If nothing else, 2014 is sure to be an interesting year.
There are going to be the usual challenges for leaders and then, of course, there will be some curved balls as there always are. Two things are likely to dominate especially in the first half of the year – the global economy (of which South Africa is an inextricable part although some seem to wish it otherwise) and the looming National Elections which will all but consume us all in the first quarter of this year.
The global economy seems to be showing really encouraging signs of returning to levels of health we have not seen for a long time. However the consequences of this improving health may well be somewhat uncomfortable for us in the emerging economies for some time to come yet. The much heralded tapering of the US stimulus package, the sluggish improvement in Europe and some uncertainty in China and the East will all play out strongly in our economy. Much of this is so unpredictable and it is the unpredictability which is actually what the challenge is for leaders.
It seems likely that our elections are going to be hotly contested with politicians making outlandish statements, impossible promises and fairy-tale commitments all of which will result in a stirred up nation uncertain about the future. But this is the stuff of elections all over the world; certainly not unique to South Africa. And then the elections will be over , we will know what we have to deal with for the next few years and life will return to some semblance of normality.
So how should leaders be leading in conditions like these?
1. Be very clear about where you are going and where you want to take your organisation. Interact a lot with your colleagues about this and in so doing help them to feel that it is their vision or at the very least a co-created vision of the future. Make this a vision deep into the future, not just some short term action plan.
2. Communicate this vision with all the energy and with as much regularity as you can. Always try to do this in a way that the members of your organisation know what they have to do wherever they are in the organisation to contribute to the realisation of that vision. This will give your colleagues the confidence of a future worth fighting for.
3. Listen to your colleagues. I mean really listen so that when they are talking to you they know that you fully and 100% present and concentrated on what they are saying to you. Often we are so busy or feel that we are that we don’t give our colleagues the kind of respect they deserve and that respect includes giving them our full attention when they share something with us.
4. Avoid trying to communicate by e-mail unless there is absolutely no other alternative. And don’t think you are really communicating if you use the social media either. These modes provide only for snapshot information sharing. Real communication takes place best when it is eyeball to eyeball and in a hearty exchange.
5. Don’t shy away from emotions. When the conditions are highly charged such as they are likely to be for at the least the first half of this year people will be stressed and nervous and insecure. Let them vent their emotions but let them also know that they enjoy your support and that you are there to help and guide and advise whenever and as often as necessary. Having said all of this, do not allow emotions to outweigh good rational discourse and analysis. You need both. Remember emotion and motivation are just the opposite sides of the same coin. You cannot have the one without the other!
6. Use every opportunity you can to affirm and encourage and recognise effort as much as success. It is important to remember that effort is the precursor to success and we do not want people to stop making the effort especially in the face of difficult conditions and a singular lack of success simply because they think you either don’t recognise how hard they are trying or they believe that the only thing important to you is success in your eyes. Help people over the hump of effort so that they can see that success is not far away and that it will come if they keep making the effort. Of course, the effort must be directed and guided to make sure that everyone is heading in the same direction, but after all that is your primary job as the leader!
It has often been said that leadership is not for sissies. This is true. But it is also true that you don’t need to make it lonelier than it already is. Bury yourself in the bosom of the community you lead and you will draw enormous strength from the courage, support and encouragement that you find there!