A year ago a woman, who manages 85 people, attended one of my executive courses. Prior to coming she had already built a positive culture. She recently wrote to tell me she reflected constantly on the notes she took. She made a list of nine things she wanted to do, but, for some reason, she could not act on them. Then the pandemic hit and everything changed. Her positive culture was fully tested. There were fears for personal health, family health, job security, and even knowing how to do the work.
She indicated that once the crisis hit she began to implement all nine items on her list. Here they are.
- Build trust and respect (I have used extreme transparency)
- Ask others to shape their work and environment (recognizing everyone will have a different ability and approach to working remotely and need to create their own best practices)
- Make sure people feel safe, support risk-taking (validate fear and anxiety, talk about the risks I am taking personally and how I hope most of them will pan out)
- Accept and love who you are (then admit imperfections and ask for help)
- Demonstrate active commitment at the top (show physical and emotional energy and an ability to regroup every day)
- Set clear expectations (share verbally to engage feedback, clarify assumptions, then confirm in writing so everyone has the same clarity)
- Plan for failure (and ask staff to develop multiple scenarios to show you mean it)
- Engage in collective learning (reflect after something has moved ahead, well or badly)
- Recognize and celebrate creativity and excellence (at the end of every week, applaud the strength and excellence of individuals and teams)
She has been amazed at the outcomes. She claims that she has witnessed the emergence of social excellence. She closed by sharing her observations. First, in crisis, hierarchy goes dormant, people are willing to do and try new things. Leadership comes out of everyone. It is a time when you can create a more positive culture. In her final line she indicated that she was looking to the future with a particular dream in mind. “I am hoping to go a step further after we emerge from this particular, challenging time, and build deeper social excellence without a crisis.”
This wonderful woman was already a positive leader. Crisis came and it called for her to be an even more positive leader. Intellectually she was ready and the situation became a trigger, a reason to extend herself. So she did and watched the emergence of social excellence. This confirmed what she had learned and opened her eyes to human potential. Now she is asking the questions that only a select few ever ask, can social excellence be created by leadership without a crisis? The answer is yes, we know it is possible because others have done it. The chances are that she will try and she will fail until she succeeds. Then, for the rest of her life, she will remember having made a profound difference.
- What does the fact that she already had a positive culture tell us?
- So why was she slow to implement her new ideas?
- Where did her newest question or aspiration originate?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?