Ten principles for leading people through crisis

Ten principles for leading people through crisis

Sudden pressure from a crisis can change our working landscape, challenges our systems and processes and disrupts our way of life. With heightened emotions it’s also a threat to the health and wellbeing of our people.

Under this kind of pressure we’ll see examples of leadership excellence and examples of leadership failure. To strive for excellence, these are ten principles I suggest keeping front-of-mind, based on my time Coaching with the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, (post-earthquake recovery) and my neurolinguistic base as a Coach and Trainer.

  1. WELLBEING: Make wellbeing a key agenda item in your meetings. Your business needs to get through this crisis in good shape and so do your people.
    Big change events are stressful and it’s a mistake to assume the wellbeing of your people is a given. Your time may be under pressure, yet giving breathing space for people state how they are, lets people know you care. It may also be wise to step-up activities that further promote wellbeing. Sudden change can be emotionally taxing, wellbeing practice avoids burnout and sustains performance. Down the line, you ultimately want your people to reflect back on these challenges and know they were cared for.
  2. EMOTIONS: Strong emotions will be present. Don’t judge and avoid assuming what they need. Instead, listen and ask how you can help.
    People will manage sudden change in different ways. Some people find a crisis easier to navigate than others. As an example, it’s too easy to tell someone who’s just lost their job to ‘be positive’ and ‘think bigger’. Sometimes it’s more powerful to just listen, (let them debrief) and then ask, ‘what can I do to help?’
  3. STRATEGY: Your strategic plan may have been thrown into chaos. So simplify as much as you can, rework priorities and stick to the essentials.
    Prioritise what’s important and urgent. This will frame-up what needs responding to immediately. It also means being very specific about what activities will be parked in order to refocus peoples effort. Initially less is more, divide tasks where you can and set clear outcomes. Let the core purpose of your business guide you.
  4. ADAPT: Adapt your style of leadership to be agile. Be who you need to be, as needs arise.
    As always with leadership, the collective brain is more powerful than a single brain, so you still don’t need to have all the answers. Remain agile. Here are a few styles to step in and out of when the pressure is on.
    • Command Style Leadership: In absolute urgency, you may need to tell people what to do – that’s fine especially when safety is at risk. But be cautious, don’t let this be your dominant style. Even when the pressure is on, you need to collaborate to get the best outcomes.
    • Democratic Style Leadership: Under pressure, this style couples well with Command and Pacesetting Styles, it equates to laser-like solution-focused conversations, where you need peoples input fast to co-design solutions. Under pressure, Democratic Style Leadership it is not a laboured process, it is creativity with pace.
    • Pacesetter Style Leadership: Set timelines to tasks, apply logic to the sequence of urgent deliverables. People will be working under pressure, so ensure you keep wellbeing on the agenda. Look to how you support people to succeed.
    • Visionary Leadership: At some point, depending on the event that’s caused the change, you may need a new vision for your business. Your old vision may no longer deliver what people need, or the event has revealed/created new needs of your customers. Either way, what does an informed and values based future look like for your business? How will you be stronger, wiser and better than before?
  5. CLARITY: Don’t add to an environment of uncertainty. Be clear on what you need from your team as the situation evolves.
    Responding to a sudden change event will create a huge amount of uncertainty and it’s unlikely you’ll be able answer everyone’s questions or concerns. However, you can create certainty in terms of your expectations of people. So when assigning tasks, explain clearly what you need from them, why you need it, when you need it by, plus what autonomy they have to get the task done. You can also set expectations around behaviours and self-care.
  6. FOCUS: Have your people set their focus daily. Ensure tasks are tangible, useful and achievable. Set them up to succeed.
    Checking with people on a regular basis will be important. If people are under emotional pressure it’s better to focus on doing fewer tasks well, than too many. If people are working from home, this will also help them focus in an environment that may have a different set of distractions.
  7. COMMUNICATION: Make communication flow a high priority. Give people good information and stay connected to their needs and concerns.
    Uncertainty is a major stressor on a human being and it comes hand-in-hand with change. Emotions run high when our safety and security are in danger, (or perceived to be) and so provide certainty where possible. Depending on the crisis, daily updates may be useful. These do more than just provide information, they provide certainty of information flow and connection with those who are leading. Even if you have no new information to share, a) use the time to check in with people and b) let people know you’ll share information as it comes in. The longer the gaps in communication, the more room for assumptions and fears to take hold.
  8. LANGUAGE: Check your own language. Avoid words that trigger panic.
    Your people will respond to your emotional cues, and those cues often present through your choice of words and your auditory tone. So keep a check on the metaphors you use, avoid alarmist language, model a solution-focus and speak with clarity and ‘calm’. Ultimately, managing your own state well, will lend to good language.
  9. FILTER: Filter out ‘noise’. Empower your people, don’t pass on other peoples drama.
    You may yourself be hearing drama and panic from, for example, your Manager. If so, choose what to pass on to your own team. Be the buffer. Remove negative emotional charge, provide useful information and help people focus by reducing alarm.
  10. SELF-CARE: Be good to yourself too. You’re a leader, so take care of others AND yourself.
    People don’t need martyrs, they need leaders who are in the zone. There will be stretch that you will feel too, so check in on your own state daily, ensure you invest in your own care even it’s via snatches of time when you can. Prioritise and push back on non-urgent items, empower your team and have a clear cut-off time for when work ends and stick to it yourself.

