Originally this post was published on 5/4/2020 at LinkedIn.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, we all learnt how interdependent we are, and it seemed that almost overnight managers and their staff have moved closer to bringing their whole self to work. However, one thing is to show your boss your home, your kids and your pets; it is quite another to be open about your personal challenges and fears. A recent research study revealed 20 per cent of workers would not ask for help when struggling and only 18% would tell their boss about it.
No playbook for most
No doubt, as a people leader, you strive to make a positive impact, but it is so much harder now to adequately process and effectively address so many personal and professional troubles surfacing simultaneously.
Most definitions of managerial coaching talk about a leader facilitating the development of their direct reports. To date, the focus has been on skills and performance coaching, in passing on, what’s been deemed best practices and ensuring the gap between current and desired level of performance will be closed as soon as possible.
At the time of high volatility and uncertainty, you must decide whether to adjust what you have been doing or find other revenue streams, depending on what markets you operate in. Suddenly, coaching team members becomes a very different, more complex ball game. To add, many managers find themselves supporting their staff in increasingly personal matters (e.g. discussing how to negotiate rent with their landlord), to help them to be productive at work.
Since you are responsible for your team’s performance and learning outcomes, you need to know what kind of conversation is going to be most productive at any given time: when to tell, to direct and judge, and when to support and remove obstacles; then adapt accordingly. Many managers were taught to show they are resilient, and they know what to do, but right now it is likely that you are over-relying on what feels right, maybe even on what worked before and what worked for you, personally. Jennifer Garvey-Berger has a beautiful question for us all: “How can you be wrong?”.
Even at the best of times, managers themselves receive little or no on-the-job coaching or feedback, partly because their managers are likely to find giving feedback hard. Often you must survey others to learn about your own blind spots. I dare say, now when millions of people are losing jobs and facing salary reductions, it is harder to elicit honest feedback from anyone who’s future can be determined by your positional power.
In addition, you might feel apprehensive about your own future and feel more than ever keen to look good in the eyes of your management. Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey point out that, even under normal circumstances, it takes inordinate amounts of physical and mental energy to preserve or enhance your reputation, putting your best self forward, and hiding your limitations and inadequacies—from others and themselves. Not to mention at times, when you are tackling your personal and professional challenges created by COVID-19, in self-isolation.
Just like you, your reports might be wiling to show how irreplaceable they are and not complain, even if they are struggling to tackle all the work they have committed themselves to. Employees across different regions might be working on the same things to demonstrate their proactivity with low desire to acknowledge clear overlaps in their initiatives.
So how are you making sense of things?
It is more obvious than ever that it is not easy to separate personal from the professional; you can no longer attempt to compartmentalise your work and your personal life. You cannot continue stealing from your family’s time to deliver on your productivity targets, since your personal relationships now are critical in your new “workplace” – your home.
So what do you do when you are experiencing anxiety but feel maybe it is safer not to show it to anyone? Whom do you speak to when you feel you are making things up as you go or need some ideas how to hold on to your management position at the time of great job cuts and when you hardly ever see your boss or other senior leaders? What process do you use to notice the patterns you and your team are falling into? How do you notice how, for example, your fear of uncertainty is shaping your purpose and how it limits your perspective? Who is helping you to process your thoughts and emotions, reflect on your and your teams’ behaviours, consider the desired future and what is required from each of you and you as a collective? How are you engaging with others and how would you like to relate with and lead now? What is holding you back? What are you assuming? What is the thing you would like to avoid talking most about now?
Although comforting, reaching out to like-minded people who agree with you, is not going to provide honesty you need. Rather seek out those who can offer support and challenge, to help you see clearer what is happening within you, outside of you and over time.
Now is not the time to say you don’t have time to reflect on how you are feeling and how you are responding, to explore how your mental model is shaping the options you see, and to consider unintended consequences to even the quietest of stakeholders. Now is exactly the time to act, as your personal emotions are rippling through the system, influencing hundreds or thousands of people around you. Do them and yourself a favour, find an unbiased person, who understands the psychology of coaching and business, in addition to the mechanics of well-being; a person, who will listen deeply to understand your perspective, to help you make sense of your current reality and to co-create new ways of being and doing that are not one-sided (e.g. meet your KPIs) but empower you to be a leader you deserve to be, for your team, your family and your wider community.
I call these conversations Second-Vision meetings because, first and foremost, they offer you an expanded way of seeing yourself, others and the world.
Reach out to discuss further.
Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity: Stanford University Press.
Boddy, N. (2020, 02/04/2020). One in five worried workers won't ask for help. Retrieved from https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/careers/one-in-five-worried-workers-won-t-ask-for-help-20200402-p54gh7
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