Good Leadership? It’s Still the Simple Things That Count.

By Heather Campbell

We’re still in full lock-down herein Scotland with things easing in other parts of the UK. A visit to the garden centre in Wales, to play golf in Northern Ireland and to meet a friend in the park in England are all now possible… so much appreciation for the little things we took for granted just three months ago. As I catch up with friends around the world, it’s fascinating to hear how we are all dealing with the situation as we emerge from our suspended lives, little by little.

Even as we do so, there’s a sense that we’re all looking forward to the point when this is all over. The calm after the storm. The fixed point in time when victory over Covid-19 is announced. I suspect ‘the end’ will be so gradual that we won’t even realise it has happened, if indeed there is ‘the end’. We’ll have got used to lots of little changes along the way.  

But, whether it’s an obvious moment or an imperceptible transition, as leaders we know we can’t wait for everything to right itself again. We’re leading people NOW. But how do we do that in this strange world? Ultimately, the same way as we did before. The situation has changed; people haven’t.

As human beings we have some very simple drivers – to feel safe; to feel that those we love are safe; to feel that we are making a useful contribution; and to feel valued and respected by those who matter to us. Every organisation I speak to at the moment is looking at ways to make sure that people feel safe at work from a physical perspective. Many are exploring how to give emotional safety as well through various schemes to support mental health and well-being.

When it comes to making a useful contribution, and to helping people feel valued and respected, people ask for five things from their leaders:

  • Tell me what you expect from me 
  • Give me the resources to deliver this
  • Listen to me
  • Tell me (respectfully) when I’m meeting your expectations
  • Tell me (respectfully) when I’m not meeting your expectations and help me get back on track

It has always been the simple things that counted; it still is. Yes, emotions are likely to be running higher at the moment than normal and many people are feeling a little fragile, so you may get more pushback or a little less enthusiasm. You may be feeling a little bit less enthusiastic yourself at times.

Maybe you can’t set objectives for the next 12 months; timeframes seem to be more like weeks or even days with so much changing rapidly. Resources are undoubtedly tighter for just about every organisation, so this may be more about providing the basics to get the job done safely. Listening is no easier or harder than it has ever been, and it is just as free as always before. And respectful conversations that help people know when they are doing well, and to stay on track when they aren’t, will still motivate and encourage.

We don’t need to treat the people we lead with kid gloves, we just need to treat them like human beings. Just as we have always needed to do.

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