The nCovid pandemic has been one of the longest running crises of recent times and in different ways, it has tested grit and leadership of everyone. I am an introverted person but an extroverted leader. While the typical traits of being an introvert conserve my energies, it is the extroversion in my leadership style that drives me to purposeful assertiveness at work. In my role in manufacturing of consumer products I have been experiencing convergence of multiple leadership lessons during this unending crisis.
As a woman in manufacturing, I am often seen as an aberration. This sentiment was especially visible in the men when I started my job at the factory, a few years back. Now, I realize that I had then made unfounded assumptions about other people’s opinion about me. Those assumptions would then make me second-guess my status and authority as a leader, and I would often recoil into my shell. I had begun to show self-doubt that further reassured my baseless assumptions giving way for developing imposter syndrome. It took me sometime before I learnt how to positively pivot my assumptions, making me confident and authentic in my leadership style.
“So, what if they think I do not know everything about machines?; They can bring the technical expertise, and I can help by removing their roadblocks so we can solve problems together”.
Lesson # 1: Do not assume
Crisis situations are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. You cannot see beyond a certain distance and decisions are made (and sometimes changed) by the minute. Assumptions, positive or negative, can set you on a path of false perceptions. In a dynamic situation nothing is worse than having a leader who is influenced by perceptions and assumptions. While the team on the ground has been putting their back in ensuring reliable production of essential products for the consumer, my job has been to ensure that the team feels safe and meaningful to come to work. It did get chaotic at times but I stayed empathetic yet firm with everyone’s health as a priority. Crises will bring more bad news than good and it is the leader’s job to show up each time.
Lesson # 2: Be Present
Being present is way more than just arriving physically. With only essential production crew at the site, my team and I had to evolve into a virtual connectedness that we were not used to. We could see each other but only on zoom/skype calls. This would go on for hours everyday because a successful factory needs regular connection between its teams. After initially tiring ourselves with numerous hours of meetings, team and I decided that we needed a cure for this heightened digital fatigue. Therefore, we designed an effective meeting protocol. Number of meetings were cut to half and every meeting was mandated to have one decision-maker representing his/her team. This way we could move ahead faster with fewer people and in lesser time. Several managers had to learn to let go of their need to control everything! It has helped build capabilities and has elevated the team’s trust in one other. Such practices continue to conserve energies to be invested where they are really required.
Crises will bring more bad news than good, and it is the leader’s job to show up each time.
Lesson # 3: Act>Reflect> Improve>Act..
Bias for action is my signature presence. The pandemic experience has reinforced my belief that progress is better than perfection. The time that you can lose in trying to perfect an action may cost you the opportunity to act at all. My team at work has been exemplary in their ability to weather the harshest conditions and expectations while being fully compliant in every way. The unspoken language of common purpose ensured that our quick actions were always towards the same goal. There were mistakes made and forgiven because of clear strategic intent.
Progress is better than perfection.
The pandemic is still far from over and it may not be the last crisis that we will face as a human collective. Bankable leadership abilities that one applies in such situations must be practiced daily so they can become habits. I am part of a team that rises to meet every occasion with courage and compassion. It humbles me and reminds me of my responsibility as their leader to always help them win.
When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents courage and the other, opportunity