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Leading through change (part 2)

06th April 2020

Author Steve Ferguson

Leadership lessons in times of disruption and change 

Olivia Gossage, Senior Manager Business Transformation, sits down (virtually) with Steve Ferguson, our GM Transformation & Consulting, asking him to share his experiences, insights and advice on leading at times when events force you and your organisation to think differently.

In last week’s first instalment of this two-part Q&A, Steve shared three formative personal experiences of change and how these shaped him as a leader.

Here, in part two, Steve talks to Olivia about his own leadership style and focus in times of significant change or crisis. He also shares what he does for himself to ensure he is an effective leader for his people and considers what the future of work might – or could – hold for us all.

 

O.G. How does your leadership approach in times of crisis differ from your normal leadership style?

S.F. My typical approach to leadership is one of quiet leadership, which means leading from the back, to some extent. It’s about empowering people and allowing them to be all that they can be.

As situations evolve, you’ve got to step in to lead. That means leading differently, if that’s what the situation calls for. I mentioned a few things in the last blog which I think leaders need to focus on more or do differently. Overall, it’s about amplifying different practices in times of crisis, based on the situation and what your people need.

 

O.G. In business as usual situations when you’re checking in with a team member you might say, Hey, how are you going? And if they brush you off, you might not delve much deeper than that.

In emotionally heightened situations like these, is it okay for leaders to dig a little deeper to find out how people are really feeling?

S.F. I think it is, absolutely. As leaders, it’s incumbent on us to take that position. We spend eight hours or more a day together, a third of our lives, and in that time we get to know each other.

If I felt that one of my team was really struggling, I’d be having a conversation beyond, Hey, how are you doing?

I’d be saying: Can we have a bit of a chat? I’ve noticed that you’ve been very quiet lately, and I’m just a little concerned that your energy levels are dropping. Is there anything I can help with? I can give you some other things that might help with work and some focus, but I just want to check in on how you are doing. 

It’s about asking open-ended questions to get the person to feel comfortable to share, and if you know your people well enough, you’ll pick up on the cues. Try to find the right mechanisms to get a dialogue going, using your awareness and EQ to build rapport and develop a deeper conversation.

If you ask someone if they’re okay and they say yes, that’s not going to cut it. It might be: Hey, look, I remember you mentioned your mum was unwell. Is she okay? Are you connecting okay with her? Whatever the situation might be.

Kiwis are often inclined to say, She’ll be right, mate. But it’s a bit like prying open a can of baked beans: you’ve got to get the whole top off. It’s our role as leaders to do this in a way which is supportive and respectful for our people.

 

O.G. You’ve talked about what you do as a leader for other people at these times, supporting them, giving them purpose and a new sense of ‘normal’.

What do you do for yourself as a leader to make sure that you can be effective for your people?

S.F. I learned this lesson the hard way, working myself pretty ragged to the point of sickness, and there are a number of very conscious things I’ve done since then.

Since that time, I put in place a regime of meditation, regular exercise, a weekly massage or Reiki, and some non-negotiables around family or me time, things that I had always been good at giving up. That has given me time for reflection.

I was spurred to do this when one of my peers gave me a book I’d recommend to anyone, called The Power of Full Engagement, which talks about executives and burnout and how you manage through times of stress. It really changed my life because it made me realise that while I was giving so much to my organisation, I wasn’t leaving anything in the tank for me.

I’ve maintained this focus ever since, and even now, those things are still non-negotiable. As a leader, it’s about making time within the constraints you’ve got.

The other point I’d like to make is that, as a leader, don’t be afraid to show how you are feeling about things. Your people are smart and have a pretty good bullshit meter on them. I think it’s really empowering for your people if as a leader you can say, Hey, listen, this is really concerning me as well, rather than feeling the need to be the big brave guy.

Yes, as leaders we’ve got to stand up and make tough calls, but it doesn’t hurt – and in fact I think it can be really empowering and powerful – to articulate your own fears and then show what you are doing about the situation to manage your way through.

For me, it was putting in place those things that help me stay balanced, and they are things that I hold true and that are important for me.

 

OG: We find ourselves in a situation now where working from home has become normal and expected.

From here, how do you anticipate that ways of operating across businesses will change in the future?

S.F. I think this is an exciting opportunity. We’re in a situation that we have limited control over, but we can control how we feel about things, and we can control – within the constraints we have – the things we do now and what they will set us up for in the future.

As execs, after we have moved through this situation, we have to look at this and say, Why don’t we deliberately act to do things differently to reference what we’ve just been through, and understand what that looks like?

There are two ways of looking at where we are today: The sky is falling and what’s going to happen? Or: This creates an opportunity for us.

If you think about our lives, they are framed constantly by change. Right now, it’s something forced upon us and it’s significant, but we have to take the opportunity, in time, to do a post-crisis review, and ask ourselves, What has this taught us about how we can do things better from here?

I’d be really disappointed, on a number of fronts, if things went back to the way they were after this. I suspect that through this process, once we get into a rhythm, we’ll prove there are other more effective ways of doing business.

That’s not to undermine or diminish the value of face-to-face human contact, of course, but even now I’m finding that I’m getting a lot done and, at the same time, the conversations I’m having with my team and peers are still rich, informed and productive.

Therefore, why can’t this lend itself to other ways of being? As organisations, can this time present a chance for us to say, We want to take this as an opportunity to learn and actually say to our people, we can be even more focused and more open to enabling our people to lead the most balanced lives they can?

Olivia Gossage and Steve Ferguson

Olivia Gossage (Senior Manager Business Transformation) and Steve Ferguson (GM Transformation & Consulting)

 

Leadership is at a premium when internal or external factors challenge how we operate, how we keep our people safe and focused, and how we meet the needs of our customers.

There are common leadership attributes which apply to any organisation who is leading and managing in times of change. If you’d like to know more about Leading through Change, we are pleased to offer a short one-hour workshop to help you focus on what’s important now.

Contact Steve or Olivia at steve.ferguson@davanti.co.nz or olivia.gossage@davanti.co.nz to organise a free workshop where we will share views and discuss simple but effective ways to support your people, customers and organisation.

You can read part one of Steve’s interview here.

 

Steve Ferguson

Steve Ferguson is Davanti’s GM Consulting & Transformation.

Steve’s leadership style reflects his passion for people and performance and is driven by core beliefs that a strength of vision, empowered people and the creation of an energised team will always deliver great results.