Thursday, September 24, 2020

Leadership in the Times of COVID 19 - Session with Construction Specialities

I conducted a 3-hour online session on "Leadership in the Times of COVID - 19" for Construction Specialities today. Ratna, Shanti, Prabhu, Dilip, Chandra, Harish, Durga, Subhash, Krishna, Praveen participated. The program structure was as follows.

Program Structure

• Leadership challenges in VUCA times

• Leadership basics

• Leadership in COVID 19 Times

1. Leadership Challenges

Leadership in VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) times like the pandemic we are experiencing now, is complex. Some of the behaviours that manifest at the workplace in these times are - Absenteeism, Engagement, Health issues - physical, emotional and mental, Multitasking between many personal and professional obligations, Life and death choices.
People's concerns are – Family, Health, Finances, Future, Career. There is a physical, mental and emotional upheaval. Our emotional states are Fear, Grief, Helplessness, Anger, Disgust, Trust issues, Stress 

Despite the fact that we are dealing with immense stress, a situation which could be as difficult as the World Wars, Famines. Depressions, we are going about as if everything is normal. When we ask others how they are feeling they say 'good'. One of the first things we need to do is to become more honest in these times of immense stress so we can gather around and support one another. It's the only way.

To do that we need to be honest. We need to know our emotional states. We need to share our vulnerability so everyone feels they can share their fears and vulnerabilities too. 

What are you feeling? We are taught not to feel or express our feelings. Most times our responses to the question are 'good' or 'bad'. But it has been proven that we need to feel our feelings to make better decisions and form deeper relationships. 

Since most of us cannot describe our feelings beyond good, bad, happy, sad, scared, anrgy, it helps o know that there are hundreds of feelings and it helps to name them. 

So we looked at the feeling wheel which gives some more feelings - and shared what we all really felt. We became human. 

We looked at the feeling wheel and identified honestly what we felt and shared it with others. Fear, Frustration, Anger, Insecurity were the guiding emotions. A moment of honesty works wonders for team bonding. Do it with your team. Find out what they are feeling. Share. Support.

Leader’s Responses
• Leader - As a leader, you're responsible to get work done and to support the team.

• Leadership is in focus in stressful times. As always when we are unsure of what to do it is time to stay with time-tested principles.

Fundamental Principle of Leadership  - Be secure.

Being secure is simply having an attitude that is transparent and honest enough to say “I don’t know” when we don't know what to do. Even leading in VUCA times could be something we don't know. We do not need to carry the burden of 'knowing' and instead put it out there and 'share' the burden. It does not make you any lesser to fear or not know. We don't know but we will find a way together is an attitude that will bind everyone together.

When we are transparent, we feel secure, because we are not hiding anything. Others come forward to help when we ask for help when we say we don't know. That way we can share the burden together.

Be transparent. Be secure. 

Exercise: Tell yourself 'I don't know how, but we will find a way out together.' Say it a few times. See how you are feeling. You should feel better and less burdened.

2.Leadership Basics

How does leadership matter?

- Does it make a significant difference? - Yes

- Can it be learned? -Yes. It is a skill. 

What is Leadership?
  • Influencing others, by the way we lead our lives (how many people are you influencing positively?)
  • Having a greater vision and guiding the team to achieve it (do you have a vision for yourself, your family, your team?)
  • An attitude, not a position - anyone can lead (where are you leading and effecting change right now and how?)
  • Is about result-oriented action, not mere words (is your leadership achieving results you want? if not, work on your leadership style, on yourself.)
  • Responsibility (are you taking responsibility for your team's growth, results, well being?)
  • Holding group energies (does your team feel safe and secure? What your team reflects what you are feeling inside?)

Leading is Taking Responsibility 

Leadership - The Process

• Vision 
A common purpose that holds the team together. A purpose that challenges and grows everyone. It is the leader's job to have that vision. Do you have one?

• Team 
Pick and deploy your players. Put square pegs in square holes. Pick smart people even if you don't have a role for them. Get the right people in, wrong people off. Invest time and know each resource, find out what values drive them and their behaviour. Some like challenges, some like support.

