Speaking in certainties has become difficult lately. One of the few things I can say with confidence is I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. While this has always been true, the past months have amplified this reality. Coming face to face with this begs the question, how does a true leader grapple with the unknown while simultaneously stepping up and providing the clarity and safety a team needs to stay aligned and engaged?
Here at ACT, we have always helped leaders build cultures filled with committed and engaged team members. We know the real advantage this provides. Recently, we have seen some individuals forget about the importance of fostering high employee engagement, and with good reason; the challenges and decisions we all face seem never to end. Yet as I sat back, listening during our weekly team meeting to the questions, ideas, and struggles that our team has been working through, I was reminded of something. An engaged team brings a commitment to each other and a greater purpose that is more important now than ever.
A crisis is a real test for every leader. I have seen some truly amazing and authentic leaders in the ACT community step up and lean into the challenges before them. Amid the uncertainty, they have not only found a way to survive but to thrive with the support of outstanding teams around them. They have found a way to lead from a place of purpose, focus on what is essential, and take care of the people around them. Below are 4 actions you can take to lead and keep your team engaged in these uncertain times.
1: Follow Your Vision and Your Core Values
If you haven’t done so recently, I urge you to take a look at your vision, your core values, and your mission. During turbulent times, these guideposts should be your most valuable resources, providing the focus and clarity needed to adapt and act without fear. Leaders with clarity around their vision have shown remarkable resilience and made decisions with confidence. They have not become overly obsessed with today, wavering and panicking with each new bit of information; these leaders have slowed down, remembering to focus on vision and values. This intentional practice of returning to the core and obsessing over the why has become a strategic advantage, boosting engagement and inspiring confidence amongst the team.
2: Acknowledge Your Current Challenges, But Don’t Dwell on Them
The leaders thriving today are acutely aware of and honest about the world around them, yet they choose to communicate a vision of optimism and hope. Author Simon Sinek said it perfectly when stating, “Optimism is not a denial of the current situation; it is a belief that the future is bright. I’m not fixated on the darkness, but I am fixated on the light at the end. We will be better off because of this, not in spite of this.”
Yes, this time is a struggle. Goals will be missed, patients may be lost, but we go on. Tomorrow another patient will sit in your chair; next month, a new goal will be set. By looking towards the future, great leaders empower teams to rally around a common goal and not dwell in fear. Communicate the vision with clarity, and honesty, tell the team, “I know this is hard, but we have each other, we will take care of each other, and we will make it to the other side of this struggle.”
3: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is always of the utmost importance, but I can not think of a time in which clear, consistent communication has been more crucial for leaders and their teams. Today’s truth, today’s reality, can completely change in just a few short hours. As you make vital decisions and pivot in this ever-changing landscape, you can not leave your team in the dark. Leaders that keep teams engaged do so by embracing vulnerability and transparency, providing context for the decisions they make, which includes honesty about the struggles ahead. Good leaders build engagement by trusting. Your team can manage both the good news and bad news; what they can’t handle, and what induces panic, is silence. When individuals are forced to fill in the blanks, they often do so with the worst-case scenario. Great leaders control the message, understanding if they don't, someone else will.
4: Lead Your Team, Don’t Manage Your Team
Telling people what to do, being a boss, owning a business; these things do not make you a leader. In a crisis, you can tell people what to do and perhaps “manage” the situation, but this will not inspire or engage a team. In his Harvard Business Review Article, author Vineet Nayar states that “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success.” It is the practice of leading, not managing, that builds strong, adaptable teams that engage in debate, go all-in on the vision, and work together through a crisis.
Leaders, this is the time to step up. Communicate with your team, check in with your people. Lean into your values and let them guide you. Remember, we are all just human beings here, dealing with trauma and stress in different ways. What our teams truly need now, more than ever, is our humanity. Just show up. Have the courage to lead, to be honest, to listen and talk with your people. Do so, and watch an engaged and empowered team help you rise and thrive through a crisis.
If you need help keeping your team engaged, we can help. Click here to schedule a call to see what opportunities exist for your practice.
About the Author:
Jenni Poulos is a Lead Practice Coach on the ACT Dental Team.