Anyone that has been around me over the last few weeks may well have noticed that I was having 'a bit of a fortnight', as it has become known. After months of the world ticking over calmly, a tsunami of trouble arrived in the workplace. As well as coaching, mentoring, and NLP training, I also have the enormous privilege and pleasure to hold a senior leadership role, and it was the latter that chose that particular Monday to test just whether I was up to the role. Not one to shy away from a challenge I greeted it head on.
Two separate teams, two separate issues, both urgent, both critical, both with really significant consequences for hundreds of people in the community. Some key people in the teams away on leave, and the pressure rising moment by moment. It's at this point you can really tell the difference between leaders and managers.
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things"
The teams were doing things right. They know how to do their jobs well, and they pull together, supporting each other, and stepping in when the task in hand has no obvious owner. At the beginning of the day there is plenty of resilience, good humour and belief in what is possible. They know I trust them, I tell them regularly. They know the decisions they are empowered to take, and when to check in. There is a buzz and an energy; its quite common at the beginning of a challenge, as the good stress provides motivation and drive.
But these weren't one day problems, these were good quality VUCA problems; volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Management in a VUCA world, loses its way very quickly; leadership is essential. Simon Sinek describes leadership as a lifestyle choice, and I agree with him. Its about the person you show yourself to be when others are looking to you for the answers that you may not have either. Its looking your team in the eye, noticing how they are feeling and knowing whether to bring energy and passion, zen calmness, or sometimes a cup of Yorkshire tea!
Pressure can burst a pipe; and pressure can create diamonds
Leadership under pressure is about controlling your emotions. Its more than keeping them in check, its about bringing the right emotion to the situation. People need to know you care at least as much about them as you do about the problem. I'm not talking about being 'nice' here. Nice rarely got anyone anywhere useful. This is about turning the dial up on listening, oozing calm confidence, providing reassurance that together we can sort this, and never letting go of the belief that there is a solution. Easier said than done? Absolutely!
So how do we make sure the pressure creates diamonds, and doesn't just burst the pipe? Well, consistently exercising the skills you need, before you need them is certainly a good place to start. If you only passively listen, or pretend to listen, in your usual interactions then there is little likelihood you are going to manage active listening when the pressure is on. Regular, high quality, active listening will develop strong relationships with your team for when you really need them. Tuning into the beliefs and values they are sharing in everyday conversation, and the language patterns that most influence their motivation, allows you to communicate really effectively with them.
Mastering the art of open questions, that unstick people when they have managed to find themselves in a rut. It can be tempting as leader to think its your job to have all the right answers, when in reality it is to have all the right questions. Finding the right questions enables all the very best answers to come forwards, and often they emerge from the most unexpected places. Places you might never have thought to look for them.
And how about managing those emotions? Leadership is a set of behaviours, and how we feel impacts on those behaviours. So when we are facing 'a bit of a fortnight' notice how you feel. Ask yourself what the team need to see, find it inside, and project it into the world. I'm endlessly grateful for the skills I learned in coaching, and the benefits they brought to my leadership. My learning journey through NLP has brought even greater depth to listening, the impact of language, and the ability to bring the right emotion to the situation.
If you want to learn more then join us on NLP Practitioner training, with our applied NLP in leadership and coaching.