These are just a few leadership principles that are important when leading people through sudden change. From your experience, what’s also important? What in your experience has been essential? Please share in the comments section.

A sleeping bag and a sense of purpose and possibility

A sleeping bag and a sense of purpose and possibility

Reflecting on twenty-years of Coaching

Twenty years ago I was sleeping on a bare mattress in a sleeping bag, renting a small room in an old house in Miramar. I was a backpacker in New Zealand with a vague plan to travel. However, that changed after hearing about this thing called ‘Coaching’, which sparked an epiphany; ‘That feels right!’ (Admittedly, there’s a longer story here involving an army assault course, a claustrophobic underground crawl-tunnel and a minor rebellion, but I’ll save that for another time.)

By Christmas 2003, I’d spent all my savings on a brain-based coach training course and had only $20 left in the bank. Whilst I lacked resources, what I did have was a growing sense of purpose and an obsession to pursue it.

A logo soon emerged and Elevate was born. Then came my website, then my first client and the rest – 800+ people coached, 1000+ people trained and over 80 client organisations – is two decades of history.

What I’ve most loved about coaching

  • The formula of coaching: Question, insight, action and change. Asking the right question to create insights. Turning insight into action. Seeing actions create meaningful change.
  • Moving through limitations: Seeing clients set goals that they’re unsure they can achieve. Then seeing them move through limitations to get there.
  • Places of honesty: Helping clients to arrive at that place of honesty to then make authentic choices around who they are and what they really want.
  • Learning legacy: Coaching helps people achieve their goals, but more importantly, it helps people develop who they are along the way. This is the legacy of coaching, where people can achieve greater empowerment to keep on achieving.
  • Autonomy and empowerment: The process of Coaching helps people to assess their situation, identify their options and then make powerful choices. It grows self-determination, resilience and an empowered state.

Learnings to pass on

A Taoist saying – ‘The Journey is the Reward’.

For me, the best way to celebrate this twenty-year milestone is to capture the learnings I’ve had along the way and pass them on. I hope they’re useful to you as you approach your own goals.

