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Reacting – in this phase we experience high levels of threat, uncertainty and are required to take uncomfortable action.
Stabilising – when we have lowered levels of threat, but need to guard against complacency, as there is a tendency to relax a bit (after all we have got through the Reacting Phase) we seek to engage everyone in finding new solutions and get everyone focused on working in the new operating environment.
Re-generating (notice not recovery) – there will be a natural desire that things return to normal, yet there will still be much uncertainty. If this is embraced, rather than seen as a threat, we can create our new future from our Higher Purpose and values. This creation process, as opposed to merely predicting the future and responding to it, is the single most important factor in determining which organisations will thrive as a result of this crisis, rather than just survive or worse.
Adaptive Leadership¹, focuses on connecting to people on a very human level, evoking leadership in everyone to work through this together, empowering and enabling teams to adopt new ways of working. Those leaders that engage and lead in this way during a crisis will build the most trust with their people and have the opportunity to start the process of regeneration. They recognise and embrace the seemingly intractable challenges rather than try to over prescribe and protect; they see the possibility for a new culture and new way of working through the crisis. As they are clear on being sourced from their Higher Purpose and their values, not from the old ways of how they did things, new opportunities emerged, for themselves, their people and the business. The organisations that best prepare for this opportunity at this time, are the ones who will succeed and contribute most to society’s needs.
The above diagram shows these three phases and their typical characteristics with the types of response required.
As you can see in figure 2 below, companies need to focus on three main things in each phase. To enable them to navigate these unchartered waters effectively and emerge stronger as a result. It is important to note that these phases are not linear. The greatest possibility for regeneration starts with how you lead right now, how you react, stabilise and engage people in the process.
In Reacting, it is even more important than ever to stay very closely connected to your Higher Purpose and Values, as the context for anything and everything you say or do. Our Higher Purpose sets our direction and our values combine to define who we are, these are things that will not change. During this phase it is so important to communicate what will not change since it provides a sense of balance and stability. It is important to Act and Communicate regularly, using many different channels. Ensuring people are carried along this journey during times of uncertainty, managers need to Be Present and Empathise deeply with what others are going through.
In Stabilising, engaging people in the adaptive challenge is essential. This requires managers to Enquire, Learn and Empower enabling others to lead. They need to focus on evoking leadership in everyone rather than a tendency to over manage. At this time the perceived threat level is seemingly reduced, so it is also important to Guard against Complacency, focusing people on core activities and reinforce what is important right now. As managers, we need to Lead Adaptively, getting everyone in the game of observing, learning, speaking up and contributing. Using the collective wisdom of everyone to design new ways of working and communicating in this new world we are living in.
In Re-Generating, it is essential that we Resist Entropy, the natural tendency to relax, wait and wish for things to return to normal. Particularly during a time of ongoing crisis with no clear end in sight, traditional hierarchy, expertise and management practices will not provide the answers. Learning to lead adaptively will be critical for the survival of organisations in the future. We need to continue to Embrace Uncertainty and see this as an opportunity to Create the Future.
There appears to be a lot of distress amongst managers across all industries, worries about cash flow, profit, even survival of the business, all these areas need to be addressed whilst looking after their people and building for the future. Many people may feel out of control and can’t necessarily see a way through. These are challenging times that call for extraordinary leadership. As a manager, we can lead by example in terms of how to connect, engage and inspire people towards a different future. Being honest about what we know, what we don’t know and the tough decisions that must be taken.
Below is a short summary of four areas where we are supporting our clients to navigate through these unprecedented circumstances:
¹ Adaptive Leadership, the ability successfully take on difficult and complex challenges that have never been seen before. This requires a different approach than taking on ‘technical’ challenges, ones where we can apply past solutions or defer to hierarchy or expertise.
² Integral – as first defined by Ken Wilbur, a way of looking holistically at any situation, that includes both objective and subjective domains, revealing the unique intricacies and characteristics of the business.
³ Leadership as WhyNot defines it is not a title role or position, but a choice available to everyone. A choice to stand for what you believe, to declare what you see as possible and to enrol others to join you to bring that into existence.