"What does leadership look like, in this situation?"

Like many organisations, the business that I work for has gone and is going through massive amounts of change. We’ve expanded our workforce by almost 30% over the last year, with the bulk of that expansion happening in one week as we insourced a previously-outsourced component of our business. To get the business ready for the insourcing, there was a large restructure resulting in an almost entirely brand new management team, and an enormous amount of work to do to get the various aspects of the business ready (from a process, people and technological point of view) to service the expanded employee base.

While the “Go Live” date has been and gone, the fall out of gaps in the process, incomplete aspects of the project, and people who are struggling to adjust to the new environment is becoming increasingly apparent.

I believe in the notion of ‘leadership at all levels’ – that is, it doesn’t matter whether you have any formal authority or not, you can model the qualities of leadership in your job without needing any permission from anyone to do so. “What does leadership look like, in this situation?” is a question that has been burning at my insides for weeks. “What is required from me, here? When I see problems and people struggling, what is my response?”

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of massive change which has also been accompanied by a tsunami of niggling issues to resolve – human beings tend to love certainty and comfort, and one way to provide that for yourself is to retreat from the issues that you see and silo yourself off from the whole. But “I’ll just work on my bit” doesn’t work when each part of the organisation is so interconnected that “your bit” has big implications for the effectiveness of “everyone else’s bits”.

When thinking about what's possible in a situation, we also need to acknowledge the constraints of the situation. A few that I've picked up over the last decade that are relevant here include that:

  1. It is usual for businesses to struggle with some combination of ill-fitting process, inept people, and technology that leaves something to be desired - perfection is highly unlikely, but great is always a possible outcome;
  2. I can’t change others, but I can change myself; and
  3. Change takes time, but that doesn’t mean that I give up on pushing for great outcomes.

Thus, in the current context, leadership (to me) looks like:

  1. Holding myself to the standard of behaviour that I want to see, rather than expecting to see other people modelling it first;
  2. Taking responsibility for being part of the solution, even if the problem is not squarely in my area;
  3. Being gentle but absolutely relentless about getting issues resolved;
  4. Being gentle but absolutely relentless in challenging behaviours that are damaging to what the organisation is trying to achieve;
  5. Building bridges to those parts of the organisation where we are having the most issues – this has included me choosing to set up my desk in the middle of “enemy terrain” several mornings a week so that relationships can be built, questions can be asked and answered, and information can be shared;
  6. Letting go of my usual, comfortable way of communicating (I confess, I prefer email and I hate to talk on the phone) and appearing in person whenever I want to discuss something; and
  7. Constantly reiterating to my team what I want from them – I have become a broken record with my slogans of “build a bridge”, “partner with”, “lead by example”, and “do it once, do it right” (With this skill, I suspect I could be the next prime minister of Australia).

I have found that it has become easier for me to remain engaged with the difficulty of the situation when the standard of good that I'm measuring to is one that I can control - that is, when I'm measuring myself and my behaviour, and not someone or something else. 

What about you? How could you be modelling leadership in your current situation?