Heartfelt Leadership and Warm Collaboration
by Johan Beijar 2020-11-30
I have approximately twenty years of experience as a leader and for the first time in a long time, I am unsure of how to exercise my leadership in the best way of moving forward. This article is my very personal view of what we all, independent of role and position, should think of when leading and collaborating in these unexpected and challenging times.
My background is broad and if I need to put a title on a business card, I pick “Entrepreneur”. I am one of the three co-owners of an IT consultancy-firm (Advicon AB) based in southern Sweden as well as a board member, author, speaker, influencer, father, and husband. I’m also on assignment as a consultant, and in total, across my assignments, I am in some kind of leadership relationship with 60+ people spread across 8 different countries.
There are many successes as well as a number of large failures in my resume. I was a part of what was at the time, the third-largest IT Transformation Program in the world. But I’ve also worked on very small projects and my skill set is coming into use anywhere from the boardroom to the 30 seconds chat at the coffee machine. In other words, I have a broad skill set and have been able to fill my professional toolbox with many different tools throughout the years.
Our way of working has changed
We have been living in a world shaped by a pandemic affecting large parts of the globe since early 2020. I am pretty sure that the majority of us reading this have been affected by the current situation in one way or another. Many businesses have been hit hard by the consequences of the pandemic, some are struggling to survive and others are doing fairly well. Without going into further details we can just summarize and say that we all know that we are in a very serious situation where both lives and businesses are at risk.
One of the key changes we have witnessed is for work to be done progressively from home and as a result, communicating more via electronic means such as telephone and platforms such as Google Meet, Skype, Teams, and/or Zoom. This also leads to less human interaction, which is positive in light of the pandemic. We are all reacting differently to the fact that we are interacting with colleagues and friends in different ways than before.
Following what the media is reporting you can read that large global companies are moving towards a situation where co-workers can choose to work entirely remotely. At the time of writing, there are even talks about legislation in Germany outlining the right to work from home one or two days per week.
Whether we are working from home two hours per week or the entire week, we are heading into a new way of working. One in which it is essential to collaborate, communicate, interact, lead, manage, and secure the future success of businesses. This fact puts new requirements on us as professionals and human beings.
A more disruptive world
When talking about Digital Transformation, we often hear that the world around us is changing at an unprecedented pace and we as individuals and businesses need to adjust accordingly. Yes, I firmly believe that as well and the ongoing pandemic is yet another proof that the surroundings have changed. Again! The ongoing and never-ending change has been and is a constant challenge for many businesses. And as if these challenges were not enough we now also need to cope with the fact that many will be working remotely and will continue to do so for a long time ahead.
In other words, we need to continue to adjust business plans, ways of working, organizations, and many other things. We need to do this in a distributed way of working while dealing with the ongoing pandemic.
Here is an interesting fact: we (as in the human race) have never done this before!
There is no playbook for this. There is no manual. There is no clear direction from A to B.
On the other hand – we can be sure that there is:
- More uncertainty than ever
- A world full of invalid business plans
- And most importantly – many people that are worried about the past, the presence, and the future
You can’t pop over to your neighbor to ask her how you should save your business or organization. You can’t call the big consultancy firm. Well, you can call them – but do not expect them to have a clear answer about what and how you should do.
In the book that I wrote and published together with Kasem Chahrour in 2019 (‘Your Guide To Digital Readiness’) we talk about three different kinds of business in the light of Digital Readiness:
- Those who try to change and adapt
- Those who do nothing
With the current state of the world in mind, this is more important and true than ever. If you do not do anything – there’s a fair chance that your business will perish. No, there is no playbook, and it is much riskier to not do anything than to try to do something. Constant movement forward has never been more important.
Cope with the present and be strong for the future
My personal view and very firm belief are that we all need to, independent of role, improve our capabilities in two key areas so as to be able to cope with the current situation and what comes around the corner.
1. Organizational Agility
Modern organizations need to be able to adapt to the circumstances and surroundings to survive. Organizations/businesses in category one or two above are the ones that are able to cope with changes. Category three is not.
