Maintain in Change
Sometimes the worst part of being a leader during change is when you can’t ‘fix it’. Often leaders get to their position because they can ‘get things done’ and during uncertain times that ability can be frustrated because they are not yet in a position to finalise anything. The decisions may be being made elsewhere, the sale is not concluded or the environment is out of our hands, so you can’t say ‘here is the solution’.
A good leader will know that this is uncomfortable for their people, and not good for morale and productivity. They will know that during uncertain times some people will try to create their own certainty and leave meaning good people will go. And of course that sends signals to others, which multiplies the uncertainty. So what can you do if you can’t ‘fix it’?
What you dont do is wander round as if nothing is any different and people should just be ‘getting on with it’. The best thing to do during a period of change is to acknowledge it. It may sound weird but getting face time with your people and saying ‘ there is a lot of change right now and I know it will be making many of you feel uncertain’ is exactly the right thing to do. Firstly you are their leader and they expect you to lead. Secondly, showing that you understand that it is not a comfortable time, shows that you care about your people, and that in itself can reduce the discomfort. Then what? You still can’t fix it, so don’t fall in the trap of trying to do so. The amount of times I’ve heard leaders blow their reputation by saying ‘ dont worry, it will be fine and you will all be okay’. Oh really, are you sure?
What you can say is ‘When i know more, i will talk to you all’. And that means little things, not just big things. Changes to other departments, people they know, brands they know, you need to be the source of information. Why? Because on the path to certainty in your area, you need to provide little certainties to maintain that morale. Is that all you do? ( acknowledge the uncertainty, tell them you will tell them more when you know). The temptation for many leaders is to suggest that people ‘ just get on with it’ or ‘business as usual’. These may be what you would like as a leader, but in themselves they are not motivating. And what you are trying to do is motivate during a time which is not motivational in itself. This is where your understanding of motivation comes in. Appealing to their sense of motivation works better than telling them the outcome that you want ( business as usual). ‘The best thing we can do right now is do the best we can and in ensure that our service is as good as usual for our customers’ can appeal to a sense of pride and for those with a high drive for service/altruism etc. For sales guys it can be ‘ let’s just show we can meet those targets whatever happens’ which can appeal to their results focus. But remember, your motivation will not be theirs and just saying what you would like to hear won’t always work (see here for more). As a leader your role is to create an motivational environment, so that’s what you need to do.
So acknowledge the situation, acknowledge them, promise to keep talking and give them a rallying call. You are a leader. Don’t hide: lead!