In October 2018 I published MicroLeadership™. This book was my view of the changing dynamic of leadership that would be needed in a future that was what the military term VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
There has never been a time in living memory, for most us at least that VUCA describes better – certainly not at the macro level. MicroLeadership™ was born out of a frustration for the old knowledge is power idiom descended from the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the organisation where order and control were the dominant methodologies designed to achieve the main objective or efficiency. Through efficiency came profit.
It was clear to me that as workplaces changed, the work we do is changed and the people employed to do this work also changed we needed to take a fresh look at how business is led.
The current pandemic has hastened a future state of work that many had foreseen, and yet none had anticipated happening under such a revolution of change, versus the anticipated relatively slow evolution.
It seems like overnight the future state of work has arrived and as such the need for leaders to adapt their approach has also become a necessity rather than an ideal or a concept.
Over the past month I have been observing the responses of various governments and organisations to this crisis and what has become very clear to me is that the concepts and ideals that are contained in MicroLeadership™ are the behaviours and actions that are making a difference and will lead us through this crisis.
This is not a piece where I am self-congratulating, quite the contrary. I am sharing this because I want to help as many as I can to respond to the crisis we are in and I truly believe that much of tenets of Microleadership™ is precisely what is needed at government level, organisational level and indeed individual family level.
MicroLeadership was based on the concept of marginal gains – where small individual actions replicated time and again cumulate to make a significant difference. For those who want to really understand marginal gains you only have to look at this graphic here (courtesy of Robert AJ Signer PHD) regarding the pandemic.
The very concept of social distancing is a marginal gains theory in action. By 1 person changing their actions the potential infection rate reduces over 30 days from 406 to 15, or with even more application to just 2.5.
This is why just the simple habit of washing our hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap is effective.
The problem with marginal gains is always about convincing people of their worth – because the impacts are so small initially. On the diagram above if we look at the 5-day level the change only means 1 fewer person is infected at the 50% reduction rate. It feels like all that effort to just stop me infecting 1 person – but it is when this impact is cumulated over time that we see the difference.
It is the same in leadership – when we make small changes to our routines and approach as leaders we may not initially see the impact, Yet as time progresses, and we continue to commit we will start to see the difference that it makes.
I was yesterday reading a report from McKinsey on leadership in the crisis and one of the findings, based on their survey of a significant number of global leaders was that in times of crisis Leadership and Direction are the biggest organisational capabilities needed.
One of the principles that build on marginal gains in MicroLeadership™ is Set the Square – this is all about providing clarity of direction and expectations. If we look at the current response in UK for a moment, the government initially laid out some loose guidance as to what to do, and of course many abused this or looked for ways round it. This is why on March 23rd Boris Johnson held his press conference and placed the nation into lockdown with very clear statements as to what is and what is not allowed. In other times these measures would be draconian in the extreme but in the current situation there were exactly what was required to help create the shift in behaviour to allow marginal gains to work. Set the Square is a crucial concept for us all to lead through this crisis at every level successfully.
In my book I go on to describe 6 habits that I felt represented a way to codify the behaviours and characteristics of the most successful leaders and high performers – particularly those working in consequential environments.
I am going to share these with you again now and briefly describe their relevance in the global pandemic.
Live to Serve:
Our role as leaders is not to further our own needs but to put the needs of those around us first. Just look at the leadership being shown by every single member of our healthcare system every day, who know the personal risk and choose to show up and do their bit for others, serving them. This is what true leadership looks like – having the courage to set aside my own personal agenda for the good of the total.
As leaders in a crisis we have to set aside our own needs and wants and make the right decisions for the good of the whole – and find ways to support one another. We are here to serve our people and we must never forget that when we get promoted and given the flash job title and the pay rise, that money and that status is bestowed on us BECAUSE we now have a responsibility to help the people who are in our care.
Every people manager on this planet of ours should take their lead from our wonderful healthcare workers and serve others before you serve yourself.
Be a Connector:
This habit is driven by the basic premise that we are better off together than we are operating individually. This is all about our need to work with others, collaborate rather than compete and connect ideas, with principles with people to create better outcomes and drive innovation.
