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    Who's on the bus: How to adapt your leadership playbook in challenging times

    Optamor Blog

    This is a guest blog, written in collaboration with Paul Miller, Managing Director at The Mental Muscle Company - and Executive Coach for Optamor - and Simon Vaughan-Edwards, Managing Director at Hawker Chase. 

    I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

    ― Gilda Radner  

    Not many of us will have faced any challenge quite as testing as the one we are enduring in 2020. When the playbook which has delivered the success you have enjoyed over many years can no longer be relied upon, what are your options? When past experience of leading offers us few clues about how we navigate our way through this period of uncertainty, where do we turn? When you discover the very foundation of how you have led is called into question on a daily basis, not by your people, but by the demands this pandemic is placing upon you, what must you do to steer your team on a course towards success?

    In his book, “From Good to Great”, Jim Collins tells us as leaders, we are bus drivers. “The bus - your company - is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who is going with you.

    Most people assume that great bus drivers immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that are most likely to succeed start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances”.

    Who’s on the bus?

    Given the sands are constantly shifting beneath our feet, the ability to plan for the longer term is pretty challenging for many of us, but we still need to consider what longer term outcome we are seeking, and then take baby steps towards this. One of the most valuable things a period of sustained challenge offers us, is the opportunity to really notice who are the players that we can rely on and add value to our business; not just because of their skill set but because of the person they are. It’s always useful to create a grid of what you need versus what you are getting so you can clearly see who is missing and who is not measuring up.  Looking beyond the work, who is passionate, who is creative, collaborative and good to work with. What energy do they bring with them and how does that support the team?

    If you begin with ‘who’ rather than ‘what’ you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join you mostly because of where it is you are going and then somewhere along the route you have to change direction, there’s a strong chance you have a problem! Get the right people on the bus and when you need to change direction they are more likely to embrace what needs to be done, even if it is uncomfortable for them. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up, they have an inner drive to be part of creating something great!

    During this time, one of the things many observers have spoken about is the need for empathy and compassion and whilst that is vital, there are other emotional qualities which are becoming increasingly essential; the need for imagination and innovation is greater than ever. Small and large businesses need to adapt and shape their plans to survive and flourish in the pandemic and post-pandemic world. But how do leaders gain trust to create the change businesses need to survive?  How do they create trust in virtual or separated teams who they need to adapt to change and innovation? This is especially challenging in a changing world where difficult decisions that leaders need to take often result in a breakdown in trust. And we all know that repairing trust is far, far harder than building it from the ground up could ever have been. 

     Get the wrong people off the bus

    During normal times, many organisations will often be forgiving of those individuals who are not right for the business. Often there is an acceptance that their behaviour can be overlooked when the bottom line is relatively healthy. It can often be easier to let issues slide because the effort it may take to address such behaviour may be more than the leader is willing to expend. But when challenges are presented such as the one most of us have faced this past year, the cracks will show and the risk to your business will be all too plain to see.

     All great teams require the right people in the right positions. Only when you know what you want from your people can you begin to decide who you should keep and where you need to seek new talent. Ultimately, for our businesses to survive and then move to thriving we need the right people sitting in the right seats so we can all enjoy the ride.

    In the current environment it is essential that the bus is full of the right people

    This market dictates that businesses require a different approach to thrive.  Agility is no longer enough. It must be coupled with adaptability and the ability to pivot and change the business to originate and capitalise on opportunities as they arise.  

    This in turn requires a more flexible approach to resourcing; ensuring that leaders can work within a ‘mission command’ environment - building both internal and external resources in order to execute plans. This will mean that there needs to be a mix of both internal and external talent with careful hiring complemented by the use of external ‘virtual benches’ to ensure flexible capacity to meet demand. This should be allied with active succession planning to ensure that you have the best team to travel with you on the journey. 

    What’s next?

    This pandemic has sent us numerous curve balls, and the truth is our past experience of managing in challenging times is not sufficient to enable us to survive and move on to thrive.  This is where our  experience of successfully supporting leaders and their teams with many of their most challenging issues can really make the difference for you and your business now.

    Like what you’ve read?

    Our senior leadership and team coach, Paul Miller has a wealth of knowledge and an insightful coaching approach honed over two decades of successfully supporting leaders. He is a preferred choice for businesses who want to come to their own collective answers, but require a good mixture of support and challenge.

    Get in touch to talk through about how you can benefit from engaging with our leadership and executive coaching team. 

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