  • Experiment and take risks: In the early years, having few resources presented a level of urgency to experiment. I tried different ways to reach people, I outlined various coaching programmes (some were never going to work), and I designed thinking tools to help my clients get to their goals. In summary, I tried a lot of stuff to quickly learn what did and didn’t work. It wasn’t always polished, but I learnt fast and found my footing quickly.
  • Access the experts: In those early years, to develop myself as a Coach, I researched trainers and courses thoroughly and I chose science and credibility over other cheaper flash-in-the-plan options.
  • Find people who’ll give you a chance: Connecting with people is one thing, but being given an opportunity to fly is golden.
  • Build a reputation: It’s a slow road perhaps, but with no marketing budget I built my client base one client at a time by helping them achieve often life changing goals. From their success came word-of-mouth. Today, I don’t need a marketing budget – over 95% of my clients arrive via recommendation and referral.
  • Stand strong on quality: When I launched my own trainings, I had other Coaches tell me, ‘you’ll never make four day trainings work … too long!‘ Yet, this intensive deep-dive training approach helps make training stick and adds far more value. So I stuck-to-my-guns and avoided offering one-day flash-in-the-plan versions. Today I’ve trained over 1000 people.
  • Take a strengths-based approach: What am I good at doing that I love doing? This is a simple guiding question that’s shaped Elevate. If I make decisions that leverage my strengths and sense of purpose, I know I’ll stay fresh and do a good job.

My thanks

Elevate would not have succeeded without the help of others, and so with gratitude ….

  • For holding everything together I thank Megan Savage – trust, patience, belief and staying power – I’m eternally grateful for these qualities that supported me and for being an outstanding mother to our three ‘Savlings’. It’s a privilege to now see you fly through your Masters degree and build on your awesome Coaching and Counselling super-powers.
  • My first client. I thank Anthea – seeing you achieve your goals remains an inspiration and a testament to what’s possible with courage and vision.
  • To those who told me I’d never succeed running four-day deep-dive trainings – With genuine appreciation, you made me more determined to prove it could be done.
  • For the inspiration to follow a different path: I thank my Uncle Klaus for pointing out when I was a kid, ‘there’s more than one path in life’ and Carlos Castenada for describing the ‘path with heart’.

So, what does the future hold?

I’ve been thinking hard about this.

I’m now winding down the business and will instead plant a few hundred pear trees, religiously watch them grow, harvest the fruit and then bottle and sell them at the local farmers market. That’s not true, but it’s a genuinely attractive idea … maybe for later on in life.

The truth – Elevate continues as it is. Training more people to lead wth integrity, spark change and make a positive difference is still the mission. The formula of coaching and training is a little like alchemy and I love seeing people turn insight into action and from it create change.

THANK YOU to all those I’ve mentioned who’ve been part of this last twenty-years and to all my clients – I love this work and I appreciate you greatly!

I hope these insights are useful. Here’s to the next twenty-years … or maybe five, asides from growing pear trees, the mission also evolves.

Take risks,

David Savage

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

COVID-19 Lockdown. Lessons Learned for your Organisation.

COVID-19 Lockdown. Lessons Learned for your Organisation.

Bring the learnings from the lockdown in to your business.
Emerge stronger, wiser and better.

Most organisations value the ‘lessons learned’ concept, yet not all apply it well or reshape how they work from the insights gained. However, doing this well can mean huge opportunities are achieved. With COVID-19, it’s essential that an organisation learns from the experience to enable it to function in a now changed world.

This resource features questions and process you can adapt to perform your own lessons learned review: Download by clicking this link: http://elevatecoaching.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Lockdown-Lessons-Learned-Free-Resource.pdf

This is a free resource I’ve created intended to help. We’re in this together, so let’s emerge together stronger, wiser and better!

(Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash)

The Triple A Response Model

The Triple A Response Model

Please meet the ‘Triple A Model’, designed to help navigate sudden change. Much of what I do when I’m facilitating, is to simplify the process of working through complexity, help people focus and take action on what’s most important and engage the collective brain. The Triple A model covers those bases to achieve positive outcomes.

Here’s a screen grab of the model…

Understanding the model:

Event. A sudden change event occurs, demanding immediate response and departure from BAU. Without response, negative impacts increase.

Adapt. Understand the new landscape that needs adapting to. Getting clear on your current reality and defining the new operating boundaries is important for prioritisation and decision making.

Adopt. Adopt strategies that will meet your priorities and respond to critical risks. This is where you plan and take action to respond to the situation.

Aspire. Aspire to overcome challenges. Plot key milestones. Tracking your progress in the short term is critical. Ask, ‘Where do we want to be tomorrow/end of week/month’ to install a sense of mission and set focus.

