In the face of complexity and risk, the simplest solutions are generally the best ones.

These are indeed challenging times for anyone responsible for managing and leading initiatives, teams, and functions. It might seem as if answers are hard to come by, yet, the fundamentals of effective leadership never go out of style. It’s a great time to review and then double-down on these powerful behaviors.

Three Things People Need from Their Leaders

From the research focused on leading in dangerous situations—a reasonable proxy for this environment—we learn there are three issues everyone is looking for in leaders

  1. Competence—Are you technically competent at your job?
  2. Credibility—Does your do match your tell?
  3. Caring—Do you genuinely care about my safety and success?

If you read no further than here, what are you doing every day and in every encounter to reinforce these three with emphasis on numbers two and three?

Double-down on reinforcing the core leadership behaviors daily.

Connection and Context Are Key to the Mission

In my third of a century leading, I’ve never seen an exception to the essential need to help individuals connect their work to the mission. When this connection exists, there is the context for their work, and purpose provides the fuel that drives effort.

Yet, in too many environments, managers under-communicate, sometimes in an attempt to shield people from the situation’s realities. This is a formula for failure.

Do everything you can to share the situation with people. In a turnaround crisis, we met with the management team almost daily to review the fundamentals, including our cash balance. And then we sent them back to update their teams and bring ideas to life to navigate the moment’s problems.

Transparency about the realities of the situation nails all three of the leadership criteria identified above. You show you respect people enough to give them the straight story. This respect fuels their focus on their work and on identifying new ways to navigate the crisis. While the work is short-sighted, the long-run isn’t relevant when survival is on the line.

Double-down on communicating reality.

The Almost Magical Properties of Respect and Trust

While there is no Philosopher’s Stone for leadership that magically turns a bad situation into a good one, there are two attributes of effective leaders that almost magically combine to create a great environment in the worst of settings: respect and trust.

Showcasing your respect for someone begets trust, and trust begets performance.

Humans are incredibly sensitive to the difference between danger and safety. We tune into subtle cues about how our leaders view us and whether they respect us as individuals and trust us to do our jobs. If the signals suggest respect is not there and trust absent from the relationship, we go into defend mode. Defend mode is the last place you want your team members to be in challenging circumstances.

My counsel is to find a swim buddy—someone who can give you the honest, blunt truth about you and your behaviors. Ask them to observe and tune-in to the tells that might suggest you don’t trust your team members. And then, change your actions.

When people feel respected and trusted, they are free to create, innovate, and collaborate effectively.

Double-down on respect and trust.

Your Primary Responsibility Not Listed in Your Job Description

Above all others, your primary task is to create an environment for individuals and groups to do their best work.

The concept sounds abstract, but it is in play every single day.

Everything thus far in this article feeds into the notion of creating an effective working environment. Respect, trust, communication, and context are all components of an effective working environment. Yet, there are more ingredients that only you as the manager control.

How strong are the values that bind people together and govern how they work with each other?

How active is the environment for helping people develop and deploy their superpowers?

How forgiving is the environment when the challenge to grow results in momentary failure?

If you’re not working on the environment every day as a leader, entropy takes root and chips away at attitudes and performance.

Double-down on creating and strengthening the effective working environment.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

We’re all searching for answers, and too often, as leaders, we put all the pressure on ourselves. In reality, the answers are out there waiting to be discovered with our teams and colleagues. It’s time to refocus your energy away from you and onto them. It’s time to double-down on the timeless behaviors of effective leadership.

Art's Signature