tendency for employees is to believe that bad news is being concealed and they fear the worst. It quickly leads to mistrust, gossip, stress, and a lack of engagement, and in time often results in staff turnover and poor business performance. This inclination is heightened when teams are under pressure, dealing with high workloads or challenging markets.
For leaders to maintain a sense of company cohesion, it is essential that communication channels across the business are consistent, in regularity and messaging. This principle applies as much when there are no big business headlines, or decisions are yet to be made. In such situations, communicate that you are sharing all you can and explain that further updates will follow in due course. This is better than allowing silence into which rumours can quickly spread.
One trap that leaders should also be wary of, is sugar-coating challenges under the guise that this will help employees to remain optimistic. While it is important that you, as leaders, communicate a sense of hope, ignoring the obvious challenges is more likely to be perceived as inauthentic and detached, breeding mistrust and irritation. This can be challenging at times but will pay dividends.
2. Apply Fair Process Leadership
Employees care four times more about the process of how a decision is made, than the outcome itself. If they believe this process is fair and consistent, they are more willing to accept the outcome, even if they disagree with it or it negatively impacts them. When navigating uncertain times, having a transparent decision-making process, which is understood by the wider organisation, could be the difference between acceptance and resistance.
Professor van der Heyden’s research has showed that when we actively invite the opinions of team members on a decision, before communicating the decision-making process and the final outcome, the impact of the fair process leadership model is amplified. This means that the decision is more readily adopted by employees, even if it does not align with their opinions.
The most common mistake that businesses make when trying to apply this theory is to invite the views of their employees, as part of focus groups or surveys, and subsequently fail to communicate back to their teams that their views have been heard and why these ideas have not been adopted. The successful application of the Fair Process Leadership Model is built on effective communication.
3. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
When life is busy and the pressure is on, it is all too easy to skip the small talk, focusing solely on issues to address and tasks to do. While this can feel efficient in the short-term, it is counter-productive, limiting our capacity to do our best thinking. In contrast, making time for casual catch-ups, fun activities, and positive conversations expands our thought repertoire and buffers the brain against stress. This improves our ability to think clearly, innovate, and solve problems, as well as improve team motivation and morale.
With that in mind, regardless of the intensity or the pressure you might feel, invest time in humour, fun, and celebrating success. It will save you time in the long run.
Our Invitation to You
Over the last year, we have shared 12 other articles in this Boardroom Series, (the most recent of which you can read here). These articles have all been written in response to the challenges raised by leaders that we have worked with at our off-sites and trainings. We look forward to continuing this series in 2023 and want to continue in this vain, answering your questions and giving you the skills, tools and confidence to navigate the year ahead.
We would therefore like to invite you to tell us what you want to hear about in these articles over the forthcoming months.
Please share your challenges below, current or predicted, or be in touch directly with firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will then work with our team of experts to address these issues, sharing insights and practical tips, so you can thrive in the year ahead.