Outcomes. Build resilience from lessons learned. Seize new opportunities. Emerge stronger, wiser and better in a changed world.

Contact me for a PDF outline of the ‘Triple A Model’ and supporting notes

A few notes:

Background. The Triple A Model simplifies complexity to a workable ‘get started’ point and has a resolute solution focus. It’s influenced by working alongside the British Army, (late 90’s) and working on the Christchurch earthquake rebuild, blended too with 17 years experience as a Leadership Coach and Trainer.

Scale. The model can be scaled to take a business-wide view, team view or individual view.

Timing. Application can be immediately after an event to quickly develop a response plan OR a few days/weeks afterwards to regroup and broaden strategy within the new landscape. It can also be modified as a retrospective learning tool.

Need help?

There are plenty of pointers here for you to work with, but if you’re looking for some targeted facilitation and the Triple A Model makes sense, then let’s talk – I can facilitate by digital conference or in person depending on current restrictions.

Crayfish & Conflict

Crayfish & Conflict

How a scuba diving emergency illustrates key principles of conflict resolution

Twenty-metres down and I feel a tug on my fin… my buddy signals he’s out of air, his eyes wide and face full of fear… as everything slipped into slow-motion, my first thought was clear, ‘How are we going to get the crayfish now?’

This is a story I share on the Communication Leadership training, about a scuba dive trip that went wrong and how it illustrates key principles in conflict resolution.

I’ll save the details of the full story and the relevance of the crayfish for people on the training, but here are a few key principles;

  1. Keep yourself safe: This is perhaps the golden rule of conflict resolution. In the same way I needed to bite down harder on my mouth piece as my panicking buddy tried to rip it out of my mouth, you need to keep your self safe in a conflict scenario.
  2. Direct your energy to where it counts: When people are in conflict, it’s easy to go off on tit-for-tat tangents. Focus instead on getting the practical needs that matter met. A little like directing my spare regulator (mouth piece) towards my buddy’s mouth so he could breathe again.
  3. Stay tuned-in: As I began an emergency assent with my buddy, I maintained eye contact, letting him know I was 100% with him to get through the situation. This is like giving someone your full attention to solve a problem. If your mind is wandering, they will know and that can make things worse.
  4. Control the situation: As we got closer to the surface, I needed to steadily deflate my buoyance jacket, (B.C.D.) to avoid shooting upwards too fast. This is like moving through a conflict resolution process; don’t rush it, make each step count to control the situation to get the best possible outcome.
  5. A slip is not a fall. As we broke the surface, my buddy panicked again. But a slip is not a fall; it didn’t mean we were in for a bad ending. Use what you know to regain traction and reposition the focus where it’s useful. I pushed my buddy away, dived underneath him and levelled him out by pulling down on his shoulders. This calmed him and we were back out of danger.
  6. Call for help. You don’t need to resolve all conflict on your own. Who can help you? Once stable on the surface I gave an emergency signal for the boat to come over, they pulled him on board and took over from there. Sometimes it’s better to step back and ask someone else to step in. They may have the knowledge, process or mana that can help.

These are just some of the key principles that can help when resolving conflict. Others include clarifying techniques to create greater precision in your understanding, building rapport to build trust, leading with generosity even when others show little, and creating a partnership frame that solves problems collaboratively.

As a final note, conflict resolution is seldom sustainable if achieved on a win-lose basis. Win-lose often means the fight is not over. The leadership opportunity is to resolve conflict on a win-win basis – this may require letting go of the ‘ego’, but it values good relationships and recognises that more can be achieved collaboratively.

Lack lustre team performance: Ten questions to ask!

Lack lustre team performance: Ten questions to ask!

What are the signals of lack-lustre team performance, and what are the solutions? David Savage shares the questions he looks to get answered when starting to coach a new team.

#1: Commitment: Does everyone in the team want to be in the team?

There’s a difference between being committed to the job for the salary versus a commitment that’s driven by a love for the job. With the latter, you’ll have people who are excited by what they do and seek to be outstanding. Getting this right will mean having a team that strives to meet aspirations versus a team that meets just the minimum requirement.

