Every leader should have a go-to list of what he or she considers to be steadfast rules of successful leadership. Criteria like, “set clear goals,” or “coach for growth” are used consistently; and, while our tried and true mantras are certainly important to uphold, leaders must remember to adjust and add to these guidelines.
The current world of uncertainty requires leaders to commit to “defining reality” for their people. Napoleon famously said, ” The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.”
Like many words today, the term reality has been hijacked by the media; primarily for reality tv shows that are supposed to provide a picture of what’s real (and more often than not are overproduced parodies with very little truth portrayed). Forget what you know about reality as it relates to television and the media; reality is defined as the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or imaginary state.
If you are going to be a leader who defines reality, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and paint an accurate picture of where your company or team is today, in light of the coronavirus.
Most leaders don’t tell the truth
Defining reality and telling the truth to a team is clearly the right thing to do; but, research indicates that most managers don’t do it. A recent study found that only 17% of employees report that their leaders consistently state the truth. This means that a whopping 83% of leaders aren’t doing a good job at defining reality.
The reasons for sheltering their teams from the truth isn’t complicated. Leaders are concerned with the following:
- Causing stress and worry – Leaders don’t want to create undue worry and stress on their teams since they don’t know what the future holds.
- Protecting themselves – By admitting the situation might not be good, it puts leaders in a vulnerable position to admit they might have made some mistakes. This could make team members lose confidence in their leader.
While these reasons make sense on the surface, there is a good chance that if leaders aren’t willing to be transparent about their current reality, the news isn’t good. However, the best leaders use their current state and situation to their advantage. Here’s how they do it and you can too:
Tap into courage
Delivering the news to a team that the current situation or forecast isn’t good isn’t an easy task. Which is why most leaders avoid it. As I tell my team and clients, “If leadership were easy, everyone would do it.”
Telling the truth and ultimately scaring or disappointing an audience of people who rely on you requires a leader to tap into his or her courage. C.S. Lewis spoke the truth about courage saying, “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” We all can make courageous decisions by tapping into a place deep in our hearts that allows us to be scared and move forward in spite of that fear. Like forming a habit, the more courageous decisions you make, the easier it is to be courageous.
If you struggle with courage, start small by identifying the next step or action you need to take. Instead of scheduling an all hands-on meeting tomorrow morning, call one or two people on the team that you are close with, and tell them first.
Communicate the brutal facts
Once you tap into your courage muscle, it’s time to communicate the brutal facts. I intentionally use the facts and not feelings because facts are stubborn things. Take the time to gather as much data and information as you can, and put together a set of facts that matter to you and your team.
In the current environment, this could be every day. In uncertain times, you can’t communicate enough, even if the update is “there is no update.” Casey Crawford, one of the leaders I wrote about in Building the Best, is holding optional, daily, employee-wide live video calls at the end of every day to communicate the facts and answer questions from his people. While no leader is perfect, it’s a great model for any leader to follow.
Share hope and faith
I have written a lot about hope over the last few weeks because it’s not only essential to getting our country through the Coronavirus but as a leader, you must keep your team looking forward. Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on positive outcomes. When hope is at the center of your own mind and your team’s mind, it leads to positive actions.
As Bob Caslen said, “when hope is strong, people do not get discouraged.”
Turn reality into actions and opportunities
By communicating the facts about your current situation and sharing hope in the future, you provide the platform for things to get better. The only way things are going to get better is by having your team to help make it happen.
When an entire team takes full advantage of their experience, expertise, creativity, and work ethic, good things tend to happen. Opportunities are uncovered, action items are created, and it gives them a fighting chance to make their current reality better one day at a time.
Currently, in the United States families are quarantining in the face of dramatic financial uncertainty. Companies like Ford, Tesla, Apple and many others are pivoting to create necessary medical equipment. While these actions won’t stop the virus tomorrow, they are getting the country and world one step closer to beating this virus.
If you find yourself in a position of leadership, whether that be at work or at home, now is the time to make your current reality an advantage. You are right where you are supposed to be, so lead like it.
Stay safe and healthy but don’t stop leading!
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making victual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Successand host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.