I will not go into details about organizational agility and will focus instead on the second area mentioned above. You can find more information about organizational agility in both the book “Your Guide to Digital Readiness” and DevOps Agile Skills Association’s website. DASA is, as you know, an independent member-driven organization having a great impact on its support for DevOps journeys around the world through training, certification, and knowledge sharing.
Instead of pushing a comprehensive definition of what DevOps is, DASA highlights six DevOps principles that are deemed essential when adopting or migrating to a DevOps way of working. These six DASA DevOps Principles have become particularly important to address with the current global situation in mind:
- Customer-Centric Action
- Create with the End in Mind
- End-to-end Responsibility
- Cross-Functional Autonomous Teams
- Continuous Improvement
- Automate Everything You Can
Moving ahead into an even more volatile and unsure future makes it crucial for these guiding principles to be understood, known, and adhered to. And this is also very much valid for business outside the pure IT-sector. Indeed, the argument could be done that it may be even more important to those businesses.
The fifth DevOps Principle stated above emphasizes exactly this. Only by adopting a continuous improvement mindset can we minimize waste, optimize for speed, costs, and ease of delivery, and continuously improve the products/services offered. As DASA states on this webpage, “experimentation is (…) an important activity to embed and develop a way of learning from failures is essential”.
Please see the links at the end of this article if you want to get into more detail on what this entails. Are you now wondering what can actually be done on a practical level?
2. People First-Approach
When the pace is as high as it is and when individuals, organizations, and businesses continuously face new possibilities and challenges, the role of a manager or leader quickly becomes daunting. Should we go left, right, turn-around, or wait? We are all facing these kinds of questions on a daily basis and it is impossible, as a leader, to know everything and have the correct answer to all questions.
We need and must build strong and engaged teams and organizations that themselves take the correct decisions to move the organization forward in the direction outlined by the management. Think of it, this will become even more important when we are working more and more from home due to pandemic. The fact is that it is becoming increasingly hard as a manager to know everything, talk to everyone in your organization, and to know what everyone is doing in detail every day of the week.
In other words, the force of the organization needs to come from the individuals and the teams. Not from the managers. And this is even more important in the light of the ongoing pandemic.
This is why the most important asset in the organization is you and your colleagues.
My personal and also very firm belief is that many people are worried about the current events in the world. On the global level, we can see volatile stock markets, an uncertain political landscape, unemployment increasing by the day, and Covid-19 on top of it all. There is so much uncertainty in the world at the time of writing this that I would have to assume that we are all worried to some degree. Some a bit more and some a bit less.
When we are leading and collaborating with our colleagues, we must accept that there is a general level of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and discomfort at the time being. And this will not change for the foreseeable future. That is why I think it is utterly crucial for all of us to embrace a view of leadership and collaboration where we put the individual first. Let us call it, in a bit simplified manner, the ‘People First’-approach. Now is the time for all working in any leadership capacity to step up to the plate, take responsibility, and truly lead by example.
I strongly advocate a more passionate, engaging, and warm leadership moving ahead. Please note that I am not a trained psychologist or anything remotely similar but I think it comes down to a plain and simple common sense that we all need to care for and respect each other even more these days. If we do so, I think we will also feel better when working from home or in a semi-distributed way.
As stated in Gallup’s report “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes 2020 Q12® Meta-Analysis: 10th Edition”, the level of individual engagement has a clear positive impact on many things in the organization. Gallup’s report also indicates that between July 13 and September 27, 2020, the number of engaged employees was 36% in the USA. This reveals a significantly positive development since 2000 where the same number was 26%. Moreover, it was found that organizations with a high level of engagement have a median percentage difference of 23% in profitability compared to organizations with the lowest employee engagement. The great take away of this report and other similar publications to have been released in this time period is that engaged employees undeniably have a positive impact on the business.
Based on the above-mentioned publication and others, my personal view on this matter is that having a ‘people first’-approach can have many positive effects:
- A more positive spirit in the organization
- Each individual will hopefully feel better and deliver better results which in turn will contribute to better quality in delivered products and/or services
- Happy and engaged co-workers tend to stay longer and not look for new positions elsewhere
- Will contribute to the efforts to increase profitability
- Will enable a higher degree of problem solving and innovation in the organization
- Colleagues, teams, and the entire organization will be better equipped and prepared to make decisions and move forward in the desired direction
- Communication tends to be easier in an organization where people feel good, or at least not feel bad
- A higher degree of inclusion and transparency in the organization, which in turn will have a number of positive effects
Two powerful questions that will enable movement
I think and recommend that now is the time for us to lead and collaborate more with our hearts than before. We should, of course, take conscious and difficult decisions as well but why not stop and reflect for a minute every day and ask yourself what you can do for your colleagues and surroundings.
Leadership and collaboration can often be difficult and complex. You can add a new dimension to your communication with two simple, yet powerful, questions:
- How are you?
- What can I do to help?
How are you? Most importantly this is to, in an honest and sincere way, show to the person that you are communicating with that you care and are interested in the person’s well being. When being on the receiving end of this question it is easy to hide behind work-related issues and to answer something related to work. Dare to ask again about how the person is and not how the work is going.
We all need to feel that someone is looking out for us and interested in how we are. This will hopefully contribute to a positive climate in your team, organization, or company. It is also an easy question to ask, which is sure to start the conversation in a positive manner.
The answer can, of course, be less positive, and then you need to talk about that and find a way forward from there. See it as something positive – a friend and/or a colleague is open to sharing his/her feelings and thoughts, which is an important step to create a fruitful collaboration in the organization. Communication and caring are, as said, even more important in the light of the pandemic.
What can I do to help? This is not about taking over the ownership of a specific problem. It is about communicating and finding a way forward together. And yes, sometimes as a leader or manager, you need to take action and remove obstacles. That is in the role description. By asking this question you will have a better possibility of learning about a problem or an issue and in that way also come to an agreement about who does what to solve the issue and move forward. You will also clearly show that you care about the person and the area of responsibility the person has.
Not all the time, but many times, you can find a way forward just by talking to a friend or a colleague who is a good listener and asks good and well thought through questions. And no, you do not need to be a certified coach to ask these questions. You will come a long way from just listening, learning, and communicating.
Think of the impact one person would have by starting to ask these two questions? And if ten did it. And how cool would it be for the majority of the organization to start asking these two simple questions? The change would not come on day one but the climate, spirit, and productiveness in the organization would over time change for the better.
Business survival takes no easy way out
To reiterate – heartfelt leadership is not the same thing as avoiding difficult decisions or areas. It is about caring for your colleagues and in that way create a better climate in which to constantly move forward. It is to truly adopt the spirit of continuous improvement that organizations such as DASA advocate. DASA claims that a good rule to live by in continuous improvement is if it hurts, do it more often. Do you find it difficult to implement heartfelt leadership and sponsor warm collaboration? Then that might very well be exactly what needs to be done.
The two questions I shared will enable organizations to move forward and in that way also increase the possibility of success… or in many situations… the survival of the business!
Sources and further reading for inspiration:
- The book ‘Your Guide to Digital Readiness’
- DevOps Agile Skills Association (DASA) Homepage
- Harward Business Review – The Leader As Coach
- Gallup: The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes 2020 Q12® Meta-Analysis: 10th Edition
- Gallup: U.S. Employee Engagement Reverts Back to Pre-COVID-19 Levels
- Fortune: Working from home could become a legal right in Germany
- Photos: svanlundphotography
This article is written by Johan Beijar. Johan Beijar has a long and comprehensive experience in delivering business value by utilizing IT and technology, often in an international environment. His broad experience gives him unique capabilities and skill set to add value in many different situations and in any capacity, in operations as well as in the boardroom. Comprehensive experience in leading change and transformations. Johan has also been a speaker on multiple occasions on the topic of Digital Readiness and is the co-author of the book ”Your Guide to Digital Readiness”.