During the deepest, darkest moments of 2020, all many of us could focus on was getting through the day ahead. Our strategy shifted from the long-term to immediate future, at home, work, and everywhere in between. For those leading teams or in a leadership role, the most important question was – what is it going to take to get us through the next month, week, day, or even hour?
Now the dust is beginning to subside, but with a return to ‘normalcy’ still off on the horizon, how do we shift our thinking to longer-term, legacy minded leadership whilst maintaining the ability to adapt and flex?
The answer – making conscious choices about how and why you want to lead into 2021 and beyond.
There are two aspects to the purpose of any organisation that I call the “Big P” and “Little P”.
“Big P” purpose is rolled out at events and in planning sessions, a touchstone for everything you do. From 3M to Walt Disney, TEDx to Tesla, every organisation has a Big P that stands in perpetuity, never truly fulfilled, motivating generations towards an outcome that is worth pursuing.
But what about “Little p”? The purpose that galvanises teams to focus on the future staring them in the face every single day.
Let me introduce you to Gary, who’s a front-line supervisor in an industrial plant leading a team of 15 tradespeople and apprentices. Gary’s direct reports scored him in the 97th percentile for purposeful/visionary behaviour using the most widely-known global leadership capability diagnostic.
Upon hearing this result, the Managing Director met with Gary and asked “how do you connect people to purpose so effectively?” Gary responded, “I guess I just tell people why they’re doing, what they’re doing.”
“This morning I asked an apprentice to swap out a valve on a furnace. I said the pressure had been erratic, and if the valve fails we’ll have to shut the furnace down costing thousands of dollars an hour, or worst-case an explosion which could hurt a lot of people. So, we just got it fixed,” he said.
In those few words Gary articulated one of the most potent lessons on purpose, that it’s not a bi-annual event but an opportunity that arises every day. When you ask people to do something, tell them why they’re doing it, to what outcome and purpose. That’s the power of the “Little p”.
Vision is the crucial link between the legacy we work towards and the concrete strategies and plans we construct to achieve it. Sitting with purpose at the top of the organisation’s philosophical framework, vision flows into strategic objectives, team goals, individual roles, and KPI’s and deliverables.
We often think being visionary means connecting what we do to one high level statement, but the reality is vision can only be achieved through an interdependent web of goals that flow down through successive business units.
Helping your team understand how their personal deliverables connect in three dimensions, – upwards, downwards or sideways – and how their work impacts each other, their direct reports, customers and stakeholders, and even managers, is critical to achieving departmental and organisational goals, and therefore vision.
While refocusing on high-level goals and vision is a useful way to frame current activity, ensuring team members know why they’re doing what they do reinforces the line-of-sight from each frontline role to the high-level vision, an unbroken chain of intention towards creating the legacy you aspire to.
We each have a range of tasks that extend from the prosaic daily activities that need to be done now, to high-level tasks that focus on longer term goals.
Managing these competing priorities is an ongoing struggle. For most of us there’s no absolute rule about the value of each task or how to calibrate our priorities.
A simple place to start is by digging out your position description or list of responsibilities and ranking them from highest to lowest in terms of overall importance and long-term value to your organisation. Ask your manager to do the same thing, then sit down and compare notes.
Take turns to explain the rationale behind your rankings, explore where they differ and come to consensus on a final agreed list of where your time and energy is best spent to achieve the long-term goals of the organisation. Now invite each of your direct reports to do the same thing, be their sounding board, help them refocus on the high-level priorities that will make their work life easier, more effective and more meaningful.
We’ve all learnt a great deal about these two words lately as the pressures we’re facing as leaders, partners, or parents challenge our wellbeing.
But in all honesty, who can say the challenges weren’t always there? That we have been working in ways and at a pace that isn’t sustainable in the long run. If we’re to pursue purpose with longevity then we must start thinking of sustainability in human terms, building resilient organisations where the wellbeing of people is a top-line KPI.
Now is the time to take the learnings from the last year and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. What did I do as a leader that helped my people navigate their challenges? What did I do that helped me help them? Was I supported enough?
Remember when we used to fly to far off shores? The answer was there before take-off…“Ladies and gentleman, remember to fit your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.”
Now’s a great time to work with your team to identify a handful of ways that you can collectively build resilience and ask how can you enshrine these into your system, climate and culture.
Legacy is often seen as the end of the road, something to be left behind. But legacy-minded leadership is about re-invention, about the steps we take on that road, the path we forge for others. And now, more than ever is the perfect time to ask how you can re-invent your leadership style, your interactions with your team and your organisation’s culture, so that we can build a better, more collaborative, inclusive and legacy-minded future, together.
Senior Consultant and Coach
To find out how we can help you, please contact us at Dattner Group.