• Goals 
Set SMART goals - Set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable and Time-bound goals on Long, Medium, Short and Immediate time frames.  By having goals spread over 6 months, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years and 20 years, you can see the way things pan out and can plan accordingly.

• Roles 
Roles are about clear expectations from the teammates about what they need to deliver and how work will be evaluated. Everyone has to be clear and it has to be in writing.

• Empower/guide 
Know the limitations of your people and empower, train, guide them to do their best work. It is the leader's job to see that the teammates succeed, not the other way around. Their failure is your failure.

• Monitor 
Monitor your team from a distance without getting into their space. Allow them to make mistakes, try hard and learn and grow. Step in only when you must.

  Monitoring and growing - Tough love

  • Correct / Grow
Learn how to give feedback. It is the most important tool in people management. Use the ABC technique - Activator, Behaviour and Consequence technique. You need to know how and when to give feedback - both good and bad. It can easily be learned with some practice but start today. 

The key things to keep in mind about giving feedback - 
1. it should make the person feel like doing better work than before after the feedback
2. It is about the action and not the person
3. It works best when it is immediate
4. Speak about the action, speak about how you felt about it, speak about its impact, then tell them youe positive expectations from their work
5. Allow time for it to sink in and for them to reflect

• Achieve - Achieve results

• Celebrate - Jack Welch says, look for reasons to celebrate. Keep morale high.

• Communication - It's 2 way. Listen first. Listen deeply. Ask questions. Understand. Speak clearly. Ask if they have understood. Check every now and then if they have understood.  

3 Levels of Leadership - Evolution of Leaders
There are three levels of leadership. We all begin by being insecure about our ability to lead because it is something we are not trained for. We follow our instincts. Since we are unsure, and we have authority, sometimes we may use it in an insecure manner which results in poor behaviour and poor results.

Level 1 - Insecure leadership – Traits

• Takes no responsibility
• Unclear
• Unsupportive
• Self-centred
• Fearful of others growth
• Wants others to fail
• Criticises, blames, discourages,
• Snubs new ideas, does not encourage feedback
• Fears change
• Cannot delegate, give up control,
• Acts as if he knows everything, does not accept mistakes

  Effects of Incivility - Insecure People

Level 2- Personal leadership – Traits

• Takes full responsibility for own role
• Expands role
• Role-centered, takes pride in role,
• Open to new ideas and feedback to improve role,
• Self-motivated and contributes to team,
• Wants to change the status quo,
• Learner, giver

Level 3 Secure leadership – Traits 
• Takes responsibility to achieve task and to grow everyone in the process
• Actively supports and encourages others
• Gives helpful, growth and result-oriented feedback
• Comfortable giving up control
• Allows others to take responsibility, to make mistakes 
• Grows entire team

In fact, the Secure leader fits in a lot with a Level 5 leader that Jim Collins, author of 'Good to Great' talks about. Some of the characteristics of a Level 5 leader are.
1) A combination of personal humility and professional will. As people, they are very humble, but as professionals, they are driven to make their team succeed. 
2) Highly passionate about making their company great. It was all about the company and not about hem.
3) They set the company up for future generations
4) Humble, self-effacing, mild-mannered. growth-mindset
5) Window and Mirror approach - when the team has done something good all credit goes out of the window to the team and when something goes bad, the leader takes the blame

The Window and Mirror Approach . Take the Blame, Give Away Credit

The Leadership Black Box
Since leadership is not always easy to understand, let's make it simple. It's a black box with four boxes. Why, How, What and Whom. If we know these four boxes and use these tools, we are fairly equipped to lead well.

• Why

• How

• What

• Whom

Why - Why are we doing what we are doing?

• Purpose, Vision, the common purpose

The common purpose ties the team together. Otherwise, we work at cross purposes. It is a powerful motivator for behaviour.
Why You Should Start with Why - The Golden Cicle

How - How can we do what we do most efficiently?

• Values – The cultural pillars on ‘how’ we work. Our values define us, guide us.
An example of what happens when values are practiced

• Processes – Execution tools, OKRs

What - What are we achieving, the milestones?

