What does the current situation we find ourselves in mean for you as a line manager or team leader? How do you manage your team through uncertain times?
I tweeted this a couple of weeks ago: “It seems that change no longer means navigating safely to the new shore – it’s just clinging to the lifebuoy!” At the time I didn’t know I had a crystal ball!
Not only will you have a lot more than the usual array of emotions in the workplace, such as worry or fear, there will also be polarised and entrenched views, extreme optimism and pessimism swinging around like a pendulum in a storm. And of course, you have your own emotions and concerns to deal with before you even begin to think about how to deal with your team.
Here are a few thoughts about things you can do to navigate the storm:
To manage your team, you need to look after yourself
You have probably got good coping mechanisms to be in a management role – but we all have an Achilles heel. Take some time to reflect on your own thought processes and reactions. Ask yourself:
- Is the way I am responding helpful for my own well being?
- Are my thoughts rational, balanced and open to adjustment, or am I catastrophising, fixating, or using any other type of unhelpful thinking? (often these pop up as a result of stress). If you are not familiar with thinking errors, there are plenty of articles around, like this one .
- Do I need to review my strategy for coping with my own stress? You many need to take more time to be kinder to yourself, or use additional tools like mindfulness to keep yourself in good health
- What impact is my behaviour having on those around me? One thing about stress – and most other issues that affect our mental health – is that they are inward looking. We are so busy dealing with ourselves, that we don’t notice how others are reacting to us. Notice what is going on around you. You shouldn’t need me to tell you to take a deep breath, relax your shoulder and smile when you greet a colleague, but if there is a time you’re likely to forget, it’s now.
- There are no quick fixes or answers for your business, but one thing you can do is to take stock of how you manage your team. There are some areas where brushing up or learning some strategies might be a stitch in time. I’m thinking of topics like dealing with inappropriate behavior or negativity, challenging skills, giving feedback, dealing with conflict, shutting people up…you get the drift. (these are all covered in Face to Face in the Workplace, link below)
Suspend judgement and slow down decision making
This can come really hard to great managers, because they excel at getting things done. We even sometimes teach ourselves (or our busy environments train us) to get satisfaction from ticking things off the To Do list, regardless of whether or not we made the right choice, because ‘Job done’ can clear out our brain space to move on to the next thing – or away from the current difficulties.
Be aware of your decision making process. Take extra time to reflect, listen to others, gather evidence, consider all the options beyond the obvious one. In today’s climate we need to be able to live with the uncertainty and function anyway. It’s tough, and maybe an unfamiliar skill, but give it a go. In the long run, it can be better than unravelling premature judgements and knee jerk decisions. We have enough to deal with without adding problems of our own making.
I learnt this from a great boss years ago. We would discuss a project and agree next steps. She would always then say “When do we need to make this decision by?” which always confused the hell out of me, because I thought we’d just made it. Over time, I learnt the wisdom of timely decision making. Fast isn’t always best.
Know where your key people are at
If you’ve read other things I’ve written, you’ll know this is one of my favourite rants so I’m not going to pass on the opportunity to state it again: If you don’t know where another person is at (emotions, opinions, concerns, ambitions etc) you are not in the greatest position to manage or influence them. How on earth do you choose how to approach them?
If you’ve never thought about this, chances are your default response is to handle others in the way that you like to be dealt with. Some times that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Observe. Listen. Explore by asking searching questions. ‘ “How are you?” “Fine”’ doesn’t get you useful information. “What makes you say that?” might. When you have an understanding of how they really are, you can then choose an appropriate way to support, encourage or motivate them.
If you have a large team, you will not be able to find out how every single one of them is doing, so pick out the few with the greatest influence and focus on them.
Consciously build the atmosphere
When thoughts and emotions are on the rampage, our usual courteous manners and helpful behaviours can get trampled into the ground; we’ve surely seen ridiculous amount of this recently! Some of the (previously) nicest people I know have degenerated into name calling, mud slinging tantrum throwers.
Here’s a gentle reminder of things you can do that may help the workplace remain a productive space rather than leaning towards Armageddon.
- We all have a need to be heard. Listen, and let your peopl know you have heard and understand their point of view. This isn’t the same as agreeing. It doesn’t mean you have to act on it either. It’s acknowledgement, which is a powerful human need – never underestimate the importance of letting someone know they are heard.
- Respect that others will not only have different opinions to you, but also – and this is significant – they will experience different emotions to you, even about the same thing. If you assume that someone else will feel the same as you because they have the same opinion, you could be wrong, which is why I suggest exploring above. I am allowed my feelings. You are allowed yours. If you are my boss, and my attitude/outbursts are getting in the way of my work, then you may need to act – but only then.
- Sometimes we pick up other people’s emotions. Learning not to do this is part of looking after yourself. If you are prone to picking up emotions like a common cold, this article might help.
- Make a list of things you can do that will help keep spirits afloat as much as possible. You’ll know the basics of what engages staff and what keeps them motivated. Your usual recipe will need adjusting, so revisit the ingredients you use, the proportions you use them in and other things you could may be ad to this mix. Hopefully the pointers above will give you some ideas. If you have others, please do leave them in the comments below.
There are going to be storm clouds for a while, but if your job is management or leadership, your team still deserve your best. Lastly, this is from Dale Carnegie, so a few decades old, but it is one of my favorites; it’s the art of good leadership and management in a nutshell:
So recognise people. Include them. Encourage them. Train them. Ask their opinions. Praise them. Let them make decisions. Share the glory with them. Seek their advice and follow it when you can. Make them understand how valued they are. Encourage them to take risks. Give them freedom to work as they see fit…Show people, in other words, that you trust, respect, and care about them. Do that, and you will be surrounded by motivated people.
If you have any questions on anything I’ve mentioned, would like to talk something through, or you’re interested in developing yourself or your team, please do get in touch.
0845 5197 571 (local rate) firstname.lastname@example.org
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace