I have a certain attitude to risk, uncertainty, sudden change and uncomfortable challenges. It is not one my wife always appreciates. Nor my mum for that matter. It may be a special skill, a learned response from time getting actually shot at, or some kind of disorder. Either way the fact is that when from one day to the next everything that was predictable, expected and taken for granted is questioned, threatened or just torn up and tossed out the window, there is a part of me that comes alive.
Certainly when we were looking at the reality of lockdown and coronavirus being something very real and very here, not just another SAARS style or media hype that would blow over (for us at least), I watched three years of plans, pipeline and business growth plummeting over a cliff with, yes, some consternation, but more than a twinge of excitement. A sense of heightening awareness and energy. Definitely what you would describe as a buzz.
Looking around our team, I could see elements of the same awareness in many faces. One colleague after a pretty tense management planning session where we outlined some significant dents in our agreed work pipeline, and more to come, said ‘I know this sounds weird, but this is kind of fun, isn’t it?’. Yes, it is.
Of course not everyone feels this way. Some people even find this attitude a bit strange. I know many of them who would say they are the normal ones. Imagine! (See above reference to wife and mother).
The Two Types
As a leader it can be easy to forget when the blood is pumping and you are leaning into the storm that not everyone around you is sharing the joy. I have learned the hard way that it is essential to find ways to bring those whose response to chaos and uncertainty is to step back and look for a stable path along for the ride. In ways that they, not you, find comfortable.
One way to do this better can come from an understanding of Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindsets. In essence this says that your response to failure, adversity and challenge is either:
- That didn’t work. I’m no good at it. I probably never will be. Better stop.
- That didn’t work. What should I have done differently? I wonder how I can get better at it? What else could I be trying…
Effectively the fixed mindset approach takes failure personally. The growth mindset looks at the circumstantial elements at work and take what I did wrong as a lesson for next time.
A Split That Works
Of course an A/B split in humanity is never going to capture the full subtlety of even a small group, but it is a split that I like and that in life, work, relationships works for me. I am still improving how I implement this understanding of course…
In work and leadership whether working with soldiers, disaster relief volunteers, bankers, engineers or sales people, it is key to keeping people motivated that you are able to recognise those who are inclined towards option A. Being told cheerfully to crack on and keep trying doesn’t work so well for someone convinced that this setback is a result of their abilities, personality, or some other factor they feel powerless to control. Brushing off and making light of what can be deeply personal feelings of inadequacy or fear does not help them, even if it helps you. If you are going to bring these people with you through adversity, there are some simple things to do:
- Acknowledge and (try to) understand: I am often guilty of throwing ‘it will be fine’ over my shoulder both at home and at work. Instead take a bit of time to see what the other person thinks the problem is. Whether you agree or not knowing how they are feeling about it may help you get them to the other side
- Explore alternatives: If having children has taught me one thing, it is that answering ‘I cant change X’ with ‘yes you can’ is rarely the magical cure I think it is. ‘What about trying Y instead and seeing if that helps’ gets the teeth brushed at least some of the time
- Just slow down: Sometimes it is just taking time to let people find their own way through a challenge. Doing the first two points, then being willing not to demand instant action. People most often can get there themselves with a bit of patience.
Two Types of Leader In Uncertainty
As our teams come out of the rocky times of Lockdown, furlough and the uncertainty of the last few months, and eyes up the rocky times of not-really-sure-what we have ahead of us, it is on all of us who lead and manage to be aware of and support those who don’t have that slightly manic gleam in their eye.
There are many more than two types of people of course, but there are definitely two types of leader. Those who can only lead those like them, and those who can flex their style. The latter may move slower, but will end up with a more rounded and balanced team around them.