Solutions: Hire the right people, expect the best, have honest conversations around performance and motivation.

#2: Communication: Where on the spectrum between Combative and Collaborative communication does the team sit?

How a team talks to each other is an indicator of what the team can achieve together. Making the most of the team’s Collective Intelligence depends on how well people are heard and how their ideas are responded to. Shut one person down and you’ve lost the full computing power of their brain and therefore the full benefit of their creativity and expertise.

Solution: Don’t leave collaborative communication to chance, train Communication Excellence

#3: Cohesive Purpose: How well bonded is the team to its purpose? Is it clear? Is it shared? Is it compelling?

The difference between a team and a group? A group simply has a common interest. A team has a common purpose that it actively works towards achieving. This is a greatest opportunity for a leader to build cohesion within the team. Have a clearly defined purpose for the team, that everyone describes in the same way and links to the contribution that team makes to the bigger picture.

Solution: Have your team collectively define it’s purpose, make sure it outlines the difference your team makes to the people they serve.

#4: Leadership Presence: How does the team’s Manager feature within the team? Does he/she have ‘presence’ when present, and does that enable the team or subdue it?

The team’s leader is the team’s key influencer; Leaders can set the mental and emotional tone for others whenever present. So what effect is that presence having on the team? If a leader is pessimistic a team can struggle to cut through and perform at it’s best . If a leader is solution focused, the team has someone to model, especially through tough times!

Solutions: Model the right behaviours, enable thinking, value everyone and facilitate creativity.

#5: Participation: In team meetings, does everyone participate or is it the same few who do most of the talking?

Some team meetings can turn out to be a conversation between just two or three people, with everyone else hanging back denied airtime. The risk is that time is wasted, people switch off and decisions are driven by a few.

Solution: When you need people’s ideas, take a workshop approach and not an open forum approach. I.e. “We need ideas on X, in pairs lets get as many as possible in five minutes and then we’ll share as a group”.

#6: Fun: How much fun is the team having together?

Fun is an indicator of creative potential. If a team can laugh together, it can create together – creativity in the brain is helped when people are relaxed and comfortable with others around them. A team having fun signals it’s in a ‘toward state’ and primed for creative thinking.

Solution: Recognise fun as a value and value it’s contribution.

#7: Tracking: Does everyone in the team have a high-level overview of who is doing what?

For everyone in the team to intimately know who is working on what and the specific details of their day-to-day activity would create a huge information overload. At the same time, with no visibility of others in the team, there’s no cross-pollination and peer support is at risk.

Solution: Know the basics on a week to week basis: Who has what priority, support needed from the team, recent successes, current challenges

#8: Development: Are people growing in ways meaningful to them through the work they are doing?

More than just a job. As I alluded to in question one, (Does everyone in the team want to be in the team?) – a job is more than a job when there’s a passion for the work. Ideally, theses are the people to populate your team with. But what’s this ‘passion’ thing? I link it strongly to Intrinsic Motivation, a state when a person – through their work – has autonomy, mastery and purpose. Focusing in on mastery, this is when someone is developing skills, knowledge and/or experience that is meaningful to them.

Solution: Ask your people, ‘Where do you want this job to take you and how do you want to develop along the way?’

#9: Celebration: How well does the team celebrate success?

Celebrating successes – a nice-to-do activity or is it essential? I would say it’s the latter. If people work hard and achieve well, then let them know they’ve made a difference. In a team culture, celebrating builds cohesion, it signals the fulfilment of purpose and inspires others.

Solution: Acknowledge others on a regular basis. Make it tangible; what they achieved, the value it added and what is now possible.

#10: Pressure: When the pressure is on, does the team pull together or pull apart?

Possibly the biggest indicator of a team’s ability to perform, is how it performs under pressure. Do people ask for help when they need it? Are people willing to cross-the-floor and help out where needed? When one person can’t deliver, do other parts of the team flex to take the strain? Does creativity increase or does the blame game start?

Solution: Upfront, set the right expectations for when the pressure is on. Build a team where people care for each other and will step-up for each other. Keep it solution focused.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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