From the recent geo-political growth of nationalism and the debacle of Brexit this global pandemic has heightened our realisation that no one nation or government, or indeed no one company can fight his alone.
Look at Trump’s decision to ground all flights from Europe, taken without consultation with European heads of state, add on his comments calling Covid-19 the Chinese disease. Well look at the US now and what will his rhetoric be when the US needs help from other countries to cope as we pull ourselves through this.
The breakthrough to this pandemic cannot be found by one country or team alone. It requires the combined efforts of us all to help beat this.
In our enforced social distancing, it has never been more important to stay connected. We took for granted, perhaps the value of our ability to chat and talk to people face to face. Now I believe we truly do value the worth of human connection.
Find a way
The ability to face into setbacks and dust ourselves off and keep trying to find a solution – the ability of humans to be creative and discover new ways to solve our problems.
When human beings are forced to think differently there is no limit to the ingenuity that is found. Look at the current climate we operate in and yet teams, leaders and even families are finding ingenious ways to work around the challenges. No, we can’t do everything we did before, but we can still build into our lives worth and value and find ways to make the best of what is a really challenging time. The indomitable spirit if humans is evident to see.
By having resilience and working together we are creating new solutions to the biggest problems. Look at the London Nightingale Hospital – who would have thought that an exhibition centre could be converted into a hospital in a matter of 10 days. This is an example of people coming together, setting aside the barriers and making things happen because it is needed.
We need leaders who are decisive and willing to take action – even more so in times of difficulty. We need leaders who are going to stand up and be counted and are going to use the very best data and analysis to identify opportunities and then take decisive action. We also need leaders who have empathy and courage.
I personally would not like to be a member of the government at this time. When you are facing a challenge the likes of which has never been seen before you have to make tough decisions and you have to do this based on the best information to hand. Knowing that it is incomplete and knowing that what you do may not be perfect, but it is the best option in the current climate.
Dare to Fail
This is all about being willing to take risks and look to identify success through the iterative process of failure and learning. When there is no right answer there is also no wrong answer – and the only way we get closer to finding the best answer is to keep trying and learning.
In this pandemic we are seeing business everywhere trying different ways to keep themselves going, and not everything they try will work but the best will use feedback and information to help them to navigate a path towards a successful outcome.
It is the same for those who will be fighting to find a vaccine or better treatments. They will be trying things and not everything will work. On a micro level this will be heart breaking for some families because they will lose loved ones. Yet as we fight to save many more we will learn from each and this will help us become more effective at not only treating but also preventing more cases. On route to finding a vaccine there will be thousands of things that don’t work – but eventually we will find what does and that will be the breakthrough the world is waiting for.
Live in the Gap
This is all about our ability to identify opportunities and to be innovative – through a thorough analysis of the situation.
In the McKinsey report I shared earlier the single biggest organisational capability it is anticipated we will need post the crisis was innovation.
There are already business that are using their analysis of this situation and will thrive. This is not profiteering; this is offering a valuable service that is needed in tough times. We can be critical of business who are doing well because of this situation but as long as they are being ethical, and they are providing value to all of us who need what they have then fair play to them.
Live in the Gap is also at the heart of the UK government policy to lower the curve of this pandemic and its impact on the NHS. The gap in this instance is between the rate of infection and the capacity of the NHS. The whole strategy is about maintaining and building this gap so that we can effectively manage the crisis and save lives.
If ever there was a more relevant way to examine Live in the Gap this is it.
I hope this short piece has helped you to consider perhaps how you might be able to adopt these 6 habits to help you think about your own business and or personal response to the crisis.
On Friday 3rd April at 9.30am I am going to be hosting a webinar entitled “Leading through the crisis”
To book your place on this FREE webinar simply click: https://mailchi.mp/909ed36a8dbc/leading-through-the-crisis-and-beyond
To purchase your own copy of Microleadership(TM) click here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Microleadership-Haydn-Bratt/dp/1916480500/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GH87WPSEVEOX&keywords=microleadership&qid=1585481561&sprefix=microbe%2Caps%2C143&sr=8-1