Authentic leadership is both active and reflective. One has to alternate between participating and observing. I am in the midst of navigating my own way through that journey and feel compelled to share my experiences and perspective with you.
There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn to live without judgement, so he sent them each on a quest to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest in the fall.After they had all gone and returned, he called them together to describe what they had seen.The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.The second son said it was covered with green buds and full of promise.The third son disagreed. He said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.The last son disagreed with all of them. He said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment. The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but one season in the tree’s life.
For the past several years I have been involved in teaching leadership development programs at every level and in every division of the RCMP. In my workshops, I make a distinction between the transactional work of policing (writing tickets, arresting criminals, doing paper work, etc.) and transformational work of policing, where lives are changed, communities become safer, and police officers make a lasting difference in someone’s life.
When I teach this leadership principle I tell a story about a constable who rightfully ticketed me several years ago for going through a stop sign while I turned on to a main street in the community where I live. But this constable didn’t just write me a ticket. He carefully took the time to make the whole experience a transformational moment. He sincerely and respectfully told me a story of why he was writing me a ticket. He had recently attended to an accident where children were killed because a car was t-boned when the driver went through a stop sign without stopping.
The story was transformational to me. It changed my life. While I won’t say that since that day I have never rolled through a stop sign, over the past nine years I frequently think of that constable when I am approaching a stop sign, and when I do so, I make sure I come to a complete stop.
In recent weeks I have taken the time to track down this constable and thank him for changing a life. Here, in essence, is what I said:
“I want to thank you for stopping me that night and telling me that story before you ticketed me. You changed my life. Because of your actions, I am a safer driver. But it not only made me a safer driver. For the past nine years I have been telling this story to corporate audiences across the continent and several people over the years have told me that my story has helped change their driving habits and made them safer drivers.
So… your service in our community has changed lives and likely saved lives. I just wanted to write and express my sincere appreciation to you.
Continue on with your important work in our community and beyond. You and your colleagues in the RCMP do incredible work that is far too often unacknowledged and unappreciated.”
So often, we never know when one action will have a rippling effect to make lasting change in a person’s life. So often, we never know how our lives can make a difference.
To paraphrase the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that one thoughtful, committed citizen can change the world.”
If your business is at all connected to the oil patch, layoffs have become so common this year that it is unusual to meet a senior manager who hasn’t had to manage a reduction in their work force or isn’t in the midst of planning one. It is helpful to reflect on ways to provide leadership in times of downsizing and uncertainty
The decision to downsize and the choice of who is to be laid off can be so wrenching that many managers have little energy left to consider what happens after the layoff. How do you help the shell-shocked survivors recover and move forward in a productive way? How can you rebuild a great culture after you have laid people off? How can you build morale and increase employee engagement when you are downsizing your workforce?
Below are ten strategies for guiding your culture toward cohesiveness, engagement, and trust while laying people off. Even if your organization isn’t currently cutting back its workforce, you will find these approaches helpful in the midst of any change:
1) Acknowledge the emotions. During layoffs, people go through a wide range of legitimate feelings and they need structured opportunities – half an hour a week or the first ten minutes of a meeting – to express honestly how they are doing. Just because people didn’t get laid off doesn’t mean they’re happy.
2) Make it safe to open up. As a leader, you aren’t responsible to fix the feelings that arise; people have to take responsibility to deal with their own emotions. Your job is to create a respectful and safe space where people can open up and feel support from the organization. Let people know that being honest will never be a career limiting decision. If you find people are holding back in these sessions, get them into smaller groups where you know there are pockets of trust.
3) Allow some space for grieving. People need space to grieve and say good-bye to their colleagues and friends. I’ve seen people cry and hug as they walk out the door. You cannot make it worse by inviting people to be honest. It’s about being human, and supporting this helps create a more fully human organization. How can we expect people to be engaged if we don’t accept and support people to be where they are?
4) Exercise patience – with yourself and others. Recognize that when people are in shock they behave in uncharacteristic ways. When people are vulnerable they may act out or blow their top. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you. As managers, you’ve been busy planning and managing the layoff and solving problems. Cut yourself some slack and don’t forget to apologize personally to anyone who got in the path of your outburst. Emotional turmoil is all part of the transition process. It is a positive step forward and everyone needs to learn to deal with emotions constructively in a way that doesn’t inflict pain or fear.
5) Respect that people are in a transition. One day everything is fine; the next day a layoff is announced. One day you have a department with a hundred people; the next day there are sixty-five. These are external changes that can happen quickly. Transition, the reorientation that people go through to come to terms with the change, takes time and intentional leadership. Give people time and clarity to understand the process of transition and the time to work through it.
6) Focus on creativity and community, not productivity. While it’s unrealistic to expect that work is going to stop while people come to terms with their emotions, putting added pressure on them when they are hurting and stressed by the workload creates mistrust, destructive tension, increased anxiety, and low morale. There’s always a drop in productivity. Smart leaders understand this and work with it. Getting the group to help you solve problems and come up with creative solutions is a good way to get support yourself, get collective wisdom from your team, and give people a sense of meaningful importance.
7) Create an opportunity for people to have some degree of control. Destructive stress is created when people feel they don’t have any influence over what is happening. There are two fundamental questions that need to be answered in tumultuous times:
- What are we committed to preserve? Not all change is good. We have to be clear and have some control over what we won’t allow to change.
- What must we be willing to let go of? People need to be given the opportunity to acknowledge and say good-bye before they can start to think about the future.
8) Share as much information as you can. Tell people what you know. Tell them what you don’t know. Information eases stress.
9) Bring a compass with you. It is a habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way. In these chaotic, uncertain, demanding times, we just don’t know what we will face ahead of us, and there is no road map to take us there. It’s more important than ever to stop and get your bearings. Be guided by a vision, values, and principles, both personally and organizationally, rather than by emotions or the pressures of others.
10) Build a Bridge and Get Over It. Eventually, even with all the support and strategies for being creative and building a collaborative community in your organization, you have to get on with your work and your life. You have to take accountability for your own emotions and reactions, and make a decision to change your attitude, support your organization, or move on.
For those who have experience with layoffs and downsizing, you know that, while the current reality may be chaotic, one can always take solace in the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow to allow you to get on with the next chapter of your life. Look forward to the adventure with some focused planning, a firm resolve, a renewed vision for the future, patience, perseverance, and a positive outlook.
If your organization is currently undergoing significant change, feel free to contact me to explore how I might help guide you through the transition process.
When we moved to Cochrane, Alberta to raise our children in 1991, there were no traffic lights in this small foothills community. Today, there are more than fifteen and it takes about five times longer to cover the same distance through town. You no longer buy fly rods at the fly shop. You buy them at Canadian Tire. The fly shop has gone out of business. The two locally owned bookstores, the best you could find anywhere, no longer exist. We now have a Walmart, Staples, and Sport Check. This little town has changed a great deal in the past quarter century.
I’m all for change. Change is not only a good thing; change is required. Change is an integral part of life. “In times of change,” wrote the philosopher Erick Hoffer, “learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” What I’ve been reflecting on though, is that as necessary as change is, not all change is necessary. Not all change is healthy. Whether you are renovating your home, reorganizing your workplace or redesigning your organization, starting a new relationship or new job, moving, adjusting to being new parents, loving your parents through the aging process, coming to grips with a life-threatening illness, or maybe several of these things at once – remember to ask one fundamental question of yourself and of those you are entrusted to lead: “What are we committed to preserve in the midst of this change?”
While reflecting on the changes that are happening in my life, I developed a list of what I’m committed to preserve. In the middle of the changes you are going through, what are you and those you live and work with committed to preserve? Here’s my list:
1) Character. Character means knowing what’s right and doing what’s right, even when it causes you discomfort. Character is doing what’s honest and honorable, even when costs you financially. If your character is situational, that is, if it changes with the whims of your circumstances, you won’t have the foundation of self-respect to get through the change.
2) Faith. Faith is the inner sanctuary where hidden permanence and power reside. My faith strengthens and supports me, allowing me to lean on a compassionate force beyond myself. My faith gives me a compass in the wilderness, a private north star to navigate the journey.
3) Family. Family is the base camp on life’s Mount Everest ascent. Family is where you stock up, replenish, and take shelter from the storm. Family gives you a place to come home to. Family – whether immediate, extended, or inner circle of most trusted friends – gives you the stability and constancy you need to deal with whatever life throws at you. Change can be lonely, but it can’t be done alone.
4) Health. Regardless of whatever changes are happening in the tyranny of the urgency around me, rigorous healthy habits sustain me. Ensuring that I get adequate rest and exercise, spending time in the sunlight and in nature, and eating food that strengthens rather than depletes, gives me the energy needed to thrive in change and embrace new possibilities.
5) Traditions. What I admire about the RCMP, the armed forces, and other law enforcement and emergency services agencies is that they are steeped in tradition and fortitude. But families, communities, and individuals must also maintain traditions. Traditions and strong rituals keep people anchored and stable during the storms of life.
6) Caring. It doesn’t cost to care. Caring is about taking time for the people in your life that matter, even if you don’t have the time. Caring is about paying attention to the little things, despite the chaos that may surround and pull you into the fray. Caring is about staying connected, even when the world seems to be falling apart.
7) Attitude. “Everything,” wrote Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author, “can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Whether it’s an attitude of caring or an attitude of building, when the world around you is a problem finder, you can always be a solution maker.
So… in the midst of all the changes happening all around you, what are you committed to preserve?