As someone who has led change and transformation projects across the corporate and public sectors for over 15 years, I know the dangers of an artificial deadline culture.
This culture demands a certain thing by a certain time for no real reason and declares success whether the important things are done or not.
I remember working on a big global program that had an artificial deadline just because the guy on the board who was supporting it wanted to say it was done in 18 months. It wasn't based on modelling or projections of success, it was just about making him look good. That is not the business of change; that is the business of ego bolstering.
I know a bit about the pressure Boris Johnson is facing, and while many of the leaders I like and trust have been eviscerating the Prime Minister across social media this week, I take a different stance.
Yes, Sunday’s speech was a car-crash. Yes, the climate is one of fear and panic, about both the loss of human life and the impact on people’s livelihoods.
But I have been the person being bounced into delivering against artificial deadlines and pressured to come up with something to pin the future to (whether we think it will work or not).
This is not how to lead change - and the ability to do just that is the one essential skill we all need now. Without it, your career simply won’t be going anywhere fast in the future.
Authenticity is like a magnet. It attracts people who appreciate your leadership style, making it easy for you to lead in a natural and easy way. And it repels people who would struggle to work under you and be difficult to lead.
In times of crisis, we naturally revert to being much closer to our authentic selves. If you’re naturally bossy, you'll probably give a lot of instructions in a crisis. If you’re collegiate, you may want to ask for a lot of opinions and could appear to struggle making quick decisions.
While I feel sympathy for Boris Johnson, no one could say his speeches are authentic, and that’s both a shame and a missed opportunity.
Leaders need to take a step back and admit the truth: yes, the world feels uncertain, and we want something to grasp hold of. But actually we're not yet at a point where we can give a clear roadmap, however much people want one.
Instead of doing something you know is phoney, tell the truth. Acknowledge that there is a lack or clarity and outline instead some of the options you’re considering. Paint a picture of what life could be like post-crisis. But don’t pretend you know the exact path ahead.
It is no longer acceptable to treat the board differently than your grassroots employees. Listen more to people at the grassroots who have a connection with your customers, instead of a board who are equally as blinkered as you.
Respect is the creation and upholdment of a safe space. Without it, no one will speak up and you’ll end up with a room full of nodding heads. This helps no one.
By creating a respectful culture, you allow differences of opinion to be non-toxic. You allow for co-creation with diverse people because it’s okay to have different opinions, to be curious and open to different aspects.
Solutions need co-creation. Try this: randomly pick a group of people from your organisation (some of which you may never have spoken to before) for a co-creation session on Zoom. I guarantee you’ll get closer to the solution than a briefing with the board.
Phoney timescales and false certainty erode credibility and are predicated on the idea that people can’t handle the truth.
This is wrong. People are not stupid. The reality is that all change is profoundly uncertain. Leadership isn’t about giving people artificial comfort. That’s just plain wrong and insulting and makes people feel unseen.
Instead, take people with you through the uncertainty; allow for it to be uncomfortable, rather than providing fake certainty and even faker deadlines.
How refreshing would it be to stop spinning information and just put it out as we know it? Stop spinning for the board, stop spinning for the grassroots. Provide ideas with complete transparency.
You spin in a positive way to your people, and they’ll do the same to you, which means you have less reliable information - and you simply cannot afford bad data in this climate. It could mean the difference between survival and tanking. Getting to the truth means you’re working with the best data and are far more likely to be able to put solutions in place that actually work.
When you model authentic, respectful and transparent leadership, your people model it back to you - and that’s gold.
If this resonates with you, drop me a DM to find out how I can help you learn to lead change - the one essential skill you need to pivot your existing experience and help your industry out of the current crisis.
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