Leadership – Some Method to the Madness

Copyright Maria Lehtman I Italy, Aosta Valley

The original article published via BIZCATALYST360.

“We never overcome fear by succumbing to it. We can endure and defeat fear if we focus on every step we need to take in the present. And remain flexible with our vision and method of how to get there.” ~ Maria Lehtman

Anxious? Feeling challenged from different fronts at the same time? Sleepless and not just in Seattle? Trust me when I say that we are all there one way or another at the moment. I have yet to see a leader, a team member, a relative, an acquaintance who did not share a feeling of utter uncertainty. It is easy to get lost in emotional stress. My grandmother once said: “You need to feel the emotions, but be careful what you do with them.” What she meant was, lashing out is never the answer.

Curiously I still see behavior that has not been adjusted to the current world circumstances. If you lead with fear, I can only assume you also hold it within you. Do not arm yourself with it.

What are the behaviors of leaders under duress

Do you know if you are an emotionally intelligent leader? Have you tested the degree of your EI? If you have not, there is a concise and straightforward test and post as an example in MindTools: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? A minority of leaders, unless trained, have a completely balanced scale in people and business skills. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of how the work and family circumstances, health, news, income, and other areas are affecting the way we manage stress. Leaders need to be especially mindful that no matter their emotional level, they need to adjust it to each person on the team. Everyone will have different situations and concerns. As we face pandemic waves that have already proven to have long term impact in both economy and health, emotions cannot be discarded.

The emotions and behaviors that you, as a leader, demonstrate, are filtered through the organization. During the past months, I have seen leaders impacted as an example in the following ways:

  • confusion
  • inability or challenges in stabilizing a position
  • hidden or veiled anxiety
  • uncertainty of actions to take, or vice versa, demanding an enormous responsibility
  • spreading fear through negative emotions
  • the overall requirement to micromanage and control every step and outcome
  • unspoken concerns
  • responding to emotions with actions without acknowledged feelings
  • changing priorities and direction, personal or business
  • blaming others or feeling inadequate, self-blame
  • concern for safety, self, colleagues, family members, etc.
  • confrontational communication without provocation
  • care and concern over self and others

The list goes on and is not necessarily positive or negative – it is a fact that feelings are out there. Emotions need to be acknowledged. They also need to be addressed, sometimes jointly, at times in one-to-one meetings. If you, as a leader, do not share some level of emotional awareness about yourself, you will find that others around you will try to keep them locked up as well.

While ignoring organizational emotions may seem like a good short-term solution, you will soon find a side effect: lack of innovation and creativity – the two areas we most need when battling unknown circumstances, rapid change, and transformational models. We have already opened the doors to business evolution. The question is, have we embraced the necessary change in leadership evolution?

Emotional and Creative Leadership Revolution

Stress is the “psychological, physiological and behavioral response by an individual when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands, which, over a period of time, leads to ill-health” (Palmer, 1989)

When faced with impossible odds, the best thing to do is to ground yourself to the moment. Be present in the situation you are in – acknowledge your emotions, and prioritize your actions. Many articles today offer excellent advice on mindfulness and relaxation techniques. If you excel in using them, you may calm down in a matter of seconds. Your body responds to how it is trained to respond. If you are looking for ideas, I recommend reading the post by PositivePsychology.com: 62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies & Activities.  

Once you understand what the current priorities for you to manage your situation are, you can take action to know what they are for others and start planning. As the next step, I would encourage you to start thinking in lines of the well-known Six Degrees of Separation. If you are not familiar with the phrase: Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum. You can find a small demonstration of it via Psych2Go video.

The connection between the degrees, emotional intelligence, and creativity is that you need to recognize your first and most essential degrees of relationship no matter the circumstance. The connections, situations, demands, and plans may change, but you will always need your go-to people. And you need to build or keep developing a relationship with them through the available digital means when you cannot meet face-to-face with others. The more communication methods you use, the better so that the meaning of words is correctly understood.

You need to build a very close trust-relationship with your primary first -degree connections (start with, e.g., 5-6 people) because they can and will be your allies in pushing through the crisis we are currently experiencing. What should not be there is a doubt about trusting others. Map out those relationships and the paths where they might lead. I am not suggesting mapping the world, rather your little corner of it. Find your degrees of people whom you can influence to build more trust and collect more ideas.

It may be surprising, but in actuality, fewer managers and leaders take that time to invest in their closest peers, team members, or other colleagues. Once you do take that time, you begin to insert a culture of trust, and in a culture where people feel secure, they can let go of some of their fears and release it to ideation and creativity. What you also begin to see is that your load-balancing at work is improved. What it takes is understanding that you need to invest time from other meetings, to make your primary degrees to work. Time is not as important as frequency of calls, video conferences or chats. The further people are from the ‘hub’, top leadership, the less they understand how they contribute to the strategy unless you have built the chain of degrees.

Trust, Trust, Trust

“Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.” – Bob Vanourek

Many companies have allowed people to work from home and realized it works. Yet, as soon as the government shows any signs of releasing barriers of movement, the very same companies are demanding people back at the station. The question was and had in many cultures been about trust. Do we trust that employees to work productively at home? We might as well ask, do we believe employees to work productively work, point-blank. In the IT and Services industry, I have spent two decades working remotely up to 80% of the time. When I was flying for meetings, it consumed a minimum of eight hours that usually had to be added to the weekly workload. The world is and has already been digital for a good while. I trusted my team members to work; after all, that is why we use performance management. It is not a haphazard fill-in-the-blanks form at the end of the term – it should be a valuable exchange with your closest employees frequently.

While many people have been living in exceptional circumstances working remotely, digital workspace is a norm to others. Do you know who they are in your organization? Have you identified the stars of digital ideation, remote working, and innovators? Is anyone of these employees in your first, or at least, second-degree trusted connection list? Do you spread their knowledge and include them in the future strategy for new working methodologies?

The list of immediate actions no matter how simple it may sound is:

  • lead with caring and common-understanding
  • increase the level of emotional intelligence in you and your teams – i.e., not emotions, but the intelligence that goes with it
  • define your degrees or circles of trust to as many degrees as you need to in your role
  • be open to new ideas and include people who are known to spearhead digital workspace and collaboration programs
  • start with an open dialogue and begin defining goals people can associate with
  • leave room to be flexible and look for people with skills of ideation
  • lead with trust and demonstrate that in your actions and words
  • establish a time to have regular conversations with employees, peers, sponsors whom you can coach, and find people who can coach you – work other meetings around these sessions
  • follow the progress of your chosen circles and remain flexible in your mission
  • respect people who need to or want to change their approach whether due to personal or business reasons

Remember, every restriction you put in place that increases fear or doubt in people is several steps backward in the innovational and transformational thinking you need in a crisis. Our world is connected. Today’s world situation will not be unique – a global ecosystem will bring other emergencies to manage. Even the most difficult situations can be handled if everyone takes steps to care equally for themselves and others.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”  ~ Stephen R. Covey


MindTools: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?:  https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/ei-quiz.htm

Positive Psychology.com: 62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies & Activities: https://positivepsychology.com/stress-management-techniques-tips-burn-out/