• SMART Goals

• Specific

• Measurable

• Achievable

• Realistic

• Timebound

• Set 10 year, 5 year, 2 year, 1 year, 6 month goals to get a path ahead

Whom - Who are we dealing with, impacting?

People are what we interact with and collaborate with to achieve our goals. It is imperative that as a leader we know how to deal with people so we get the best out of them. May times they don't know how good they are and the leader must take up the job of showing them how to do their best work. It is the leader who must facilitate the best work.

• Energy management 
People are energy.  We are connected energetically. Once we understand this, we realise we can all affect one another with our energies. Which means we can align our energies in a manner that we work towards results and not get in each other's way. As a leader, you must manage people's energy. It is what motivates, reduces stress and conflict and keeps them focussed.

• Phook theory 
The story of how a leader considered his people as the wheels that drive his vehicle. all wheels must be equal in tyre pressure else the ride will be bumpy. So tyres with less pressure must be motivated and tyres with more pressure must be deflated a bit so maximum efficiency is achieved.

• Feedback management 
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Learn how to give positive and negative feedback.


• The Cricketing Way

• Creating Psychological Safety

• Emotional intelligence

• Resilience

The Cricketing Way

In cricket, when faced with a tough opponent who has set a huge target, we have two options. We either give up, or we decide to fight. These are some of the things we follow in cricket when facing a tough challenge.

• Commit – however long and hard, fight till the end

• Separate the Controllables vs Uncontrollables. (Focus on the controllable sonly) 

• Break it down into smaller goals

• Share the burden together

• Take it session by session, ball by ball

• Always keep your eyes on the ball

• The match is not over till the last ball is bowled

• Stay alert, stay positive


• Create Psychological Safety – Build Trust

• Be emotionally intelligent – Empathize, Empower

• Show Resilience

Project Aristotle – Google's Study on Successful Teams
Google conducted a study on why some teams are more successful. They found the following traits as most important for successful teams.

• 1. Psychological safety – being able to take a risk without feeling insecure, ability to speak up, trust

• 2. Dependable – Can others deliver, can we depend on them

• 3. Structure and Clarity – Goals, roles, execution plan

• 4. Meaning – Do we find the work personally meaningful

• 5. Impact – What impact is my work doing

Creating Psychologically Safe Places

Practising Psychological Safety 
• It is not about who, but how we interact that brings results 
• All talk equally
Ostentatious listening

Amy Edmondson is an expert at Creating Psychologically Safe Places.

• Treat work problems as learning problems and not execution problems
• Acknowledge your own fallibility
• Model curiosity – ask questions

Amy Edmondson - Psychologically Safe Places

Emotional Intelligence
To manage people in times of stress the leader needs to be emotionally intelligent. We must understand that people's behaviours are driven by their emotions and if we understand how to manage our emotions and their emotions we can handle them better. In fact, emotionally intelligent people are considered to make better leaders.

Emotional Intelligence is about Personal Competence (self-awareness, self-control, motivation) and Social Competence (empathy, social skills).

Some important characteristics of  emotional intelligence are:

• Understand, Identify and Feel Emotions and Feelings

• Balance Self-care and Other Care

• If you can’t deal with people and emotions, you can’t get any work done

• Stop Light method (Red- stop, Yellow-verbalise and think options, Green – act on best option)

• Result - Ensures smoother interaction and better use of energy
Daniel Goleman - EI Under Pressure

Empathise (With Your Team)

• Put yourself in their shoes and feel their pain
• Understand their concerns and talk to them
• Deep listening, 3 levels - Listen to the words, the feelings and thoughts
• Listen first, Seek first to understand and then to be understood and try to understand
• Lead with questions, encourage feedback, expression of ideas
• Result - Makes them feel understood. Makes the process bearable.

Brene Brown - Empathy

Build Trust

• Transparency

• Authenticity

• Care as a human would
How Leaders Make Others Feel Safe


• The Stockdale Paradox

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.“

- James Stockdale

For those who are sceptical whether building trust and being empathetic works, here's a fine example.
Simon Sinek - On the connection between Trust and Performance 

Power of Full Engagement

To survive these times practice the power of full engagement rules - improve your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual quotient and encourage your team to do the same.

