Newsletter July 2021

26 Jul 2021

Rescuing leadership from fire-fighting mode

I had a rather nasty flu lately, lasting almost a week, and it got me to reflect about resilience.

I started to think that perhaps, after staying put and being cautious throughout most of the pandemic, our built-in immunity against the common cold might have weakened. We may no longer be as physically resilient as we were a couple of years ago.

Then I asked myself: how about emotional resilience? how about resilience at work?

When we consider our general abilities to collaborate (work, discuss, problem-solve, decide, co-create and co-deliver), I think we may have lost something more than what is usually discussed by most media; we are missing a lot more than just the personal contact with colleagues or the refreshing in-between-meetings chats. We might have weakened our ability to protect ourselves against the very contagious fire-fighting virus.

In October 2020, an HBR article (1) shared this simple reflection: “When the pandemic hit in March, many companies’ long-term plans and strategies were thrown out the window, as everyone from the frontlines to the C-suite shifted into fire-fighting mode… It’s often been exhausting… As a result, the past six months have felt more like six years to a lot of us.” Although this article specifically focused on the digital side of business, with unsustainably heavy demands of implementing remote technologies, I think these considerations apply to most other business areas.

The prolonged health challenge with the repeated roller-coaster of re-opening and re-closing, combined with unprecedented market uncertainties, have kept many organisations in a chasm of confusion. So far, very few organisations have managed to emerge from the profound abyss of collective anxiety in which conflicting crisis management attempts have resulted in endless reworks, micromanagement, occasional decision paralysis and increasingly frequent burn-outs.

Most of my Clients – across sectors and hierarchical level – admit of being exhausted or at least fatigued; many are confused and conflicted between new external demands and outdated internal processes; many also feel that they are spending too much time “doing” trivial work (i.e. constant anxiety-driven revisions of plans and processes) and too little time “thinking” bigger or “being” in productively collaborative conversations. Some managers continue to dig their heels in, obstinately attached to the past, and unrealistically advocate “going back to normal” or “getting back to our roots”.

Here is an example that emerged from one of our recent LIS WOMAN (2) Mastermind sessions: one of our Fabulous Ladies shared her struggles in having to comply with both new directives around “team empowerment” and outdated individual development discussions anchored into performance evaluations. In one especially paradoxical case she was supposed to “reprimand” a person for “resisting change” demanding an improvement in that area (!). During our Mastermind discussion it became evident that this is a frequent dilemma. Organisations often advocate the need to be swift, agile, positive and engaged, they may even remove some levels of management and opt for a flatter structure, but their processes remain the same. So people still waste time constantly fine-tuning presentations and reports to keep seniors informed or analysing past performance looking for culprit or weaknesses, instead of looking at the future that is emerging, to develop strategies that build on their combined and diverse richness. The only way to empower people is to trust, respect and recognise their uniqueness, rather than measuring them against standard criteria like if they are cogs in a wheel.

It is not enough to claim that we want – or need – to change the way we work if we do not exactly know how we want to implement it. Such profound changes require a complete Cultural Transformation. It is not enough to send a few people to leadership training or coach some executives to “be better” at adopting change. There is a need to clearly define how the changed organisation will be, how empowered teams look like, how their development discussions and compensation will be handled, etc.

Every leader and every team can contribute to ignite a discussion around this subject, but I strongly believe that we must put “Culture” on the CEO’s agenda; and we need to make it part of Governance. Exactly like what we did years ago with Safety. Once we define how the future Culture of the company will be, it will be easier to exit fire-fighting mode, design proactive strategies, update processes, choose effective training and align all intent.

At Grooa, we are passionate about “Cultural Transformation, one Courageous Conversation at a time”. So, do get in touch if you wish to have a Courageous Conversation about the Culture in your team, organisation, club, or even family.

Meanwhile, let me say, as always: take care and continue to …
… courageously Lead with a Smile!

Laura Lozza
Managing Partner, Grooa AS
Registered company address: Manglerudveien 93, 0678 Oslo (Norway)
Visiting address: Grooa Inspiria Learning Center, Den Hoek 33, 5421XG Gemert (Netherlands)

(1) B. Tabrizi: Put Employees at the Center of Your Post-Pandemic Digital Strategy – Oct 15, 2020
(2) LIS WOMAN is an exclusive “by invitation only” network of international businesswomen who are, or aspire to be, at Executive / C-suite / Board level. Membership gives the opportunity to network with like-minded Fabulous Ladies, either individually or in group, joining the weekly Wednesday hour in which we alternate inspiring Speakers, Vertical Development Training and facilitated Masterminds (peer-to-peer mentoring / free wheeling conversations).

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