As a leader, you may not be able to alter the adverse circumstances you and your team face – but you can choose how you respond.
Douglas Conant, writing for LinkedIn Pulse, has some practical advice on how to replace denial and procrastination with courageous leadership.
YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE
At a time of crisis, your team depends on you more than ever. Conant’s key message is that your response to the situation is your choice – and you must first recognise that you do always have a choice. You should then ensure the decision you make is the right one. Unfortunately, leaders are often tempted to take an easier but counterproductive approach.
Instead of avoiding the problem or convincing yourself it isn’t so serious, you should acknowledge it, be proactive and address it head-on.
DON’T IGNORE THE THORNY ISSUES
In a typical leader’s scenario, you have a long list of tasks and your inclination is to choose to tick off the easiest ones first. This reduces the size of your list, but the difficult issues you have chosen to ignore don’t just go away. The more you ignore them, the bigger those problems grow.
Although tackling problems sooner makes intellectual sense, many leaders fail to translate that logic into action. The way Conant describes it, avoiding a problem to make life easier for “today’s you” means simply dumping a much bigger problem at the doorstep of the “future you”.
Conant divides his advice on developing a better mindset for engaging with problems into the following four imperatives:
1) Recognise avoidance. There is a difference between relatively trivial moments of procrastination and the more serious matter of problem avoidance. The danger is that you not only delay the discomfort of dealing with the issue but develop it into a coping mechanism. You persuade yourself that it’s not important and just hope it will degenerate naturally if you deny it attention.
Be conscious of the fact that you sometimes do this – and try to catch yourself doing it. When you do, make sure you immediately take the important first step of recognising the problem exists and admitting its scale. You will then be in the right place to start addressing it.
2) Be courageous. A weak leader who runs away from difficult issues cannot expect to achieve strong results. Choosing to deal with problems decisively is an activity which can be monitored, measured, repeated, and formed into a habit.
Start by making a strategic decision to tackle the harder issues on your task list first each day. You will be more effective as a leader, and each time you do it your capacity for strong leadership will increase. You will find you are making bold decisions more of the time and turning into the courageous leader your team needs.
3) Dive in and assess each problem’s true scale. It’s important not to underestimate the seriousness of a problem, but once you decide to deal with it you will usually find it’s not actually as bad as you feared. Imagining the disaster your problem might cause, but not doing anything about it, is a recipe for stress. Taking action to evaluate and tackle it will give you a feeling of energisation and empowerment instead.
Begin with just one small action that takes you a step closer to resolving the issue. That could be as simple as opening the job file, making the necessary phone call, writing the memo or arranging the meeting.
4) Set an example. The way you behave, and your approach to handling situations, gives a lead to your team – so be a good model. If you tackle the hardest jobs first, face up to the uncomfortable conversations, and acknowledge and rectify your mistakes, you send out powerful positive signals.
By doing this you will encourage your team members to act in similar ways and you will gradually make this proactive behaviour part of your organisation’s culture.
GET STUCK IN
To summarise, when you see a problem arising:
- Don’t try to deny its existence or its seriousness
- Don’t procrastinate
- Don’t let it fester and grow
- Don’t avoid it or take the path of least resistance
Instead, be ready to make a bold choice and get your hands dirty. You’ll likely find it wasn’t as big a problem as you imagined. And by tackling it courageously you will not only resolve the issue but inspire your team to behave likewise.