• Physical – Food, Exercise, Hydration, Rest

• Emotional – Self-confidence, Self-control, Social skills, empathy, trust, openness

• Mental – Mental preparation, visualisation, self-talk, time management and creativity

• Spiritual – Values, character, passion, honesty, integrity, resolve

We Can’t Do It Alone

• We cannot achieve great things alone
• The same people show different sides if treated right 
• Work like a team, form strong bonds within team

Support one another. 

Summing Up
The key concepts to understand and practice are:

• Creating Psychologically safe environments – look at things as learning problems and not execution problems, acknowledge fallibility, model curiosity, practice talking equal amounts of time, empathetic listening, think win-win, be supportive

• Being civil – Thank, share credit, listen attentively, humbly ask questions, acknowledge others, smiling,

• Emotional Intelligence - Acknowledge feelings, identify, name, share experiences, feelings honestly

• Practicing Self-care – Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual

• Being Agile and Resilient

• Together is better

Q and A session

We had a very engaging Q and A session with some very pertinent, relevant and deep questions. 

Shanti asked - whether we can practice values in our team when the organisation culture is different from ours? 

Answer - The organisation values may not be different from ours because normally values are always good. However, organisation culture is what reflects our understanding and practice of our values. So, let's consider an organisation culture that is not encouraging a psychologically safe place or empathy for example. Since these values are good to have as a principle, you can practice them and model them in your team. You can practice the same as a role model, get better at using them, and also become a model for others who are observing your behaviours. Many times the organisational culture can also change starting with your island of excellence. Do practice your set of values with your team and learn the practice of these principles. 

Prabhu asked -  whether honesty and transparency will work in the longer run? He had an experience where he owned up to a mistake and lost his job and wondered if he had made a mistake by owning up.

Answer -  What you have done is a great quality, owning up your mistake. It shows great character. However, do not confuse the punishment of losing the job with a comment on your character. You have lost the job for making that mistake. However, the same people will look at your character and may recruit you for another job because character is a rare commodity. Don't miss out on a great value you have and dilute it. An example is that of Robin Uthappa who once felt he was sacrificing his place for the team by going for a win but he was getting dropped. What he must understand is that he has great capability of getting runs but he is not able to utilise it well. He is dropped because of that inability to get those quick runs under pressure. He needs to work on shot selection, not drop his great value of going for his team.

Dilip asked - whether the team may misunderstand our empathy when they may be looking for strength?

Answer - It is the leader's job to understand the situation and behave accordingly, giving his team what they need best. Sometimes they need to see vulnerability so they can share and feel equal and feel useful. sometimes they look at you for strength so they feel secure. It is here we must be emotionally intelligent. Treat people as you would handle children - understand that deep inside we all have the same fears and apprehensions. Do what is best for them, help them express, help them deal with what's bothering them and they will perform. As a leader, you must remove the interference from their potential.

Chandra asked - What about people who have got fired? How do we deal with the insecurity it has created in the team?

Answer - Some things are beyond our control like company policy. However being empathetic to our colleagues is in our control. Make them understand that it is the situation and not a comment on them. Guide them on how to handle the loss of a job and how to prepare for the next, to see the hidden opportunity in the situation. Counsel them and make it bearable. It can happen to anyone and if as a team we can support them, in a manner that makes them stronger, not weaker, it's great. As for the ones in the team who are worried about their job, we must set the rules clearly. What is expected, where they are, what can be done to help their case. All focus should be on the controllables.

While doing all this, the leader must keep in mind two things. It must be appropriate - not too much, not too less. Make them feel strong, yet supported. You don't need to get fully into their story, guidance and offer of support is good enough. Itis very important to take self-care and keep perspective.

Chandra shared the concept of gratitude which we had worked on during our coaching and how it helped him in all areas of life. Ratna spoke about empathy and how in situations when people get fired we must take care of both those who got fired and the survivors as well.

I enjoyed the session thoroughly and though I could not play or share all this information in the session for lack of time and also some tech glitches I ran into with video sharing, I am sure we did cover a lot. The way forward is the human way, the feeling way, the emotional intelligence way, the honest and connection way. Go CS and rock the world!

No comments: