Living and Leading in Turbulent Times

My recent period of turbulent times started innocently enough – with a neighbour giving us a bunch of wilting Sweet Pea plants (Lathyrus odoratus). The plants were not showing much sign of life, so I decided to save them. What then followed were a series of challenging events which, taken in the whole, have provided some valuable lessons for life. But this is not a horticultural blog so what I’ve looked for is how life informs leadership, and vice versa.

Now that I’m almost freed from the shackles of daily commercial endeavour, I find I take more valuable time to reflect on the lessons that life throws at me. My friend and Guest Author Domingos Silva put it so well in his recent Blog article: “I never lose. I either win or learn”. Domingos in turn was quoting from Nelson Mandela.

What were my challenging events – my turbulent times – and what were the lessons for life and leadership?

I will start out with the lessons for life and leadership. I just love creating new management models, so to face up to turbulent times, here goes with my brand spanking new and shiny ‘Four R’s Model’:

Resolve. Start out by visualising the end state. Focus on what you really want to achieve – your Goal. Be clear and honest about your intentions and expected positive outcomes. Before you start, reframe yourself from any negative or defeatists thinking. Be alert to your own behavioural and emotional reactions to the situation. What self-imposed restrictions might these be placing on you? Ensure you understand all the variables and influencing factors – the current Reality.

Relationship. Who can help you and how? Who do you need to reach out to? This can be direct contact with people who can either help you think things through (coaching or sparring), or ‘experts’ who can advise you or do things for you. It can also be indirect resources you can access such as books, publications, videos or the Internet. How do you influence others to want to help you and apply their experience and expertise to your immediate needs?

Resilience. This means recovering quickly from a particular kind of stress caused by setbacks or adversity. Demonstrating confidence, adaptability and flexibility in the face of turbulence. Displaying energy and stamina in meeting challenging goals. Looking for options and alternative ways of achieving the outcome. Being persistent. Sticking to what you want, no matter what happens. Not getting diverted, distracted or defeated. Remaining calm in both mind and body.

Reflection. Taking time to reflect and learn. Not just learning about the specific situation or events you have dealt with but also what general lessons for life have come your way? “I never lose. I either win or learn”. Don’t spend too much time looking back. The value comes from looking forward and asking yourself some sharp questions. What were the early signs I should have spotted that I was about to hit some turbulence? What other options would be available to me in the future? What did I learn about myself: my resourcefulness, resilience and relationships? Who can I rely on again in the future?

Let me now briefly describe each turbulent ‘event’ and reflect on the Four R’s Model lessons for life and leadership I took from each of them.

TURBULENT TIMES 1 – SWEET PEAS

The limp and lifeless Sweet Pea plants represent that low performing team you inherit. Morale is low. Your predecessor has moved on and quite frankly left a mess. Perhaps the top performers have already left or are in the process of so doing.

My approach was to take it as a personal challenge that not only would the plants survive, but they would flourish and bloom. You can see from the picture that this came to pass. I gave those plants a daily dose of attention. Yes, I spoke to them. I encouraged them. I told them I believed in them.

The ‘R’ model lessons? Resolve & Resilience including a big dose of Persistence.

Quotes from others:

Never, never, never give up” – Winston Churchill.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” – Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom.

TURBULENT TIMES 2 – IDENTITY FRAUD

Whilst on a recent holiday in France I was a victim of a scam (‘victime d’une arnaque’ in French). The fraudsters started by getting hold of my credit card credentials from a pay-at-the-pump petrol station on the Autoroute. I was about 2 hours from my final destination at this time, so they had time to do their research. They managed to access my online banking and change the password, which effectively locked me out. The sneaky thing they did next you could almost admire them for – almost! Armed with information about my payments to my mobile phone operator they called them, blagged their way past security and reported my phone missing. This was intended to stop me calling my bank, or even getting the warning text message to say something was adrift. I am writing about this partly as a warning to others. On reflections (one of the ‘Rs’ in my model) I realised it was my laziness that made this identify fraud all too easy for the criminals. Here are the lessons.

Resolve. Despite the best efforts of the fraudsters I did get the text from my bank saying my password had been changed and if this wasn’t me I should call them. The lesson is to act quickly when something like this happens. The leadership lesson is to stay alert to what is happening around you. In this case, minutes count. My goal – to ensure I did not lose any money. And I didn’t – but I did not know the risks at the time the text arrived. You learn quickly.

Relationship. I got the text message from the bank shortly after we arrived at our friend’s house in the South of France where we were staying for a few days. I immediately had the best brains available to me to think the situation through, try to second guess the fraudsters and what they might do next. When I spoke to the bank and the credit card company I used my coaching skills. I built the relationship quickly. I reached out and asked for help. I explored the reality of the situation – what was their experiences in similar situations. I explored options with the telephone agents. What can I do to help myself? The leadership lesson is that your coaching skills apply in many aspects of life and work.

Resilience. It felt as though I had gone into battle. In fact I spent a lot of time carved out from our holiday to deal with this fraud. Calls back to the bank. Arranging to withdraw cash from a local bank. It was only when I went to use an ATM and call my bank to temporarily lift the restriction on my card that I realised my mobile phone was locked out. Keep cool. Think ahead. Keep others involved and engaged. Make things safe – in this case, I changed all of my passwords in case the fraudsters had bigger plans for my money! There are three leadership competencies I use which apply in this situation: ‘Self Insight’; ‘Leadership Agility’ ‘Executive Disposition’. I have in my forward plan to write blog articles about the first two. The last one I have already written about under the title of ‘Executive Presence’. It continues to surprise me how many times this Blog article has been read. Maybe there are valuable lessons for me and I should read my own article again!

Reflection. I’m still reflecting on this experience a couple of months on. Some of the leadership learnings relate to competencies in my Coaches Toolkit on this website. Take a look at ‘Building Trust & Rapport’; ‘Challenging Perceptions’; ‘Levels of Listening’ (particularly important); ‘Moments of Truth’; ‘Purposeful Questions’; ‘Being Present’; ‘Being Curious’. Another reflection is about choosing good partners and suppliers. In this case I’m referring to NatWest Bank and their fraud centre at RBS. I started banking with NatWest as a student in the late 1960s. Perhaps its inertia that has kept me with them. There is nothing exceptional about their customer service. But where they have always scored with me is on security and fraud prevention. Nothing would tempt me to switch to one of the secondary banking organisations. I’m not convinced they have the infrastructure and resources to take care of situations like the one I experienced. The final reflection is about myself. I learnt the value of remaining grounded, of having clear goals and expectations that I stuck to and about projecting confidence towards others around me in challenging and turbulent situations.

Quotes from others:

“I never lose. I either win or learn” – Nelson Mandela again.

My friend and guest author Domingos Silva in his Mandela inspired article ‘I never lose – I either win or learn’ writes about setbacks “Every failure brings a seed of success”. Wise words indeed.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill again.

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing” – Abraham Lincoln.

TURBULENT TIMES 3 – HOUSEHOLD HASSLES

We had only been back from our holiday a few days and a series of household challenges struck in short succession. Let’s not go into the detail. Suffice it to say it involved drainage, plumbing, electrics and a fault on the car. These were irritating things that left me thinking that the gremlins were out to get me. Or at least, it would be very easy to get downhearted and succumb to that sort of negative thinking. But we are made of sterner stuff, aren’t we? Despite a number of minor setbacks in dealing with these issues I persevered and prevailed.

I leant about some technical things I had not previously experienced. However, the leadership lesson cannot be about learning about technicalities. This is for others – for the experts you employ – to know. The role of the leader is to understand enough of the technicalities to be able to get the best out of others. As Keith Svendsen says in my leadership interview: ‘Linking Coaching to Leadership Success’:

“The first thing to acknowledge is that, at a certain stage, the organisation gets to a size where you 100% rely on other people to deliver results. You cannot cope with it any more on your own. That is not true in smaller jobs. Even though you have teams, the teams are of a size where you can make sure you know everything that’s going on. Then what happens is you have the geographical disbursement. You are also starting to manage people with the classic problem where you don’t know their subject. And from knowing you are completely dependent on having the right team and for them to do the job, your role then is to unlock potential and engagement – getting them to do more”.

From a relationships point of view I learnt how to engage with experts when I need help. How to build trust and rapport. And how to get the best out of people that are working on your behalf. In terms of what I was doing these are the stakeholders, suppliers and colleagues I need to influence from a leadership point of view in turbulent times. In reality they were a plumber, an electrician and a car mechanic!

I’ll leave the last word with Keith:

Let me be clear, it is all about how to move forward, despite any previous limitations, and to realise the desired goal. People who succeed have motivation AND the successful performer holds high positive expectation around the goals they intend to deliver and exceed. As Leaders it is our role to make sure that our teams have high positive expectations towards the goals they are working on”– Keith Svendsen.